Things haven’t always run smoothly for Azeem Rafiq, but this off-spinner from Barnsley has the world at his feet. A skillful bowler who has scored a Championship century, he also took to captaincy like a duck to water when handed the job in Twenty20 cricket during 2012.
Rafiq was catapulted into the limelight in 2008 when, through no fault of his own, he was deemed ineligible to play county cricket due to passport and registration issues. Having debuted in a Twenty20 group match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, Yorkshire were subsequently thrown out of the competition.
He dealt with that situation impressively, but was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons a couple of years later when he took to Twitter and criticised his England under 19s manager John Abrahams. He was banned for a month and suspended by Yorkshire.
Since then he has bounced back, matured and developed his career at quite some rate – so much so that the ex-under 19s captain was handed a place on the England Performance Programme trip to India in late 2012.
2012 proved a year to remember for him, having done enough to secure a regular place in all forms of first-team cricket.
And when Andrew Gale was ruled out with a hip injury midway through the t20 campaign, the Yorkshire management had no hesitation in handing Rafiq the skipper’s role. Out of the six matches he took charge of, Yorkshire won five and had the other one abandoned. He was Yorkshire’s first captain of Asian descent.
Rafiq took charge of Yorkshire again in Twenty20 in 2013, but overall it was a frustrating summer for the player due largely to injury.
2004 – Took 1-19 from seven overs for Yorkshire in an under 13s match against Lancashire at Slaithwaite in Huddersfield in July. Yorkshire were captained by Joe Root.
2006 – Debuted for Barnsley’s first team in the Yorkshire Premier League against Sheffield United in May, aged 15. He returned 1-12 from seven overs. Also played for Yorkshire under 15s and 17s that summer.
2007 – Took 20 wickets and scored 304 runs in 19 matches for Yorkshire’s Academy during the summer. Struck with the ball on his bow for Yorkshire seconds in a 50-over friendly against Durham at Headingley in May.
2008 – Claimed 5-51 in a second XI Roses Championship defeat against Lancashire at Headingley in May, helping to earn him a first-team debut in a Twenty20 Cup clash with Notts at Trent Bridge in June. It did not work out the way he or Yorkshire hoped in the weeks to follow.
2009 – Toured South Africa with England under 19s in January before captaining them in series against Bangladesh at home and away in July and October. Made his Championship and one-day debuts for Yorkshire against Sussex at Headingley and Scarborough respectively in June and August. Took five wickets in the match during his maiden Championship appearance and then scored a magnificent century against Worcestershire at New Road in his second outing – still a career best.
2010 – Captained England under 19s at the World Cup in New Zealand during January, but was jettisoned from their squad in the summer after an outburst at team manager John Abrahams. He was banned from all cricket for a month in early August.
2011 – Clinched victory and the man-of-the-match award with a memorable all-round display in a Roses Twenty20 match against Lancashire at Old Trafford in June. He took 3-15 from four overs before hitting two fours in the last over to secure a thrilling two-wicket win chasing 123.
2012 – Made himself into an integral part of Yorkshire’s plans in all forms of cricket, taking 28 Championship wickets, ten in List A and 16 in Twenty20 at home and abroad. He also scored two fifties in the final match of the season against Essex at Chelmsford in September as Championship promotion was achieved having excelled as interim Twenty20 skipper through the middle of the summer. Toured India with the England Performance Programme squad in November.
2013 – Rafiq only played 17 matches in first-team colours in all forms. He failed to regain a regular berth in the Championship side following a knee injury early in the season, playing only two matches. He captained the side at stages through the Twenty20 campaign before the highlight of his season came in a one-day friendly against Bangladesh A when he took a career best haul of 5-30 in early August.