Yorkshire VIkings v Lancashire Lightning - Azeem Rafiq happy to shoulder responsibility on comeback
MARTYN MOXON has outlined the daunting task facing Yorkshire if they are to reach the quarter-finals of the NatWest T20 Blast.
The club’s director of cricket believes they can afford no more than one defeat in their final seven group games to prevent another campaign ending in ignominy.
Yorkshire go into tonight’s match against Lancashire at Headingley (6.30pm start) bottom of the North Group after one win from their opening seven games.
“I think it is pretty obvious that, at the very best, we can afford to have only one more defeat if we are to stand a good chance of going forward in the competition,” said Moxon.
“Our form to date has been frustrating and very disappointing for all concerned, not least for the supporters.
“Getting through to the quarter-finals is still our minimum target, and we are a long way from achieving our aim.
“There is room for improvement in all formats, but whereas in the Championship we know how to win, in T20 we are still searching for the winning formula.”
Moxon is refusing to use injuries and international call-ups as an excuse for Yorkshire’s T20 woes.
Yorkshire are second in the Championship despite such difficulties and yet have looked no closer to T20 success than in previous years.
“We have had our injury problems this season and have also been hit by the weather in the T20 Blast, but I really don’t want to use mitigating circumstances as an excuse,” he added.
“We have simply not played as well as we can, and it is pretty frustrating for us all.
“The players are desperate to win and they have probably been trying too hard to be honest.
“We can just hope that our skills start to come out, and you have to have confidence in T20 cricket; you cannot go out with doubt in your minds.”
The only time confidence exuded from Yorkshire in T20 was in 2012 when they made their sole appearance at Finals Day.
Propelled by overseas stars David Miller and Mitchell Starc, Yorkshire had an outstanding campaign and went on to represent England in the T20 Champions League.
Another man who played a key part that year was Azeem Rafiq, the 25-year-old off-spinning all-rounder who recently rejoined Yorkshire until the end of the season after two years out of the professional game.
If Yorkshire are to qualify this year, it is a fair bet that Rafiq will again have a major role to play after an encouraging comeback.
Indeed, the man who also led Yorkshire for part of that 2012 tournament made an immediate impact on his first appearance last month, taking two wickets and two catches to help Yorkshire gain their solitary T20 win so far against Derbyshire at Headingley.
Rafiq followed up with 1-22 from 3.5 overs in the narrow defeat to Durham last week and also did well in this week’s four-day game against Pakistan A.
Rafiq hit the second-highest score of 48 in the first innings and returned 3-60 from 20 overs.
He is relishing his second bite at the cherry.
“I’m just trying to enjoy it and everyone’s been really supportive,” he said.
“It feels like I’ve never been away; it just feels like I’ve had a break.
“It’s brilliant to be back, and there’s the same old banter.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since signing again, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.”
Rafiq was initially asked by Yorkshire to play for the second team after impressing for Sheffield United in league cricket.
It followed a successful winter in Dubai, where he spent time coaching and honing his skills.
Towards the end of his first incarnation as a Yorkshire player, Rafiq lost confidence.
Now he is refreshed and with a different outlook.
“I think where I was at with my cricket and mentally, the break was something that was required,” he said.
“I basically lost a bit of confidence and I’ve got a bit of a different relationship with cricket now and just try to enjoy it more.
“I’m a massive believer that everything happens for a reason, and I think that what happened before was part and parcel of life.
“I’m still a baby in terms of spin bowling, and I just want to enjoy every day and see where that goes really.”
Rafiq is part of an unchanged 14-man squad as Yorkshire look to hit back from defeat at Durham by six runs under the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Batsman Jack Leaning will have a fitness test after suffering an ankle injury while fielding on day two of Yorkshire’s game against Pakistan A.
Yorkshire (from): Ballance, Bresnan, Carver, Coad, Gibson, Hodd, Leaning, Lees (capt), Lyth, Patterson, Rafiq, Rhodes, Shaw, Williamson.