NAME: Azeem Rafiq DOB: February 27, 1991, Karachi ROLE: Off-spinner, Right-hand bat NICKNAME: Rafa DID YOU KNOW?: Rafiq is a big Barnsley football fan and trained with them in late 2013 as part of his pre-season training programme.
Azeem Rafiq made an encouraging return to Yorkshire colours in 2016, a little under two years since being released by the county, and he has since been described as one of best limited overs spinners in England by team-mate Alex Lees.
Rafiq, an offie who is extremely useful with the bat, earned his county cap towards the end of his comeback campaign.
During the 2017 summer, he claimed his maiden five-wicket haul in the NatWest T20 Blast in a record-breaking win over Northamptonshire at Emerald Headingley (5-19).
A former England Under 19s captain, he also skippered Yorkshire’s Twenty20 team during 2012 – the first cricketer of Asian origin to take the role.
He led the county to five wins from his six matches in charge.
Rafiq, born in Karachi, moved from Pakistan to England – Barnsley to be precise – in 2001 before also playing age-group cricket for England’s under 15s and 17s.
He first pulled on a Yorkshire shirt at Under 13s level in 2004, debuting for the club’s Academy side only two years later.
Rafiq’s second XI debut came as a 16-year-old in 2007 in a side including current four-day captain Andrew Gale, Adam Lyth, Rich Pyrah and Steve Patterson.
Having learnt his cricket with Barnsley at Shaw Lane, he took a notable 5-10 from four overs later in the summer for England’s Under 16s against an Australian Schools Under 16s team at Loughborough.
His first-team debut for Yorkshire, in a Twenty20 match at Notts in 2008, ended up being wrapped in controversy as it was subsequently revealed that he had not been registered as an English qualified player in a paperwork oversight.
Yorkshire ended up being disqualified from that year’s competition at the quarter-final stage as a result of fielding an ineligible player.
His qualification was quickly sorted out, and he debuted in one-day and County Championship cricket the following summer.
During only his second match, against Worcestershire at New Road in early June, he hit his maiden century in a high-scoring draw.
He captained England Under 19s at the one-day World Cup in New Zealand in early 2010.
He took a career best 5-30 during the final week of 2012 when Yorkshire secured Championship promotion from Division Two with a win over Essex at Chelmsford, the same year he captained the county and appeared at Finals Day for the first time. He also hit fifties in both innings of the match.
Rafiq briefly ousted Adil Rashid as Yorkshire’s first choice Championship spinner, but things did not quite work out.
Although he played a small part in the Championship title win in 2014, he was released that year.
Thankfully, he impressed in league cricket for Sheffield and Phoenix United at the start of 2016 before being invited back to Headingley to play some cricket in the second team, earning himself another contract.
He played six Championship matches, scoring two fifties and taking three wickets. He also played six one-day matches and eleven in the T20 Blast.
Rafiq was Yorkshire’s joint second highest wicket-taker in that particular competition with 15 as they reached Finals Day for the second time.
In 2017, he maintained that kind of white ball form, claiming 18 wickets from nine Royal London one-day Cup outings as Yorkshire reached the quarter-finals. His haul was Yorkshire’s best and the second best in the entire competition.
His Championship campaign was not quite as productive, but he did return 17 wickets in the Blast, again top of the Vikings tree alongside Tim Bresnan.
No wonder Lees said: “There’s not many limited overs games I can remember where he’s gone the distance, and when he does go for runs, he usually takes the important wickets.
“There are so many big names who get the plaudits, but Rafa has been very consistent, especially since he came back to Yorkshire following his time out of the game.
“He’s in a great place now to kick on and push forwards for Yorkshire.
“He produces the goods, has the right cricket brain to play, and will be pretty hard to ignore. I believe he will play limited overs cricket for England. I think Rafa is the best domestic off-spinner outside of that England set-up.”
Born27th February, 1991
RoleOff-spinner, right-hand bat
County Debut27th June, 2008
First ClassYorkshire vs Sussex at Headingley, 2009