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Ex-cricketer says he was nicknamed ‘the bomber’ and told he would never play in the first team

Written by on 16/11/2021

Former Essex cricketer Zoheb Sharif says racist and Islamophobic abuse he suffered at the club has caused two decades of hurt.

Speaking to Sky News, the batter said he was nicknamed “the bomber” throughout his time at the county.

The 38-year-old added: “I made my debut a day after the September 11th attacks and as soon as I joined the team I was called ‘bomber’ as a nickname which stuck.

“I was always referred to as a ‘bomber’. This then developed into a ‘curry muncher’.”

Zoheb Sharif
Image: Sharif told Sky News the abuse he suffered has left decades of hurt

Sharif began playing for Essex aged eight and went on to play in four first-team matches following his first-class debut in 2001.

He says his race was used to hold him back from what could have been a promising career: “I was told ‘No matter what you do, you will never, ever play in the first team.’

“But I was like, ‘I’m doing so well, I was like highest run scorer in the whole country, why can’t I even get a look in?’

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“They said: ‘No matter how you do, you will never play’.”

Sharif added: “I remember sitting down towards the end of the season where I performed really well – I think the next best person was averaging in the 30s and I was in the 100s – and the only official reason I ever got was – ‘You will never play in the first team’.”

“It’s hurtful and it makes you distraught,” he said.

A general view of The Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford. Picture date: Wednesday September 1, 2021.
Image: The club (pictured) has promised to investigate all the allegations

Sharif, who is a Muslim, says he would have to say prayers in his car after being refused to use a corner at the club.

“I wasn’t allowed to pray. Sometimes I would find a place to pray in the corner of the ground away from everyone.

“I remember a senior figure taking me to the side and saying: ‘You can’t do that in front of everyone. You’ve got to do that away from everyone’.”

Sharif says his cricket dreams were taken away from him and that, 20 years on, he still feels hurt.

“I still get a lot of friends saying to me: ‘You should’ve had a career’.”

“I should’ve had a good chance, an opportunity to have a career in the game, and I felt that Essex took that away from me.

“I felt as though my performances warranted being included in the first team. I never got that inclusion and I felt like an outcast from day one.”

Jamaican-born Maurice Chambers, who also played for Essex, has revealed that racist bullying at the county was so bad he would go home and cry.

File photo dated 03-04-2009 of Maurice Chambers. The England and Wales Cricket Board has said it is "appalled" by fresh racism claims made by former Essex player Maurice Chambers and has vowed to investigate the matter alongside the other allegations at the club. Issue date: Monday November 15, 2021.
Image: Former Essex player Maurice Chambers has made fresh racism claims against the club

He told The Cricketer that over a 10-year period, he became “used to one senior teammate offering him bananas in a mocking manner” and a senior member of the coaching staff “reading out racist jokes in the dressing room”.

On Friday, Essex chairman John Faragher resigned following a historical allegation he used racist language at a board meeting in 2017.

The club has promised to investigate all the allegations and referred the matter to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Its new chief executive John Stephenson said: “I am extremely disappointed to hear of further historic racial allegations from a former player about two of his teammates and an ex-member of staff, none of whom are currently involved with the club in any capacity.

“The only way we are going to progress, not only in cricket, but in society in general, is if people who have suffered abuse or discrimination feel comfortable enough to speak out and share their experiences.

“Essex Cricket has set up a reporting channel for anyone who wishes to tell us about any prejudice they have experienced during their time with Essex.”

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The allegations by Sharif come in the wake of a racism scandal at Yorkshire that has engulfed cricket.

A report found former player Azeem Rafiq was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” at the club, leading to it losing sponsors and being banned from holding Tests.

Rafiq is due to give evidence at a select committee hearing on the matter on Tuesday.

Sharif and Rafiq are both being supported by Nujum Sports, which also helps clubs and leagues from across many sports, including Premier League football, better understand race and faith issues.

It’s founder and CEO Ebs Rahman told Sky News cricket has a long way to go: “We feel that cricket has a lot to learn and we want to support its journey.

“Cricket needs to be open to change. What we are seeing with Azeem Rafiq and Zoheb Sharif now, is that this is our moment of change, for clubs to accept change and especially cricket clubs to better support athletes,” he said.

 Sky News

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