Leicestershire v Yorkshire: ‘We’re lucky to be through’ as Vikings clinch Blast quarter-final spot

THERE have been so many strands to the Yorkshire racism crisis and this, in its own way, was one of them.

For while Yorkshire stand accused of bringing the entire game into disrepute over the Azeem Rafiq affair, with disciplinary hearings set to take place in the autumn, Leicestershire were eliminated from the T20 Blast – ironically sending Yorkshire through to the quarter-finals as a consequence – following on-field rule breaches trivial by comparison.

In the match against Northamptonshire at Grace Road on Friday, Arron Lilley, the Leicestershire batsman, was said to have verbally abused James Neesham, the New Zealand all-rounder, while Naveen-ul-Haq, Leicestershire’s Afghanistan pace bowler, was punished for bowling a brace of beamers.

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As Leicestershire were effectively on a final warning for previous rule breaches dating back to August 2020, with both of Friday’s incidents taking place during an impassioned finale on a night when Leicestershire won by one run to keep alive their qualification prospects, the Cricket Discipline Commission imposed a two-point sanction which meant that Yorkshire advanced to the last-eight instead.

Yorkshire Vikings' captain David Willey. Picture: SWpix.comYorkshire Vikings' captain David Willey. Picture: SWpix.com
Yorkshire Vikings' captain David Willey. Picture: SWpix.com

The decision was announced just three-and-a-quarter-hours before what was essentially a winner-takes-all decider, albeit Yorkshire could still have qualified with a point for a tie or a no-result as they led Leicestershire by one point going into the game.

It sparked a flurry of debate on social media, with some Yorkshire fans sympathising with their Leicestershire brethren and others steadfastly refusing to look a gift horse in the mouth and a free pass into the knockout stages.

As it turned out, it was just as well that the CDC did intervene, Yorkshire losing by 60 runs following a performance and a set of circumstances which, paradoxically, half makes one wonder whether their name could be on the trophy this year.

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Defeat saw them finish fourth in the North Group and they will meet Surrey at the Oval on Wednesday for the right to play at Finals Day at Edgbaston.

David Willey, the Yorkshire captain, admitted: “We’re lucky to be through. If they hadn’t have been docked two points, we wouldn’t be through at all.

“Going into the quarter-final, we’ve got to play better than we have done. When we’re on it, we’re a good team who can beat teams convincingly, but when we’re under pressure, who’s standing up?

“Very often, we’re not doing it in high-pressure situations,” he added.

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Colin Ackermann, his Leicestershire counterpart, said: “We were very disappointed by the decision to deduct points, so in those circumstances I was proud of the professionalism the players showed.

“We wanted to finish the season on a high in front of our home crowd, and I’m really pleased with the victory but in saying that it is bittersweet.

“I can’t really say whether it was a fair decision. Things happen on the field in the heat of the moment, but it is what it is; the decision has been made and there’s nothing much more I can say about it.”

Although Leicestershire could have no complaints in the sense that they knew this Sword of Damacles was hanging over their heads, with the CDC warning last year that any further rule breaches before August 1 would almost certainly result in a points deduction, the real losers, as ever, were the public.

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Granted, the Yorkshire supporters might not have felt particularly aggrieved at having a potentially exciting match rendered meaningless in the context of quarter-final progress, but it was rough on those who had bought tickets in expectation of such – not least a home support which traditionally has little to cheer in other formats.

The matter is rendered more unsatisfactory by the fact that the investigation into the Rafiq affair – first by Yorkshire, and then by the England and Wales Cricket Board – has dragged on for so long that it is almost two years since the former spinner made his allegations.

As the ECB has not even bothered to interview people it has charged, with the former Yorkshire first-team coach Andrew Gale saying that the governing body had chosen not to speak to him, a quite scandalous situation, Leicestershire and others might wonder why Yorkshire have not already been penalised seeing that the ECB has seemingly made up its mind with no attempt whatsoever to get to the truth.

Indeed, it took less than 48 hours to decide Leicestershire’s guilt in this case and although it could hardly be compared like-for-like in terms of seriousness or complexity, it does appear as if the hare has stood in judgement over Leicestershire here while the tortoise presides over Yorkshire’s fate.

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As has long been clear, the ECB investigation is a complete sham with zero credibility, making the case for a public inquiry irresistible to ensure that every scrap of evidence related to this case is brought out into the open on all sides of the fence.

Indeed, an ECB beset by racism allegations itself should be heavily investigated as part of the inquiry, which would cut right across sport, the government and even members of the House of Lords.

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