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Gary Ballance is named after the Yorkshire cricketer who called his former teammate Azeem Rafiq ‘a P ** i’

‘My family and I are deeply saddened and upset by the allegations that have been made against me recently in the press and by the misleading and selective nature of the reports in recent days. Azeem wasn’t just a teammate, he was my best friend and supporter in cricket.

‘Throughout this process I have cooperated with the independent investigation and have been completely honest and transparent with the club and investigators at all times. The information and complaints have been leaked and published in the press, which, in my opinion, gives a misleading impression of the evidence that was heard in the investigation. I did not intend to make any public statement but, given the reports that have been published, and with journalists arriving at my home, I feel I have no choice but to give a public response.

“ To be clear, I deeply regret some of the language I used in my youth. The independent investigation, having heard all the evidence, accepted that the context of some of the language used was a “friendly verbal attack” between friends that was not intended to offend or hurt and that no malice was intended.

Given my incredibly close relationship with Rafa over the years, I am saddened that it has come to this. Rafa and I started playing for Yorkshire at a similar time and we quickly developed a very close bond. He encouraged me to play cricket at his Barnsley CC club, which I did, we toured a lot together, both with Yorkshire and the England Performance Program, and we always supported each other on and off the court. We socialized a lot together outside of the game and also drank and had fun together.

“In the field we support each other a lot. We both captained Yorkshire at various times and support each other when we fulfill these roles. Rafa has always been a huge fan of mine and was always there for me through the ups and downs of my career with Yorkshire and England. When he was first released by Yorkshire, I was there for him during that difficult time and he was delighted when he got a new contract and a second term with the club. He was very pleased for me when I was selected for England and I was delighted to receive his messages of support during my time with England. He was also always very supportive of me at some difficult times in my career, and I have always been very grateful to him for that.

“ Because we were such good friends and we spent a lot of time together drinking and at night we both said things in private that were not acceptable. It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I said in the independent investigation, I accept that I did and I regret that I did. I do not want to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation in which the best friends said offensive things to each other that, outside of that context, would be considered. totally inappropriate.

‘I am sorry that these exchanges took place, but at no time did I believe or understand that they had caused Rafa distress. If I had believed that, I would have stopped immediately. He was my best friend in cricket and I really cared about him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I made Rafa cry.

‘That does not mean that what happened between us was correct or appropriate. Was not. Rafa told me things that were not acceptable and I did the same with Rafa. I never said anything with malicious intent or to upset Rafa.

Rafa and I remain close friends the entire time we exchange these inappropriate comments. One winter, I suggested that Rafa and his bowling coach travel to Zimbabwe to stay with my family, which they did. I lived in my family’s home in Zimbabwe and spent time with my parents and brothers while training in Zimbabwe. Later he would become very good friends with my brother and the two of them stayed together regularly when my brother was in the UK. Rafa was always very grateful for the support and affection that my family gave him and he expressed it to me regularly. I was honored to be invited to their wedding in Pakistan, which I was unfortunately unable to attend.

“ I am aware of how hurtful racial slur is and I am sorry to have used this word in immature exchanges in my youth and I am sure that Rafa feels the same about some of the things he said to me as well.

“My intention, throughout this process, has been to be honest and to cooperate with the independent investigation. In light of recent media reports, it is correct, on behalf of myself and my family, that I put my position in the public domain.

“I will not make any further statements on this matter.”

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