WHEN Ajmal Shahzad left Yorkshire at the beginning of May there were those who wondered how the club would replace him.
Shahzad was off-loaded to arch-rivals Lancashire amid suggestions that the pace bowler was not a team player.
Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that Yorkshire have a man more than capable of filling the void.
Moin Ashraf is a completely different type of quick bowler and very much his own man, but such has been his surge to prominence that Yorkshire have not missed Shahzad nearly as much as some people feared.
This has been particularly true in one-day cricket, where Ashraf has been one of Yorkshire’s most consistent performers.
The 20-year-old was the club’s second-highest wicket-taker in CB40 with 11 wickets at 32 and the joint second-highest – along with Rich Pyrah – in Twenty20 with 15 wickets at 23.
Ashraf is also second in Yorkshire’s County Championship averages – albeit with nine wickets from six games at 23.
However, given that he has bowled only 71 overs in those games due to bad weather, that equates to a strike-rate of 47 – better than all Yorkshire’s existing seamers.
Although Ashraf admits that Shahzad’s departure created a vacancy, he believes it is unfair to compare the two of them and insists Shahzad’s efforts for Yorkshire should not be forgotten.
“Ajmal is a good friend of mine and a wonderful bowler,” said Ashraf ahead of today’s game against Glamorgan at Headingley Carnegie (10.30am start), for which pace bowler Ryan Sidebottom is set to return after a back injury.
“Obviously there was a seamer less when Ajmal left and it’s given me a chance which I’ve tried to grab with both hands.
“People have been comparing me to Ajmal, but, personally, I don’t think that’s fair.
“Not only am I a different kind of bowler and different kind of individual, but Ajmal is a quality cricketer and someone who did a lot of good for Yorkshire.
“I need to work very hard to become anywhere near as consistent.”
Ashraf’s loyalty to his friend and former colleague is to be applauded – as is the modesty which characterises his comments.
There are those who believe he could achieve even more in the game than the talented Shahzad, who has played one Test and 11 one-day internationals.
“My main challenge is to adapt to all forms of cricket,” said Ashraf.
“I know my skills and I know what works for me in the one-day format, but I also need to figure out what works for me in the Championship.
“It’s going to take me a while and I’m still young, but I need to find the right balance and what I need to do to become a good first-class bowler. It’s all about things like adjusting your lengths and adapting to the different balls used in the first-class and one-day game.”
Ashraf’s principal one-day weapon is a devastating yorker which was a key factor in Yorkshire’s progress to the Twenty20 Cup final and Champions League.
While overseas stars Mitchell Starc and David Miller rightly earned plaudits for their exceptional efforts, Ashraf’s contributions were up there too.
“The yorkers are something I’ve worked on for the past few years now,” he added.
“I remember bowling them in the Academy and it was John Blain and Steve Oldham (Yorkshire’s former bowling coaches) who encouraged me to keep working on them to try to make sure they became a prized asset.
“I’ve still got a long way to go before I nail the yorker consistently and all I’ve tried to do is practise as much as I can and also watch those guys who bowl the yorker really well.
“You’ve got international bowlers like Umar Gul who are great at doing it, and then you go back to the likes of Waqar Younis and Darren Gough, so I’ve tried to learn from those great bowlers.”
Ashraf’s immediate aim is trying to help Yorkshire achieve their main objective of Championship promotion.
The club are well-placed after last week’s two-wicket win against Gloucestershire at Scarborough, which left them in the second and final promotion position – 19 points behind leaders Derbyshire and four points clear of Kent and six clear of Hampshire.
“We’ve got this game against Glamorgan and then the last match at Essex, and all we can do is focus on each day as it comes,” said Ashraf.
“It was a big victory against Gloucestershire but we can’t afford to get complacent; if we do that, we could see promotion slip away. But, as we’ve seen in Twenty20, we’ve got a lot of players who perform well under pressure and it’s all about keeping our consistency.
“Division One is where Yorkshire cricket belongs – the fans know that, the players know that, and that is what we’re working towards.”