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Rafiq aiming to succeed in 2014

— 7 January 2014

It has been a busy old winter for Azeem Rafiq, who is doing all he can to give Jason Gillespie and Andrew Gale a selection headache ahead of the start of the new county season in April.

The 2013 campaign was a frustrating one for the off-spinner, who was hit by a knee injury to rule him out of the first six weeks of the season.

  • When he returned to fitness, he did so having seen leggie Adil Rashid make the most of his opportunity in first-team colours with both bat and ball.

    In all, Rafiq only played 17 matches in all forms of first-team cricket.

    As a result, the former England under 19s captain was not at all jaded heading into the off-season. So, he decided to make the most of his freshness.

    Not only did he do some extra fitness work at Headingley with one of the club’s new strength and conditioning coach Blaine Clancy before Christmas, he swapped bat and ball for shooting boots when he spent time training with his hometown football team Barnsley.

    Rafiq also spent a week away in Zimbabwe on a sponsored camp with spin bowling coach Jack Birkenshaw, who has worked with many a spinner in England.

    And now, with the festivities out of the way and the new season fast approaching, Rafa, as he is known at Headingley, is in Melbourne for an eight-week spell of grade cricket with the Dandenong West club.

  • “It was a frustrating year for me, so I’ve been trying to get ready for March as much as I can,” he said.

    “I did some training with Barnsley and also went out to Zimbabwe. It’s all been aimed at putting myself in the frame for the first game.

    “As soon as the season ended, and with me not having played much during the summer, I got in touch with Paul Bower, who used to be our interim strength and conditioning coach and does a lot of fitness stuff at Barnsley.

    “I worked with them through September, October and a little bit of November.

    “I also did a bit of work with Blaine Clancy, our new strength and conditioning coach, before getting a sponsored trip away with Jack Birkenshaw. Andrew Gale then managed to get me a club out in Melbourne, where I can play for eight weeks.”

    Should everything go to plan for Rafiq, who will return home in time for another trip abroad in mid-March for Yorkshire’s pre-season tour, he will give the Yorkshire hierarchy something to think about ahead of the opening Championship match of the season against Somerset at Taunton.

    “There’s good competition between the two of us, which is good for the side,” added Rafiq, referring to his colleague Rashid.

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