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Last Updated: Friday, 9 April, 2004, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Fitter Afzaal on a mission
By Paresh Soni

Usman Afzaal
Afzaal found the going tough against the Australians
Usman Afzaal is a man on a mission, determined to get back to where he feels he belongs.

Once tipped to enjoy a successful England career, Afzaal has slipped down the international pecking order after losing his way in domestic cricket.

Things were very much on the up after prolific seasons with the bat in 2001 - when he played three Tests against the rampant Australians - and in 2002.

My ambition is to get back in the England squad
Usman Afzaal
But it all went wrong last year when the left-hander struggled to hold down a place in the Nottinghamshire side.

A parting of ways at the end of the 2003 season saw Afzaal move to Northamptonshire, where he is already thriving on the chance to work with their manager, former South Africa captain Kepler Wessels.

"I've really enjoyed it at Northants and am looking forward to the season. I've really enjoyed working hard with the squad," the 26-year-old told BBC Sport.

"Before I joined I went for a meeting with Kepler. Other counties were interested in me but I knew straight away this was the guy I wanted to work for.

USMAN AFZAAL FACTFILE
Usman Afzaal
Born: 9 June 1977
Teams: Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire
Tests: 3
Debut v Australia at Edgbaston, 2001
83 runs at 16.60, best 54
"He wanted me back in the England side and I've been working hard with that goal in mind.

"The year before last I made 1400 runs and it was a fantastic season. Then last year I had a bit of a hiccup and some personal problems which needed to be sorted out.

"Notts and I agreed that things needed to be moving on. I needed a change and a manager who knows what he's talking about."

One of the major criticisms of Afzaal was a lethargic approach in the field, and he is clear in his mind why England lost interest in him and why his form suffered so much last year.

"I've worked damn hard on my fitness, which was one of the things that was holding me back," he admitted.

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE 2004
Team Manager: Kepler Wessels
Captain: David Sales
Overseas players: Johann Louw, Martin van Jaarsveld
Players in: Usman Afzaal, Martin van Jaarsveld, Steffan Jones, Johann Louw
Players out: Mike Hussey, Tony Penberthy, John Blain, David Paynter, Tom Baker, Andre Nel
"I was carrying a bit of extra weight but I've lost a stone and am looking fit. I've passed all the fitness tests at Northamptonshire."

Even though his career has been on a downward spiral in the last 12 months, Afzaal says it has not shaken his belief that he can play at the highest level.

"My ambition is to get back in the England squad," the Pakistani-born batsman added.

"I pride myself on playing for the country that I love. In my last Test match I scored a half-century against the best team in the world.

"I have worked on what the selectors felt I needed to work on, aspects of my game like fitness and fielding.

"I've gone away and had the attitude that this is what is required. I've done it and come back a better, fitter and wiser cricketer. "





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