Former England captain Andrew Strauss has urged cricketers to avoid dressing room banter bordering on racial harassment and bullying in order to avert controversies like the Azeem Rafiq fiasco.
The Pakistan-born cricketer, who played for county side Yorkshire for almost a decade, had told UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in November 2021 that racist comments and actions by fellow cricketers had left him “close to taking his own life”.
Strauss, the former England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) director of cricket, said during his Marylebone Cricket Club Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s on Wednesday that with players of different nationalities and races now sharing dressing rooms more than ever, cricketers will have to be more guarded in what they say and do.
“As we move forward together as a game with players of different genders, races, creeds and beliefs coming together, so the traditional macho, hierarchical, perhaps at times verging on bullying dressing-room banter will need to be softened to a culture that is more tolerant, understanding, welcoming and embracing of difference,” Strauss, one of the most successful England captains, was quoted as saying by Sky Sports.
Strauss also highlighted the significance of the spirit of cricket, saying the events of the last year-and-a-half — when the Azeem Rafiq scandal unfolded and tarnished the image of England cricket — had shown a lot more needed to be done to restore the image of the game.
“Perhaps more importantly the spirit of cricket needs to accompany modern players and I am speaking primarily about the men’s game now into an area that neither the prying eyes of the media or the feverish adulation of the fans penetrates; the dressing room,” Strauss said.
“The events over the last 18 months, whether they come from Yorkshire or elsewhere have shown we have a lot of work to do in this area, but the spirit of cricket demands this.” With England winning nine of the 10 Tests under coach Brendon McCullum and skipper Ben Stokes, Strauss said the coming together of the duo had brought about a huge tactical shift in the way the longest format is being played now.
England’s run of victories in Tests against India, New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan last year saw them erase the disappointment of having won just one in 17 games before the pair was appointed.
“The coming together of Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes in May last year has shifted the game of Test cricket from its foundations and has asked some fundamental questions of the centuries-old accepted truths of the Test format,” said Strauss.
“What those two extraordinary leaders of men — aided in no small part by Rob Key as director of cricket — have done, is redefine once again what the game of cricket is actually about.” With a lot of talk about Test cricket losing its significance amid the onslaught of domestic T20 leagues across the world, Strauss indicated that the popularity of traditional rivalries like the Ashes and series between major Test-playing nations will never go out of fashion, though some debt-laden national governing bodies could be at a disadvantage.
“It is inevitable that some old institutions might creak at the seams, including some debt-laden national governing bodies and professional clubs,” said Strauss.
“Also, bilateral cricket in the way that we see it today is likely to be squeezed in one way shape or form. I firmly believe that the Test series that capture our imaginations today — the ones that we really look forward to — aren’t going anywhere.”