AJMAL Shahzad last night dramatically quit Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
The 26-year-old pace bowler, who has represented England in one Test and 11 one-day internationals, left on the eve of today’s County Championship match against Leicestershire at Scarborough.
Yorkshire declined to comment on the reason for his departure but I understand that Shahzad had grown increasingly unhappy and unsettled at the club, who in turn had grown increasingly frustrated with him in what appears to have been a culmination of long-running tension.
The Huddersfield-born player, who was the first British-born Asian to represent the Yorkshire first team when he made his debut in 2004, is thought to have had his issues behind the scenes and not seen eye-to-eye with certain individuals.
Shahzad’s departure is still a shock – not least because it was only a few days ago that new first-team coach Jason Gillespie was raving about his skills.
After watching Shahzad bowl against Essex in Yorkshire’s last home match, Gillespie enthused: “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.”
Shahzad had begun the season in solid style after his troubled campaign in 2011.
He appeared to have responded positively after being among those implicitly criticised by club chairman Colin Graves at the end of last season, when Graves fearlessly branded the players’ performances “a disgrace” in the wake of Championship relegation.
Shahzad took only 25 Championship wickets at 41.00 last season – figures that hardly did justice to a man who had played international cricket earlier in the year.
But Shahzad felt there were mitigating circumstances in that he played for much of the season with an injured ankle, while his personal frustration boiled over in the penultimate Championship match of the season when he was found guilty of scuffing up the pitch against Warwickshire at Edgbaston and fined £750 by an England and Wales Cricket Board disciplinary panel.
Shahzad’s exit will be offset, in the short-term at least, by Yorkshire’s signing of Australian pace bowler Mitchell Starc, who is due to fly to England on Friday after the club yesterday received the necessary No Objection Certificate from Cricket Australia.
Starc, 22, is set to make his debut in the Championship match against Gloucestershire at Bristol on May 9 – a game for which Yorkshire will be without Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root due to England Lions’ commitments.
Shahzad, meanwhile, is now seeking another club as he looks to resurrect his England career.
He has previously been linked with Lancashire and Middlesex, while Somerset and Essex could now take an interest.
In an official statement last night, Yorkshire said that “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”, although they also confirmed he has played his last game for the White Rose county.
Graves said in the statement: “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.”
Director of cricket Martyn Moxon commented: “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.”
Shahzad was quoted as saying: “I would like to thank both the staff and supporters of YCCC for all the help and encouragement that I have received since I joined the staff, and wish the club lots of success in the coming years.
“I am now looking forward to the next chapter in my career and hope to push for further honours within the game.”
Yorkshire have called up Anthony McGrath for today’s match, while Iain Wardlaw is set to replace Shahzad.
The club have drawn their opening three games against Kent (twice) and Essex and it is imperative they get their first win on the board sooner rather than later.
Yorkshire would appear to have no better chance than against a Leicestershire team who last year finished at the foot of Division Two.
Yorkshire will not want to drop off the promotion pace having been widely tipped to bounce straight back into Division One – not least by club president Geoffrey Boycott, who has made clear he perceives promotion as a minimum requirement.