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Joe Root expresses sympathy for Azeem Rafiq as England prepare for Headingley Test

England captain "desperate" to make game more inclusive following allegations of racism at Yorkshire

George Dobell
George Dobell
Joe Root looks thoughtful, England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test, Birmingham, 4th day, June 13, 2021

Joe Root will lead England on his home ground in the third LV= Insurance Test  •  Getty Images

Joe Root says he is "desperate" to make the game more inclusive in light of Azeem Rafiq's allegations of racism at Yorkshire.
Rafiq accused Yorkshire of institutional racism resulting in an enquiry into the issue at the club. Last week, Yorkshire issued a "profound apology" to Rafiq after acknowledging that several of his allegations were upheld and admitting he was the "victim of inappropriate behaviour". They also accepted the report found they had failed to implement their own policies and procedures.
Root, the England captain, was a former team-mate of Rafiq at Yorkshire and believes the issue is "something we have to prioritise as a sport" to ensure "this isn't something that happens again further down the line". And he accepts cricket has a lot of work to do to combat the issue of racism.
"As a former team-mate and friend, it's hard to see Azeem hurting as he is," Root said. "More than anything, it just shows that there is a lot of work we have to do in the game.
"It's a societal issue in my opinion. We have seen it in other sports; we have seen it in other areas. As a sport, we have got to keep trying to find ways of making sure this isn't a conversation that keeps happening. We have got to find ways of creating more opportunities, making our game more diverse and educating better.
"I don't think that just comes from players and administrators: it's from everyone in the game. There has got to be a want and a will to do that. It is something we have to prioritise as a sport and make sure this isn't something that happens again further down the line."
Root also confirmed his England team would wear anti-discrimination t-shirts and observe a "moment of unity" ahead of the third LV= Insurance Test against India as has been their custom in recent times. The game, which starts on Wednesday, is to be played at Headingley, the headquarters of Yorkshire.
"I think it is really important we have the moment of unity," Root said. "We have to keep showing the sport is for everyone and that we are desperate to make everyone feel welcome to it. It's such a brilliant sport and should be open to everyone.
"We have to do more, I get that. But, as a team, it is a big focus for us to make the game for everyone and to make it as welcoming as we can. I know we keep talking about it but I am desperate to do something about it. Hopefully in time you can see that come into action."
ESPNcricinfo understands that, at present, Yorkshire have not shared the report with either the PCA or the ECB despite requests to do so. Instead the club are taking legal advice on whether the report, which is understood to contain negative observations on several individuals, can be shared at all outside the organisation without risking libel action from those implicated. As a result, the value of the report - a report which cannot be seen or discussed or, as a result, effectively acted upon - might well be questioned.
Meanwhile, however, figures from each of the major two parties in British politics are understood to have been in touch with Rafiq to express concern and offer support. With the ECB also keen to investigate the issue, it seems increasingly likely another report - possibly a report with judicial or parliamentary powers - could be commissioned. Whichever way you look at it, the issue appears unlikely to be resolved in the short term.
England's issues are less weighty. With Sam Curran, despite a king pair at Lord's, set to keep his place and Dawid Malan in line to return at No. 3, it appears England are facing a straight choice between Craig Overton and Saqib Mahmood for the final place in the side for the Test - following the news Mark Wood would not be fit for selection. Moeen Ali is also set to retain his place, with Haseeb Hameed and Rory Burns forming a new opening pair.
While Saqib's first-class record is relatively modest - he has played only 22 first-class games and taken just one five-wicket haul - he enjoyed an excellent limited-overs series against Pakistan a few weeks ago and has clearly made a positive impression on Root.
"I feel like Saqib couldn't be in a better place to potentially play Test cricket," Root said. "You look at how he has progressed over the past couple of years across all the formats and the opportunities he has taken this year and he's been a standout bowler."
Root also admitted he had appreciated the opportunity to "to get away from cricket a little bit" after England's defeat in the second Test and a session towards the end of India's second-innings in which his side appeared to lose control in the field.
"You can beat yourself up for hours and hours about things you could have done differently," Root said. "But ultimately it doesn't guarantee you anything. I'm sure there will be other ex-captains out there who will look back on different passages of play that they could have managed differently. It's part and parcel of the job sometimes, you have to take it on the chin.
"It's really important to learn but not to drag it into this Test match. We'll have new challenges, a new surface and a completely new Test to deal with. I'm a more experienced player having gone through that. As long as we don't make silly mistakes, we'll grow and become a better team.
"I'm playing for England. I'm playing Test cricket. I'm living my boyhood dream. When I was 10 years old I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do. Living that boyhood dream is one way you can keep motivating yourself to front up to the next challenge and the next day."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo