SARFARAZ AHMED said he wants to be the catalyst for more Asians to watch Yorkshire after fans flocked to greet him in Bradford last night.
The club’s new overseas signing was officially unveiled at Park Avenue after joining for the rest of the NatWest T20 Blast.
The Pakistan captain, who debuts against Derbyshire at Headingley tomorrow in his first game since leading his country to Champions Trophy glory against India at The Oval on June 18, said that he was proud to follow in the footsteps of former Yorkshire players and fellow countrymen Younus Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq.
And although he is only here for the final five group matches, plus up to three knockout fixtures, Sarfaraz believes that his presence can help Yorkshire towards their first T20 trophy and also fuel added interest in their activities among the Asian population.
“There are lots of Pakistani people living in Leeds and Bradford and hopefully they will go and watch Yorkshire,” said the wicketkeeper/batsman, who replaces Peter Handscomb after the Australian was called up for his country’s tour to Bangladesh.
“Bradford almost looks like a Pakistani community, and when I got the contract to play for Yorkshire I got lots of messages from people on things like Twitter and Instagram saying that they were happy.
“Hopefully, the youngsters among them will go on to play for England or Pakistan in the future.
“Lots of Pakistanis play in the Sunday league, or the Saturday league, and hopefully I can help encourage more youngsters as well.”
Sarfaraz, who met local local cricketers and mingled with around 200 fans at a Park Avenue ground undergoing redevelopment, is a marquee signing for a club committed to engaging with people of all ethnicities.
Yorkshire have worked hard in the past decade and more to rid themselves of a reputation that was perhaps not as impressive in this area as it might have been, and they recently entered into a ground-breaking partnership with the England and Wales Cricket Board, Sport England and Bradford Council to restore Park Avenue to its former glory and encourage more participation in cricket among Bradford’s South Asians.
The signing of the Karachi-born Sarfaraz can only help in that respect, with the player yesterday pronouncing himself impressed with the ground’s new state-of-the-art eight-lane net facility and willingly chatting to youngsters present.
As Yorkshire paraded him to the press and public on Yorkshire Day, a symbol of the county’s pride and togetherness, Sarfaraz said that he hoped his immediate impact would be to inspire the club to on-field success.
“The position is very good (in the table),” he said.
“I’ve met the players and they are a very good bunch, and hopefully we will qualify for the finals.
“I’ve also talked with Younus Khan and he said it’s a very good county with a very good management.
“Younus said it’s very professional and hopefully I will learn a lot.”
Sarfaraz, 30, will be the fifth Pakistan overseas player to represent Yorkshire after Younus, Inzamam, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Imran Tahir, the leg-spinner who now plays for South Africa.
Like Younus, whose name suddenly changed from Younis after arriving at Headingley a decade ago, Sarfaraz has suddenly gone from “Sarfraz” after he insisted that Sarfaraz, in fact, is the correct spelling.
It is not the spelling of his name that matters, of course, but his cricketing ability, with his T20 record standing at 1,626 runs from 120 games at an average of 28, with a strike-rate of 126 runs per 100 balls.
Sarfaraz also averages 40 from 36 Test matches and 36 from 75 one-day internationals, and he hopes to bring various qualities to Yorkshire’s T20 team.
“I’m a middle order batsman and can strike the ball,” he said.
“I can also rotate the strike and play some tricky shots – late cuts, reverse sweeps – and I will try my level best to help us qualify.
“I feel very lucky to play for Yorkshire, and I’ve always enjoyed playing in England.
“I’m very excited about playing my first game.”
Andrew Gale, Yorkshire’s first-team coach, is equally excited to have Sarfaraz on board.
“He’s someone that we had our eye on for a while, knowing that there might be a chance that Pete would go during the Twenty20s,” he said.
“We wanted to go down the route of replacing Pete like-for-like because we believe that the balance of the team is just right, and that if we’d brought in another batter, it would have meant that we’d have had to drop a bowler.
“I think he’s a fantastic guy, and we spoke to a few coaches who have worked with him and the feedback was really good.”