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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Shahzad makes history
By Anna Thompson

Ajmal Shahzad, picture courtesy of SWpix.com
Ajmal Shahzad played in front of an appreciative crowd at Headingley
The name Ajmal Shahzad will not mean much to many cricket fans.

But his name will go down in history as he has become the first British-born Asian to play for Yorkshire.

The 18-year-old pace bowler featured in a Totesport League match against Worcestershire at Headingley on Sunday.

His debut was not the stuff of dreams as he bowled six overs for 35 runs as Yorkshire lost by 39 runs.

But for Shahzad and Yorkshire it was a momentous occasion.

I was picked on merit not for any other reason
Ajmal Shahzad
Shahzad told BBC Radio Five Live: "The result was disappointing but it was awesome walking out at Headingley - especially with the huge response I got from the crowd."

Yorkshire Cricket Club was formed in 1863 but it was only in 1992 they revoked a rule which had stipulated every player had to be born in the county.

The rule change allowed Indian batting sensation Sachin Tendulkar to play for the white rose county as their first-ever overseas signing and last season his compatriot Yuvraj Singh was based at Headingley.

But those two had been the only Asians to play for Yorkshire until Shahzad and questions had been asked why the club had not produced a British-born ethnic minority cricketer.
Ajmal Shahzad, photo courtesy of SWpix.com
Shahzad bowled six overs for 35 runs on his debut

Yorkshire have not been helped by the fact many local league clubs are clearly still divided along cultural lines and are either all-white or all-Asian although they will not officially admit so.

Hanif Mayet, the founder of Yorkshire side Mount Cricket Club, said two years ago: "Unfortunately mixed teams are not possible here, although a lot of Asians are breaking into other leagues.

"It's just that there are different ways and a different culture."

But Yorkshire are now trying to redress the balance and are encouraging young Asian cricketers to play in the academy set-up as well as offering scholarships.

Shahzad, who was born in Huddersfield but now lives in Bradford, is one such player who has benefited from the system.

He said: "I was picked on merit not for any other reason.

"There's plenty of Asians coming through now and I'm just happy that I'm one of them.

"I think more will follow.

"They will see that the theory Yorkshire don't let Asians through isn't true.

"I believe they will work harder now to get their chance and think 'if he can do it. why not me?'".

This shows it doesn't matter about creed or colour - if players are talented enough then they will get opportunities here
Geoff Cope

And Yorkshire's operations director Geoff Cope said Shahzad's debut proved the county had an open selection policy.

He said: "It's a massive day for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

"We've had a reputation for not helping Asian youths in the game but we've always said that's not been the case.

"This shows it doesn't matter about creed or colour. If players are talented enough then they will get opportunities here and if they are Yorkshire-born that's even better.

"Hopefully the other lads in the scholarship and academy will see what Ajmal has done and realise they can do the same."

Shahzad was selected for England's under-19 squad last year and is hoping to become a full-fledged England player in the future.

He added: "I just hope to get picked again and work my way up the ranks and play Tests for England."




YORKSHIRE


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