Ajmal Shahzad’s memories of Yorkshire in stark contrast to Azeem Rafiq racism claims

AJMAL SHAHZAD, the first British-born Asian to play for Yorkshire, has failed to corroborate the controversial claims by his former team-mate Azeem Rafiq that the club is “institutionally racist” and said that “I wouldn’t be the man I am now” without Yorkshire’s support.

GOOD TIMES: Yorkshire's Ajmal Shahzad in action against Kent back in 2012. Picture by Vaughan Ridley/SWPix.com

Speaking ahead of the new season about the racism row that has rocked Yorkshire cricket, Shahzad said that his own experiences of representing the club were exclusively happy and described the people there as “brilliant”.

The former England pace bowler, who played one Test and 11 one-day internationals and is now on the coaching staff at Derbyshire, also failed to recall an incident which Rafiq alleged took place at Trent Bridge early in his career.

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“There was me, Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan,” Rafiq said in an interview last August when claiming that racism at Yorkshire had left him suicidal.

Ajmal Shahzad in action for Sussex against Kent at the Hove in April 2017. Picture: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

“We were walking onto the field and one player said, ‘There’s too many of you lot. We need to have a word about that.’”

But Shahzad, who made history in 2004 when he made his debut against Worcestershire in a one-day game at Headingley, has no memory of the incident.

“No, the senior guys were really good to me,” he said. “They took me under their wing. I’ve only got good things to say about those people because they looked after me and nurtured me.”

Rafiq, 30, claimed that he played under a Yorkshire captain who was “openly racist” and said that non-white players were called “Pakis”, “elephant washers” and told to “go back to where you came from”.

Azeem Rafiq, seen in action for Yorkshire back in 2017, claims the club is "insitutionally racist" Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

His allegations have been the subject of an independent investigation that is expected to report its findings later this month or early in May, with dozens of witnesses having been interviewed to get to the bottom of an affair that Yorkshire claim has cost around £90,000 in legal fees.

Rafiq has also launched a separate employment tribunal claim against the club.

He is claiming discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race and also victimisation and detriment as a result of his efforts to address racism at Yorkshire.

But Shahzad, who shared a dressing room at Yorkshire with a number of British-born Asian players including England star Adil Rashid, who recently expressed his delight at signing a new white-ball deal with the county, has a polar opposite recollection of his time at the club.

“I know Azeem has said he experienced some unsavoury and unsettling times and I do feel for him – nobody should be subjected to things like that – but my experiences at Yorkshire were always good, if truth be told,” said Shahzad.

“The people, the backroom staff, the environment were brilliant and I’ve still got very good friends from that time.

“I can only speak highly of Yorkshire and the guys who were involved in my time. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the man I am now and I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.”

Shahzad, 35, who also played for Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Sussex and Leicestershire, cherishes his time as a Yorkshire player.

He captured 125 wickets in 45 first-class appearances for the county and another 34 in 30 List A games, while he was always a handy and powerful lower-order batsman.

“I had to work very, very hard for my opportunity at Yorkshire and to get my first-team cap,” said Shahzad.

“To this day it’s the only cap that means the world to me – more so than my England cap.

“I worked extremely hard in a tough environment and that is why I went on to play for England.”

Similar attributes have been evident in Shahzad’s coaching career to date.

He has worked his way up from a role at Ampleforth College to the head coach position at the MCC and now back into county cricket at Derbyshire, and he dreams of one-day coaching in the full England set-up.

“I played the game to be the best I could be and to represent my country – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t gone into coaching with the same idea,” said Shahzad, “to be the best I can be and to represent my country.

“I came from the same environment as Silvers (England head coach Chris Silverwood) and Darren Lehmann (former Australia head coach).

“I’d love to follow in their footsteps but do it my own way.”

Mat Pillans starred with the ball on the second day of Yorkshire’s three-day practice match against Durham MCCU.

The South African quick bowler took 4-39 from 11.1 overs at Headingley as the students made 238 in reply to Yorkshire’s 370-5 declared.

There were two wickets for fellow South African pace man Duanne Olivier and a wicket apiece for England’s Dom Bess, Matthew Waite, Matthew Revis and Josh Sullivan. Yorkshire reached 48-0 in their second innings with Adam Lyth on 27 and Tom Loten 13 before bad light ended play with 20 minutes left.

Harry Brook and Jonny Tattersall both scored 111 in the Yorkshire first innings.

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