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May 1, 2012
Yorkshire have made a shock announcement that Ajmal Shahzad can leave the county - only a week after their new coach, Jason Gillespie, praised him as "a fantastic bowler".
Yorkshire refused to explain the reasons for Shahzad's abrupt request to leave but it seems inevitable that the club has become embroiled in the sort of stand-off with a disaffected player in which it has specialised throughout its history.
Shahzad, who eight years ago became the first Yorkshire-born cricketer of Pakistani background to represent the county, has been periodically unsettled at Yorkshire, but the arrival of Gillespie had filled him with fresh resolve and optimism at the start of the season.
Instead, Yorkshire have now announced: "Following discussions between YCCC and Ajmal Shahzad, it has been jointly agreed that in the best interests of his development, Ajmal will be given the option to play for another club either under a new contract or on loan for the rest of the season, in order to establish himself with a new county."
Somerset, who are in the market for a fast bowler on loan, are bound to be among the major suitors for a player whose 2011 season was wrecked by ankle trouble but who, at his best, remains on the fringe of the England set-up. Middlesex's director of cricket, Angus Fraser, has also shown interest in the past. Essex, not slow to recognise the attraction of rejected or disillusioned Yorkies, will also take an interest.
There was no comment from Gillespie, who had watched Shahzad bowl in Yorkshire's last home match against Essex and purred: "That was Test match bowling. He had a troubled season last year, but we don't worry about last year. Ajmal has got himself in as good a condition as he's ever been in his first-class career. He's worked incredibly hard, and I think he's a fantastic bowler, a very exciting bowler."
Instead, it was left to Martyn Moxon, the director of cricket, and Colin Graves, the chairman, to issue anodyne statements that gave little indication of the reasons behind the impending split.
Moxon said: "There has been a lot of discussion over a period of time with Ajmal regarding his cricket and it has been agreed by the club and the player that it is in the player's best interests that he pursues his career elsewhere. I would like to wish Ajmal every success in the future."
Graves added: "I am disappointed that Ajmal will be leaving as he is one of the bright prospects of England's fast bowlers. We wish Ajmal all the very best in the future and thank him for his contribution to Yorkshire cricket over the years.''
Shahzad has had emotional highs and lows throughout his career. He is an outgoing personality and his mood swings have been heightened by the fact that he has not taken his falling out of favour with England easily. There were times last season, notably on an away trip to the Netherlands, when Yorkshire were privately critical of what they perceived as unruly behaviour.
He has issues of his own. He regards himself as a genuine allrounder yet bats low in the order for Yorkshire and lost the new ball to Tim Bresnan, who was making a rare return from England duties, against Kent at Canterbury last week, and can expect to concede it once again when the Australia international Mitchell Starc arrives.
He was also a player that Graves had in mind when he responded to Yorkshire's relegation last season by terming some performances as "a disgrace." Shahzad, who had bowled much of thre season with ankle trouble, and who neded an operation in the close season, felt the criticism was unwarranted.
All this will have been discussed when Shahzad held emergency talks with Graves and Yorkshire's coaching staff on Tuesday morning. Quite what occured for Yorkshire to allow him to leave now rather than simply rely on time to improve his mood is not entirely known. The conclusion seems to have been that his dissatisfaction has become disruptive and is unlikely to be easily reversed. It is a very Yorkshire response - perhaps on all sides - to be so implacable with the season still in its infancy.
Shahzad, at 26, will be an attractive proposition. He has played one Test match for England, taking four wickets against Bangladesh at Old Trafford in June 2010. He has also played 11 ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals.
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