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Azeem Rafiq prepares to hit ground running for Yorkshire
Azeem Rafiq has been trying his hand at a different sport in a bid to get ready for the new county campaign with Yorkshire.
The attacking off-spinner spent the early part of the off-season scoring goals rather than taking wickets during a spell training with Barnsley Football Club, his home-town team.
It has been a busy winter for 22-year-old Rafiq, who endured a frustrating 2013 summer in a Yorkshire shirt.
He missed the first six weeks of the season with a knee injury before struggling to regain a regular place in the first team, mainly due to the good form of fellow spinner Adil Rashid.
As the winter approaches, most county cricketers feel jaded after the rigours of a long domestic campaign. But having only played 17 first-team matches across all forms, that did not apply for Rafiq.
As a result, he wanted to take advantage of his freshness in a bid to be as fit as possible heading into 2014.
Added to his training with Barnsley, he also went to Zimbabwe for a week on a training camp run by renowned spin bowling coach Jack Birkenshaw and recently travelled to Melbourne for eight weeks of grade cricket with the Dandenong West club.
“It was a frustrating year for me, so I’ve been trying to get ready for March as much as I can,” confirmed former England under-19s captain Rafiq.
“I did some training with Barnsley and also went out to Zimbabwe. It’s all been aimed at putting myself in the frame for the first game.
“As soon as the season ended, and with me not having played much during the summer, I got in touch with Paul Bower, who used to be our interim strength and conditioning coach and does a lot of fitness stuff at Barnsley.
“I worked with them through September, October and a little bit of November.
“I also did a bit of work with Blaine Clancy, our new strength and conditioning coach, before getting a sponsored trip away with Jack Birkenshaw.
“(Yorkshire captain) Andrew Gale then managed to get me a club out in Melbourne, where I can play for eight weeks.”
Rafiq was Yorkshire’s number one spinner heading into last season before Rashid grabbed his opportunity with both hands, particularly with his form as a batsman.
“There’s good competition between the two of us, which is good for the side,” said Rafiq.
“Hopefully we can both be firing at top form with bat and ball and then whoever the team needs will play.”
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