For a brief moment, Michael Vaughan attempted to raise a laugh.
Asked to confirm career details, the former England cricket captain responded: “It’s like a Question of Sport this.”
Far from it.
It was a cross-examination at the International Arbitration Centre in London with Vaughan’s reputation on the line and the threat of punishment from the England and Wales Cricket Board hanging over him.
This was Vaughan’s chance to fight a disrepute charge – the only accused to appear before the commission examining the Yorkshire racism scandal sparked by Azeem Rafiq’s whistleblowing in 2020.
The focal point of Vaughan’s case is a Yorkshire match in 2009.
The allegation is Rafiq and three other players with Asian heritage were told by Vaughan during a huddle: “There are too many of you. We need to have a word about that.”
He accepted the words were “racist and discriminatory” and does not remember what he said that day but denies using them.
ECB lawyer Jane Mulcahy KC challenged Vaughan on how it was possible to state that denial.
Vaughan insists he would never have put teammates in a “bad state of mind to try to win a game of cricket.”
And yet the year after the alleged incident, an insight into Vaughan’s public use of offensive language was revealed on social media.
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The commission was informed of tweets from Vaughan from 2010 that resurfaced after Rafiq’s revelations two years ago about the culture at Yorkshire CCC.
Rafiq himself has also previously apologised for antisemitic posts online.
Referring to the directory inquiries services, Vaughan wrote: “Why when you ring 118 118 are all the people who answer foreign… Can’t make heads or tails of what they are saying.. Annoying.”
Another post read: “Not many English people live in London.. I need to learn a new language.”
Ms Mulcahy said to Vaughan: “You are effectively saying there are too many foreigners.”
He responded: “I have apologised.”
Ms Mulcahy put it to Vaughan: “The tweets remarkably similar in tone to the allegation, ‘There are too many of you lot’.” Do you agree with that?”.
Vaughan replied: “No.”
This is the ECB’s attempt to use tweets to challenge the plausibility of Vaughan’s claim that it was inconceivable he could racially abuse teammates when he spoke of pride playing alongside them.
The rigour of ECB’s investigation was disputed by Vaughan’s lawyer at the start of the hearing’s third day.
Christopher Stoner KC claimed it is based on “assumption upon assumption”.
And Vaughan called into question the very existence of the commission – claiming it’s the wrong way of assessing comments alleged to have been made 14 years ago.
“It’s a really bad look how cricket has dealt with this situation,” Vaughan said. “It’s become far too public.”
But for the Ashes-winning captain who considers himself a “statesman of the game” it is the forum where his character is being judged.
His reputation and future ability to work in cricket is on the line. And for Rafiq it is about seeking justice.