February 27, 1991, Karachi, Sind
Right hand bat
Right arm offbreak
Holgate School, Barnsley
Offspinner Azeem Rafiq, who moved to England from Pakistan in 2001, played for England Under-15 and Under-17 sides, the latter as captain, as well as rising through the age groups at Yorkshire. However, the most significant honours came his way during the 2012 when he was named Yorkshire captain in the Friends Life t20, the first cricketer of Asian origin to take the role, and led Yorkshire to five wins from his six matches at the helm, handing over to Andrew Gale when the regular captain returned from injury with the side firmly on course to qualify for the quarter-finals. Gale was quick to praise the captaincy skills of his understudy, remarking that he admired his up-and-at-'em style and that he found himself on the same wavelength nine times out of ten.
It is extraordinary to recall now that Rafiq's debut for Yorkshire in 2008 cost them a Twenty20 Cup quarter-final after his appearance in a group stage win over Nottinghamshire. Then an academy player, he was selected in good faith but questions over his eligibility led to Yorkshire's quarterfinal against Durham being postponed moments before it was due to begin to the disenchantment of the crowd and ultimately their effective disqualification after the result at Trent Bridge was reversed. It subsequently emerged that he was not properly registered and furthermore that he did not have a British passport and so, under ECB regulations, was ineligible to play for the county. It was a poor oversight from Yorkshire, who had long been aware of his talents. Yorkshire said, in their defence, that they had only taken him along for the ride, but had been presented with a worn Trent Bridge pitch and had to throw him into the match without a second thought.
Rafiq overcame the glitch, and went on to score a first-class century for the county in only his second match, before being named England captain for the Under-19 World Cup. If that were a controversy not of his making, the same cannot be said of the error of judgment he made soon afterwards when an outburst on twitter against coach John Abrahams on being dropped from an England Under-19 side on disciplinary grounds led to a one-month ban from all cricket. Clearly he quickly learned his lesson and combined competitive edge with a fast-growing maturity. In 2006 he was named BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year for Yorkshire and in 2007 made his second XI debut.
In the four-day side in 2012 - the year of his T20 captaincy - he briefly became an increasingly important figure in Yorkshire's bid for promotion to the First Division in the Championship, concluding the season with a magnificent all-round performance in the final match as Yorkshire clinched promotion with victory over Essex in Chelmsford, where Rafiq made 53 and 75 not out batting and had career-best innings and match figures with the ball, finishing with 5 for 50 as Essex were bowled out for 148 in their second innings for a match return of 8 for 115.
Disappointingly, he failed to progress, not helped by an injury which affected his bowling rhythm nor his own impatience to succeed, and even though he remained a key part of the T20 side a lack of opportunities in other formats led to his release at the end of 2014. He spoke of needing a fresh challenge, but no county was moved to offer him one and he spent two years in the relative obscurity of league cricket, slowly coming to terms with his lot, before Yorkshire renewed acquaintances in 2016 and he once became a key component of their Twenty20 cricket.
A player with a shrewd cricket brain had begun to make the best of his talents, although success in Championship cricket proved harder to come by. Yorkshire, somewhat out of character, awarded him his county cap, his shock upon receiving it forever captured in a touching video released by the club on social media.
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