Azeem Rafiq says his surprise release by Yorkshire CCC is ‘not ideal timing’ at the end of an agonising season which he missed large portions of due to the tragic loss of his son.
The 27-year-old, from Gawber, and his wife Faryal’s son Alyaan was stillborn in May, with his father calling during a match at Headingley to give him the devastating news. He had missed the club’s pre-season tour during the difficult pregnancy and was not available for the early part of the season but returned to play in the majority of the Yorkshire Vikings’ Twenty20 Blast campaign. He was then released last week.
Rafiq told the Chronicle: “I understand that it is professional sport and tough decisions have to be made. If the club wants to go in a different direction and they don’t think I am part of that, then that is their decision to make.
“But it’s very disappointing that it’s happened after a very difficult time in my personal life meant I couldn’t play as much as I wanted to. It’s not ideal timing. I feel like I have been punished for losing my son. I didn’t get the support I expected in my time of need.”
Rafiq did not see the release coming. He said: “I thought I was going to be kept on, after conversations that I had with the people at the club throughout the year. It was a shock when I got released and I wish the communication had been better but it’s their decision to make and I will get on with my life.”
This is the second time Rafiq has been released by Yorkshire. After the first time in 2014, he went back to club cricket with Barnsley CC then Sheffield Collegiate and earned a return to the Headingley club in 2016 for a three-season spell which included highlights such as being one of the top wicket-takers in the country in Twenty20 and 50-over cricket last year.
He said: “There have been some good times. Getting my official cap was a massive moment for me and all of my family. Then there was getting to Twenty20 finals day with one of my best mates Alex Lees as captain in my first season back after the team had lost five out of six before I signed. This season, I got my 100th wicket which was a massive achievement and I dedicated it to our son.
“It’s sad to leave Yorkshire because I have been there since I was 11 and I worked very very hard to get back there after being released the first time.”
Rafiq says he will focus on his family for the next few months before deciding what to do next in his cricketing career.
Director of cricket Martyn Moxon, who is also from Barnsley, told the club’s website: “Obviously this is part of our rebuilding process. “We’re having a really close look at areas in which we need to strengthen the squad and crucially within the budget we’ve got. Unfortunately, with that in mind, we’re not able to offer Azeem a contract extension.“We wish him well for the future and thank him for his contribution to the club over the last three years.”