Test Match Sofa
Rafiq and Yorkshire on the up
By Graham Hardcastle
Azeem Rafiq says life has never been better at Yorkshire, both for him and their Twenty20 team. The former England Under 19 off-spinner has courted controversy on a couple of occasions throughout his career, although only one of those could be classed as his fault. But now things are on the up for the 21-year-old.
Handed the captaincy for the county’s last two Friends Life t20 clashes in the absence of regular skipper Andrew Gale due to his hip injury, Rafiq is in line to lead the side against Leicestershire at Grace Road tomorrow. He is Yorkshire’s youngest ever captain and their first of Asian origin.
Not only has he matured greatly over the last 12-18 months, the same can be said for the White Rose’s Twenty20 outfit. After winning an inter-counties pre-season even in Barbados, they currently sit joint top of the North Division table with seven points from five matches alongside Nottinghamshire and arch-rivals Lancashire, who they host at Headingley on Friday.
Yorkshire have never reached Finals Day, but overseas signings Mitchell Starc and David Miller have both impressed this term. Rafiq said: “The supporters have probably never seen a Yorkshire side like this in Twenty20. I've been involved in the Twenty20 squad for four or five years, and I've never seen a side like it.
“We've had the big names before, we've had the Vaughans, the Hoggards, Rana and Gibbs, but we've never had a team like. It's really exciting. Maybe this is our year. We've got a good team spirit at the minute, and we're working really hard for each other. We've just got to keep that going. If we do, you never know.
“Both our overseas professionals have been absolutely outstanding in this competition. They're a couple of young lads, 23 and 22, really eager to do well. They're really happy to be here. They've fitted into the dressing room like we've grown up playing age-group cricket with them.”
Rafiq first hit the headlines in 2008 when Yorkshire were thrown out of the Twenty20 Cup for fielding an ineligible player in a group game against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, with problems arising with his registration and the fact that he did not have a British passport having moved to Barnsley from Pakistan as a child. It was an error on Yorkshire’s part rather than Rafiq’s.
Then, in 2010, he launched a foul-mouthed tirade on Twitter at England Under 19 coach John Abrahams after being sacked as captain due to breaking team curfews. That was very much his fault.
“It was an unfortunate situation,” he said. “I've had a few of them now. But it all makes you grow as a person and as a cricketer. You become the person and the cricketer you are from the bad times that you go through. I've made a few mistakes, as everybody does, but I'm really enjoying my cricket now.
“I've never enjoyed my cricket as much as I am at the minute. That's because of the lads we've got and the management structure we've got. It's a good place to be.”
Rafiq is playing as Yorkshire’s only full-time spinner in Twenty20 cricket having replaced Adil Rashid from their County Championship line-up too.
And he added: “My only aim at the start of the year was to enjoy my cricket. I didn't set myself a target of playing this much first-team cricket or that much first-team cricket, I just wanted to enjoy my cricket and my life. I had full confidence that it would put me in good stead. And, touch wood, it's going well at the minute.”
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