Andrew Cornish interview: I’ve met with those who dropped out of cricket to find out why


At the Middlesex CCC media day, there was an elephant in the room. A big and very obviously white elephant.

Earlier this year, Middlesex Club Chair, Mike O’Farrell appeared before the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS ) Select Committee. He said something regrettable which, with a hindsight that appeared quickly, the club recognised.

Andrew Cornish
Photo: Middlesex CCC

There was no doubling down and no attempt to hide it.

They issued a club statement the same day.

O’Farrell also referred himself to Middlesex’s Governance and Ethics Committee.

Although the episode was not close to the scale of institutional racism uncovered at Yorkshire, Middlesex decide to deal with it as if it was, and deal with it quickly and most importantly transparently.

They engaged in cricket’s African Caribbean Engagement Programme (ACE), established by Ebony Rainford-Brent and appointed a new transition coach David Burton.

One of Burton’s roles directly related to the number of players Middlesex lose, according to the club’s website, especially those of minority ethnic backgrounds:

‘Burton’s appointment is on increasing the representation of players from minority ethnic backgrounds in Middlesex’s First Eleven.

With over sixty percent of the Club’s Academy system containing young Black or British born Asian cricketers, Burton will work closely with these players to support them in their progression through the Academy and into the professional ranks, positive impacting on the Club’s desire to field a professional side that is much more diverse and more representative of the communities that Middlesex comprises.’

The biggest revelation seems to be that Cornish went out and found those Asian cricketers who had left the club between youth and adulthood to find out why. It’s one thing to comment on it happening and be derided for stating it, Cornish said he has gone out to ask those cricketers why they dropped out the system.

Knowing the subject to be unavoidable, the Communications Department asked that we ask the cricketers questions about cricket but offered us the red meat of new club CEO Andrew Cornish to face the music.

We accepted and here is the interview:

Andrew Cornish:

 On the creation of the new projects in response to recent events:

Andrew Cornish: This is a journey we have been on for the last 18 months so I would always like to think we’ve always been an inclusive club and valued diversity, but formerly creating a strategy 18 months ago now was something that was really important to us, so we’ve been working on a whole diversity inclusivity program.

On the internal damage limitation

Andrew Cornish: ”If what you’re referring to is the DCMS where our chairman was put in front of there, DCMS is a pretty brutal place, the DCMS committee, as many people can testify before that aren’t in Cricket.

Mike is, those that don’t know Mike, Mike is a wonderful man, who made a very dreadful mistake on that day and he was the first person to admit that to the point where and I don’t mind sharing this, he referred himself to the Governance and Ethics Committee of the club.

He was very clear that there’s one set of rules and everyone abides by one set of rules whether you’re the chairman or the most junior member of staff, the Governance and Ethics Committee met and considered his position and considered what had happened and the rest is history.

It would have been far better if those events hadn’t happened. They did happen, we took ownership of them, we faced up to them immediately, people make mistakes.

Mike made a mistake,. Middlesex therefore made a mistake and we owned up to it, not try and brush anything under the carpet. No we got that wrong.”

On actually identifying the problem ….

Andrew Cornish: ”I think we already identified that the process is right. We have broadly speaking the population of our communities in Middlesex has a ethnic minority base of 40 to 50 percent, coming through our age group Cricket,

I’m talking about the boys and men here now. We’re represented like our communities, so 40 to 50%of the young boys coming through that group are from typically Southeast Asian heritage. When it comes to the girls and the women it’s actually higher than that which is quite an interesting statistic.”

What are the questions you asked?

Andrew Cornish: ”But what happens when we go from 17 to the professional squads? From the academy to the professional squad, those numbers drop off dramatically.

There’s just something wrong there and I don’t even come at this from a political correctness standard. It’s just a complete failure that we are taking young people, at the age of 8,9,10, 11, then playing all the way through the county age group until they get to 17,18, 19 and then 30-40% of the people we’ve brought all away along this journey drop out the system.

There isn’t an easy answer to it, if there’d been an easy answer, we’d have solved it years ago.

It’s very very complex and what we have done is spent quite a lot of  time trying to understand what some of those complexities are.”

And what actions have since resulted?

Andrew Cornish: ”So (here are some of the) tangible things that we’ve done.

I’ve spent a lot of time with some of the young men that have now left professional cricket from Southeast Asian background and they have explained to me some of the things that they faced and some of the challenges they faced and some of the things that could have been better, and might have helped them along the way.

We’re still working with some of those guys now and I’m very excited about that and we sit and chat very openly, in a very friendly way about how we’ll look back in four or five years time and go actually we helped to make a bit of a difference there, so I think that’s really important.”

Why does the age transition result in so many talented players leaving?

”We’ve also brought in and we’ve identified that that jump when you grow up playing with all of your mates, 16,17,18 in all the same age group, (then) you suddenly go into a professional dressing room, it’s a massive challenge.

So we’ve brought in a guy called David Burton, who’s been around on the circuit, played at several counties, has gone through the trials and tribulations of trying to make it as a professional cricketer. He’s still an incredible cricketer and a very talented athlete. He’s going to be our transition coach.”

What we made of it all

Fans will be pleased to see that the club were as concerned about addressing the problem as much as fixing the PR issue O’Farrell’s words had caused.

What he said was factually true, but his words seemed to contain an assumption that it wasn’t a problem for Middlesex and, even if it was, it’s not one for Middlesex to fix.

Lastly, his words contained an assumption that the loss of so many black and brown cricketers was inevitable due to some inherent cultural difference. Many found that the most offensive part.

That mistake must never be made again.

Cornish has reversed that. His issue of a clubwide mea culpa admirably refused to throw O’Farrell under the bus. When you take responsibility to a mistake you have been brought in to fix, that’s a promising start.

The club has reached out to the local ethnic communities, ACE and most importantly to the people who know best why they dropped out, the teenage players themselves. Those are answers we hope cricket fans want to hear. Who knows, they may explain dwindling numbers in the crowd for county cricket too.

The answers they provide will hopefully land on David Burton’s desk and more solutions will follow; far away from the kind of white privileged grunting that sadly came out of Headingley.

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