Paul Collingwood says England’s players have discussed Rafiq affair fallout

Paul Collingwood, the assistant coach, has said the Azeem Rafiq affair has been discussed by the England players and insisted that the national team’s dressing room is an open environment free of intimidation and discrimination.

“Of course, when something as big as this is in the news you have a chat about it,” he said. “But over the last few years we’ve done a lot of work in our dressing room to make it a place that everyone wants to be. We’ve worked hard to encourage respect and unity in the dressing room and that’s a motto that we live by.

“Dressing rooms are special places, you spend a lot of time with each other and you go through some amazing times and you go through lots of hardships.

“I know this group of players, and it’s very important to them that it’s an environment where people feel safe, that people enjoy most of all, and where people are relaxed. We’ve got a very diverse group of players and I know everybody feels welcome in that dressing room.” Collingwood admits this is a process of constant education and improvement.

One moment of perceived cultural insensitivity came when England won the 2019 50-over World Cup and after the trophy presentation Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, the squad’s two Muslims, had to hastily retreat before their teammates started spraying champagne. Even if this tournament ends as England hope, with victory in the final a week on Sunday, a repeat of those scenes is unlikely in the largely alcohol-free United Arab Emirates.

“It’s an education for all of us,” Collingwood said. “We keep trying to improve ourselves and our environments, I think it’s important and hopefully we can create a culture that people look at and are very proud of, and that filters down to whatever level. It’s an education forever – keep trying to learn, understand and get better.”

Mark Wood fulfilling 12th man duties against Sri Lanka
Mark Wood’s fitness has improved sufficiently that he may move on from his 12th man duties against Sri Lanka and bowl against South Africa. Photograph: Michael Steele/ICC/Getty Images

England go into their last game of the Super 12s, against South Africa on Saturday, in effect needing only to avoid humiliation to secure a place in the semi-finals. They will do so without the injured Tymal Mills, who despite playing only these four World Cup matches for England since 2018 was described as “a huge loss” by Collingwood. Mark Wood, who has not yet played in the tournament as he recovers from an ankle injury, is now bowling off a full run-up in training and may face the Proteas on a pitch that should suit him.

“What seems to be difficult to play in Sharjah are the real fast, skiddy bowlers that bash the wicket from about eight metres and try to hit the top of the stumps and get a bit of variable bounce,” Collingwood said. “If Woody was 100% fit then he’s the type of bowler you would look at for that surface.”

After the World Cup Collingwood and the multi-format players will join the Ashes squad in Australia, though he hopes he will be able to enjoy more freedom on that leg of the tour than the current one. “I’m not great with bubble life, I don’t really enjoy it that much,” he said.

“I’m not sure how much more of it world cricket can take – not just the England team, I’m saying world cricket here. A lot of players and management are close to capacity in terms of how much they can take with this. Hopefully in the future we find ways that we’re not so restricted. It can be tough, but we’re here to help each other out when you have some dark days.”