Lord Patel must see off Yorkshire backlash if reforms are to work

They have two summer sports in Yorkshire: playing cricket and arguing about it. It’s been this way since at least the 1950s, on into the Boycott years, right up to the present day and the ongoing row about the attempts to reform the club made by Lord Patel since he took over as chairman last November.

“I didn’t want anyone at Yorkshire to lose their jobs, I just wanted an acknowledgment that I had been treated dreadfully,” Azeem Rafiq wrote in this year’s Wisden Almanack in an article reflecting on the abuse scandal. “We are where we are now because Yorkshire wanted a fight.” And some of them still haven’t quit.

Patel saw off an attempt by one of his predecessors, Robin Smith, to derail the process at an extraordinary general meeting in March, but Smith has come back for more in the runup to the third Test at Headingley. Yorkshire have gone to great lengths to get this game back on after the England and Wales Cricket Board took it away from them.

“We accept that we’re under scrutiny and that the eyes of the world will be on us,” their chief operating officer, Andy Dawson, told the Yorkshire Post this week. And now in lunges Smith. He is one of four former Yorkshire chairmen who are calling for an inquiry into the ECB’s handling of the case, along with Steve Denison, Roger Hutton and Colin Graves.

Graves was, of course, chairman of the ECB until 2020. If he wants to launch an inquiry into institutional incompetence at the governing body, you might assume he is willing to be questioned about his own part in it during the five years he was in charge.

There are signs of discontent among the playing staff too. David Willey, the club’s Twenty20 captain, is off back to Northamptonshire. He offered a parting shot at the men who have taken over the running of the club, Ottis Gibson and Darren Gough. “The circumstances surrounding the club have made my work unsettling,” Willey said. “There are some great lads and fantastic players at Yorkshire and I hope complications at the club will not take priority and overshadow their talents. The cricket and the current players seem to be secondary at the moment to repairing the club’s reputation.”

Tom Kohler-Cadmore is going too. He kept quiet about the reasons why. But his father, Mick, was a dressing-room attendant, and had walked out in protest at the mass sacking of 16 members of staff. A lot of people were upset by the decision to get rid of the backroom staff as well as the men in senior positions.

Those dismissals gave a degree of legitimacy to the existing grievances some felt about the way the club was being treated in all this. There is talk of an exodus of players at the end of the season, quelled for now by the news that two of them, Harry Brook and Dom Leech, have just agreed new contracts.

Patel is equal to it. He once took part in an oral history project about British Asian cricketers. In it he talked about growing up poor in Bradford in the 1960s. His father worked on the buses so his family could live in a one-bed back-to-back terrace house, where they washed in the cellar and went to the toilet outside. There were seven of them, till one of the children died of rheumatism. Patel was seven before he went to school, where he was bullied mercilessly, and nine before he learned how to read and write. And he played cricket day and night, in the back streets when he was little, and then in parks and clubs and leagues, five days a week. The game became his “escape from the harsh realities of life”.

It is a very Yorkshire story, blunt and tough and proud. They say that the yorker takes its name from the old phrase “to put Yorkshire on someone”, which meant to outwit or deceive them. There is little chance of anyone doing it to Patel, who is as Yorkshire as they come.

He talks about how he worked his way up from sweeping floors in a restaurant to a job managing a hotel bar to a third selling life insurance and a fourth working in Ladbrokes to a fifth driving an ambulance and a sixth as a special constable, before he finally went to university so he could become a social worker and then an academic and a professor and, eventually, a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords.

Towards the end of the interview Patel reflects on some of the lessons learned in his life’s work. One of them is this: “Tinkering at the edges doesn’t work, if something’s not broken, don’t fix it, but if it is broken, don’t tinker with it, be radical, get it changed, alter it.”

Yorkshire were broken when he took over. And he isn’t tinkering trying to fix it.

Radical change hurts and there are a lot of wounded, angry people around Yorkshire cricket. But then the club have been trying, and failing, to get to grips with these problems for 40 years already, during the tenures of all four of those previous chairmen and more before them.

Patel knows all about the barriers for British-Asian cricketers, because he faced them himself. And he knows that English cricket isn’t so big that it can afford to go on alienating its British Asian population, who make up a third of its recreational playing base.

Given the strength of their resources, the depth of the untapped talent in cities such as Bradford, Yorkshire could, and should, be the model of a modern, multicultural English cricket club. Patel is the man who is finally trying to make it happen. He may have made mistakes in doing it, but what matters most is whether he can, not the hurt feelings of those who don’t want to be part of it with him.