Exclusive: Azeem Rafiq’s character attacked in Ajmal Shahzad’s explosive Yorkshire racism evidence
Adil Rashid may have been “pressurised” by his business partner Azeem Rafiq into backing up claims against Michael Vaughan, according to an Asian team-mate within earshot of the disputed “you lot” comment.
Ajmal Shahzad said the Ashes-winning former England captain is “definitely” no racist and questioned Rafiq’s motives in evidence set to be raised by defence lawyers at the upcoming Yorkshire racism disciplinary case.
Within weeks of Rafiq's bombshell testimony to a parliamentary select committee in November 2021, Shahzad undermined the entire case in an interview with England and Wales Cricket Board investigators.
“I think a lot of the stuff that’s come out is not necessarily down to suffering at the hands of racism, but just quite frankly not being good enough,” he said in a statement attacking fellow Muslim Rafiq for his hard-partying, drinking and smoking.
Vaughan is among ex-Yorkshire players facing a disciplinary hearing in March, but he has repeatedly denied Rafiq’s claim about a derogatory slur in 2009. According to Rafiq, Vaughan said “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” within earshot of Shahzad Rashid and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.
But former England international Shahzad, who vehemently denies Vaughan would have said the comment, told the ECB: “I think there are a lot of things that you guys may not be aware of that are happening, and it’s quite murky and it’s not very...it’s not nice to be involved in.”
Rashid had said in a statement before Rafiq appeared before MPs that “I can confirm Azeem Rafiq’s recollection of Michael Vaughan’s comments”, but Shahzad said: “I think Adil is being pressurised”. He explained that he believed the Barnsley fish and chip shop which Rafiq and Rashid own together is a “conflict of interest in itself... When you’ve got your business partner sticking up for you... you’re going to have to in a way because it feels uncomfortable.”
Rashid, however, has denied the suggestion he was “pressurised”. In a statement sent on his behalf to Telegraph Sport, a spokesperson said: “Adil has been very clear about what he has witnessed and has not been under any pressure, as he has made clear in his statement to the CDC.”
It was reported last week how Shahzad suggested the “you lot” comment would in his experience have been more likely to have come from Hoggard, whom he refers to as “a bad bloke”.
Hoggard has not commented on the allegation.
However, the full document of his evidence to the ECB during investigations in December 2021 detail how Shahzad had serious doubts about other allegations raised by Rafiq during a furore which brought Yorkshire CCC to its knees.
“I question whether he’s accurate in what he’s saying,” Shahzad adds. “I think a lot of this is also due to people’s characters.”
As one of a small group of Muslim players at Yorkshire, he explained how he felt uncomfortable about Rafiq’s drinking. Shahzad and Rashid have always refrained from alcohol because “that’s what we believe in, this is our religion, this is how it is....this is the standard that we uphold.
“Azeem was different,” he explained. “Azeem would drink, would smoke, would go out, would do things very differently. And naturally people would ask ‘Well how come you’re not like that? Why don’t you do that?’ And then...now he puts us all in a sticky position because now I’m saying well some people...they are the choices that they want to make. That’s just what... you know it’s not necessarily what they believe in but that’s the choices that they make.”
He added: “Azeem did stuff very much differently to how we did and stuff that we didn’t really believe or agree with.”
Of Rashid’s subsequent decision to rally behind Rafiq, Shahzad said: “He backed up Azeem’s allegations two days before they went to a parliamentary hearing. Why? And I can only think that some sort of external pressure was put on to him.”
A spokesperson for Mr Rashid said: “There is a statement that is going to address the relevant matters that Adil believes needs to be addressed from the evidence that's been presented to him.”
Rafiq is the chief witness in charges laid by the ECB against seven individuals and Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Vaughan was charged on one count and will appear in person to defend himself. Other individuals charged with bringing the game into disrepute include Hoggard, Tim Bresnan and former Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale.
Last November the CDC accepted a request from Rafiq for the hearings to be held in public, breaking with decades of precedent of cases being held behind closed doors with written judgements handed down in public.
Players facing disciplinary proceedings are understood to have lodged appeals on different grounds, including disclosure of evidence and the hearing being public, as the case becomes mired in legal and logistical issues.
Shahzad will not be called as a witness by the ECB in March, but his evidence will have been shared with those defending themselves under disclosure rules.
His evidence adds to intense scrutiny on the CDC’s handling of the potentially explosive disciplinary hearing after more than 12 months of missteps in a racism scandal that has rocked cricket.
When asked whether any racism was directed his way, Shahzad said in his ECB interview: “There wasn’t anybody in that environment who...you know, who would even go there, they just wouldn’t, they just wouldn’t. They just wouldn’t. They got to know you as individual...they were good guys, genuine good guys and a lot... See I look back and I think what made things more difficult for the likes of myself, I know it’s used to an extent, was I’ve never drunk a drop of alcohol in my life, I’ve never taken drugs, I don’t smoke, they just...they are just what I do, they are just part and parcel of my makeup. That environment never ever asked me to do that, they...you know they didn’t.”
Shahzad, who is now fast bowling coach at Multan Sultans, added: “I spoke to Rashid in December when I was at Yorkshire coaching and he was very uncomfortable with where this was going, he wanted to nip it in the bud sooner rather than later because quite frankly he was uncomfortable with how much Rafiq knew about Adil. And that at some point he was capable of you know, using something that he knew about him personally, against him. And then I remember him saying that, and I was saying ‘Look Rash, how much does he know about you? What you doing?’”
Shahzad also questioned why Naved-ul-Hasan was supporting Rafiq’s version of events. In his evidence, he claimed Rafiq had the strength of personality to have blown the whistle earlier if Vaughan had said such a slur. “You know he’s a young kid dropped into Barnsley, you know if he hadn't been at Barnsley, it’s a tough place to grow up, it's a tough place to grow up especially for a South Asian kid,” he said of Rafiq. “So he’s done well, he’s had to survive there. He’s had to survive there and he’s done bloody well to do that and he’s survived and he’s come out of it thick skinned and strong. You’ve got to, you’ve got to in that environment.
“So then he’s come into a Yorkshire environment where I guarantee it and this is no...you know, I reckon he would have suffered at the hands of racism in and around Barnsley, in and around Barnsley without even knowing it, or knowing it. Then to step into an...and to be able to deal with it there, and then to step into an environment at Yorkshire and then say he suffered at the hands...and I just...I just find it difficult to understand that this character that I knew, or that I know of, he’s vocal, he’ll put his opinion out there which he has done. We’re seeing it now, we see it every day. Why...why did he not speak up at that time?”
Shahzad said he was preparing to bowl during the moment in which Rafiq alleged Vaughan said the “you lot” comment.
“I do not recall Vaughany saying that,” he explained. “Now whether that was because I was preparing to bowl, which I was, just before he shook my hand. I was kind of tucking my shirt in and my boots were on and I was ready to kind of rock and roll.”
He said he had “asked myself the question 'was I on the way out whilst this was said and that’s why I didn’t hear it etcetera’.
A friend of Rafiq said: “If this is the sort of nonsense the defendants are relying on then they are in serious trouble. Azeem has been proven right time and time and time again. There have been apologies from Gary Ballance, David Lloyd, Matthew Hoggard and Yorkshire CCC. Two different investigations from Yorkshire – a panel and a legal firm – confirmed Azeem had suffered racial harassment and bullying. There are numerous witnesses who have gone on the record and there are witnesses who have sent messages to Azeem confirming events. He said there are problems in the wider game and this was then backed up by the likes of the Jahid Ahmed revelations and the Changing the Boundaries report.”