England v New Zealand: Test cricket back at Headingley as Ben Stokes focuses on the pitch

England captain Ben Stokes has reiterated his side’s “responsibility” to the game extends beyond the field of play, as they prepare for a Headingley Test that was at one stage threatened by the damaging allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire.

Azeem Rafiq’s claims of institutional racism and discrimination during his time as a White Rose player earned cricket some unwanted front-page coverage after his appearance in front of a parliamentary select committee last year.

Further accusations, about Yorkshire, as well as other counties, followed in what will go down as a bleak moment of reckoning for the sport, with the England and Wales Cricket Board at one point suspending Headingley’s right to host international cricket.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The financial setbacks of that sanction could have killed the club off as a going concern but it was eventually lifted after initiatives set in place by a newly appointed chair, Lord Kamlesh Patel, persuaded the ECB that the issues were being dealt with appropriately.

Testing times: England captain Ben Stokes strikes the ball during a nets session at Headingley ahead of today’s third Test match with New Zealand. (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA)

The tale is far from told, with ECB disciplinary charges laid against the club and “a number of individuals”, but the return of the Test side over the next five days represents some form of business as usual.

Patel has surprisingly been noticeable only by his absence during the practice days at Headingley and, with no other appearances from Yorkshire management, it was left to Stokes to field questions on the matter.

Just a few weeks into the role and with a Test series ongoing, it was perhaps unfair to expect him to carry the load.

“I’ve got my responsibilities for the team that I’m in charge of at the moment,” he said. “And we’ve got a responsibility on the field, as well as off the field, to do what we do.

General view of the ground during a nets session at Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds. (Picture: PA)

“We know if we keep doing good things on the field we’re going to attract a new pool of fans towards the game. That’s all we can do, that’s what we’re good at – going out and playing cricket and winning games. But we know as international cricketers we do have a responsibility on and off the field.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of things going forward – as the England cricket team and for me as captain – that we will have the responsibility of doing.”

Stokes’ opposite number Kane Williamson also had his say, having played for Yorkshire as an overseas signing over the course of four seasons between 2014 and 2018. He offered a hopeful assessment of the future but had little to say about his own experiences in the dressing room.

“It’s been incredibly sad to see what’s unfolded,” he said. “I can only hope that something positive comes out of it and the awareness that it’s created to move forward in a positive manner.

“There is no space for racism or discrimination in sport or society. I was here for a few brief stints and enjoyed my time at Yorkshire. There were some issues that were made aware more recently and you can only hope that there is healing.

“There’s been a huge amount of awareness throughout the whole world... efforts to continue that awareness and make it a more inclusive place, whether in sport or other work places.”

England have already won the series after kicking off the Stokes-Brendon McCullum era with successful chases. It has been more than a decade since they took a clean sweep in a home series of three or more games, but the skipper made it clear he remains more interested how his team go about their business.

“We want to walk away with winning 3-0, that would be amazing, but I said to the lads before we started training that the result will look after itself this week,” Stokes said.

“Let’s carry on with what we’ve been doing these last two weeks.”