Azeem Rafiq was brave, dignified and articulate during his emotional DCMS select committee hearing

It took just six words at the end of his harrowing and humbling evidence for Azeem Rafiq to strike at the very heart of the rotten culture still festering throughout English cricket.

‘I lost my career to racism,’ he said, and the shame of the domestic game was complete.

Nobody can doubt that now, given the extent of the suffering Rafiq endured at his home county in the hands of household names he once revered.

What courage this extraordinary character who has brought cricket to its knees showed in front of MPs on Tuesday. How composed, articulate, emotional and dignified Rafiq was in answering any doubts anyone in the game could possibly still have about his integrity and his motives.

Certainly, Rafiq was far more impressive than anyone else appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

More impressive than Tom Harrison, who hid behind corporate-speak as he attempted in vain to justify the ECB’s inept handling of the crisis. 

Azeem Rafiq was brave, articulate and dignified during his DCMS hearing on Tuesday

And more impressive than Roger Hutton, the ex-Yorkshire chairman desperately trying to portray himself as the good guy among those at Headingley who let Rafiq down.

Only Lord Patel provided a glimmer of hope that he can lead Yorkshire, perhaps even the wider game, out of this ordeal towards a brighter future.

But at least they were all there. There was no sign of the Yorkshire management team that have been in stubborn denial ever since Rafiq’s allegations became public.

No sign of Mark Arthur, the disgraced chief executive who boasted of his achievements in improving the Headingley catering in his resignation statement rather than acknowledging the failure in his duty of care to an abused employee.

No sign of director of cricket Martyn Moxon, the other executive Rafiq holds most to blame for the institutionalised racism Hutton finally admitted to on Yorkshire’s behalf. Although it should be said that Moxon is on sick leave through stress

Rafiq, 30, laid bare the harrowing abuse and bullying he suffered while playing at Yorkshire

Rafiq, 30, laid bare the harrowing abuse and bullying he suffered while playing at Yorkshire

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison is pictured as he gave evidence on Tuesday

Former Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton was also grilled by the select committee

Rafiq was more impressive than the ECB’s Tom Harrison (left) who hid behind company lingo and Roger Hutton (right) who desperately tried to portray himself as the good guy

A better, more diverse, welcoming game is all Rafiq has wanted all along. This was no witch-hunt nor an exercise in self-justification at the loss of a once highly promising career.

This has always been about getting to the root of a problem that, as Nasser Hussain expresses on these pages, has been prevalent ever since he emerged from an Ilford Cricket School brimming with young British Asian ultimately unfulfilled talents.

So while it was absolutely necessary for Rafiq to reveal the full shocking details of his treatment at the hands of his heroes, he is not seeking to scapegoat them. ‘All I have ever wanted,’ he said on Tuesday, ‘was acceptance and an apology.’

Others might not be so gracious because Rafiq’s witness statement to the ill-fated ‘independent’ investigation by Yorkshire, released after the hearing, made particularly grim reading.

It is difficult, for instance, to see how Gary Ballance can survive as a Yorkshire player after being involved in the very worst of Headingley’s racist culture. When Ballance was first revealed by Sportsmail to be the ‘senior player’ who repeatedly called Rafiq a ‘P**i’, a word so commonplace in the dressing room that it became the norm, this correspondent said he should be banned but not abandoned.

It is difficult to argue for lenience towards Gary Ballance after Rafiq's testimony on Tuesday

It is difficult to argue for lenience towards Gary Ballance after Rafiq’s testimony on Tuesday 

Rafiq also made claims over Tim Bresnan's (pictured) behaviour at the club, saying he was among 'six or seven' players to have made a bullying complaint against the star in 2017

Rafiq said Matthew Hoggard (pictured) had apologised to him after watching him being interviewed about his experience at Yorkshire

It is difficult to see how Tim Bresnan (left) can continue playing without strong disciplinary action and Matthew Hoggard (right) has a long journey back to being accepted in the game

It is difficult to argue for leniency now. Much, much tougher to have sympathy for an England player who clearly had his own issues with drink and drugs, but whose behaviour was simply inexcusable.

Difficult, too, to see how Andrew Gale, already suspended because of an anti-semitic tweet, can carry on as coach. Or how Tim Bresnan can continue playing for Warwickshire without strong disciplinary action first on the allegations he faces.

Rafiq talked of his respect for Matthew Hoggard for apologising for his behaviour while they were team-mates, but the witness statement is damning of the much-loved 2005 Ashes hero. He faces a long journey back before he can be accepted again within the game.

As for Michael Vaughan, Rafiq’s explanation for the former England captain’s denial that he made a racist comment to four players of Asian heritage was a feasible one.

‘Maybe it became such normal language he doesn’t remember saying it,’ said Rafiq. ‘This shouldn’t be all about Michael,’ he added, again seeing the wider picture.

Rafiq refused to be dragged into making the hearing about Ashes hero Michael Vaughan

Rafiq refused to be dragged into making the hearing about Ashes hero Michael Vaughan

Questions, meanwhile, remain to be answered. Not least by England captain Joe Root, a man Rafiq has known since he was 12 and has privately and now publicly defended as ‘one of the real good guys’ throughout this whole sorry saga.

Clearly Root was never one of the Yorkshire players who joined in with the unacceptable behaviour nor laughed along with the ‘banter.’ But it is stretching credulity for the England captain to say, as he did last week, that he never heard any racist comments.

Goodness, he shared a flat with Ballance, who Rafiq has accused of repeatedly abusing him, sometimes more overtly and obviously than others. If the recovery process has truly begun Root has to perform more than a PR exercise when he next speaks in Australia.

Now we will see if cricket can climb away from rock bottom, if the besieged Harrison really is the man to show the genuine leadership that has been lacking within the governing body through one crisis after another.

Now we will see if cricket can climb away from rock bottom and England captain Joe Root must engage in something more than a PR exercise

Now we will see if cricket can climb away from rock bottom and England captain Joe Root must engage in something more than a PR exercise

All eyes will initially switch to Essex, where an inquiry has already begun into allegations of racism by two former players, Zoheb Sharif and Maurice Chambers, and against their former chair John Faragher.

But it will not end there. At least three other counties, Sportsmail understands, could soon be implicated and we are aware of at least three more former players who are considering laying bare their own unacceptable experiences in the domestic game.

It is going to be painful but it all has to come out. And if this truly is the beginning of cricket’s recovery then Azeem Rafiq’s wish to be the man who made a difference, the voice for the voiceless, will be granted.

He will go down as one of the most significant figures in the sport’s modern history. And one of the most dignified, too.

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