Northamptonshire’s Pakistan-born seamer Azharullah is set to complete an unlikely journey to Friends Life t20 finals day after putting love before cricket to earn his break in the county game.
The 29-year-old gave up the chance to represent Pakistan three years ago to move to England permanently and live with his wife Emma – who he met while playing in the Bradford Cricket League.
Emma was the club scorer at Pudsey Congs and they were married in 2009 at a time when Azharullah was on the radar of the Pakistan selectors.
The right-armer toured Bangladesh the previous year with Pakistan’s academy side and had helped his domestic team to the four-day and 50-over titles.
But following a brief stint playing back home following his wedding, Azharullah decided his life was in England.
Three years on and after completing his residency to qualify as a non-overseas player, Azharullah returned to first-class ranks when Northamptonshire signed him amid little fuss earlier this year.
It has proved an astute piece of business as he has become the surprise packet of this year’s Twenty20 competition – taking a tournament-best 24 wickets at an average of 11.37 – to help the Steelbacks to only their second-ever finals day at Edgbaston today.
“It was a long three years but it has all paid off,” he said. “Emma was the main reason (for moving to England). I married her in 2009 and then I went back to play for two months in Pakistan. I played eight first-class games and took 35 wickets. There were four months left and I thought ‘I can’t keeping going back, I have to give time to my wife’.
“So I had to start this process of qualifying for county cricket.
“In January 2010 I decided I would take the time off first-class cricket and get myself ready for county cricket.
“I sacrificed my years of cricket and I have come in here and done well and I am really happy with that.”
Azharullah will have added incentive at Edgbaston with finals day coinciding with his daughter Aisha’s second birthday.
T20 Finals day
Semi-finals: Hampshire v Surrey (1030), Northants v Essex (1430). Final: 1830.