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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 January 2006, 15:07 GMT
Afzaal expecting England return
By Martin Gough

Afzaal in one-day action for Northants
Afzaal has enjoyed two strong seasons since moving from Notts
Usman Afzaal believes he has made sufficient improvements to get back into the England side four years after his last Test appearance.

Since moving to Northamptonshire from Notts he has enjoyed two strong seasons, making 2,552 first-class runs.

"I had a good county season last year, again, and the England selectors have told me clearly what I need to do to get back into the team.

"It won't be long before I get back now," he told BBC Sport.

As one of a small number of British Asians playing county cricket, Afzaal is seen as a role model for a whole community.

He is the figurehead for Afzaal's Cricketing Elite, which is in the next two months running academy weekends around the UK, leading into longer coaching courses.

England stars like Mark Butcher, Mark Ramprakash, Owais Shah, Andrew Caddick and Alex Tudor are joining him to help players of all ages, all races and all levels.

The course was responsible for identifying spinner Shaftab Khalid, who went on to gain a contract with Worcestershire and tour with the England A team in 2004.

It's an exciting time for English cricket because there's a lot of talented players in the team and a lot of talented players sitting outside
Usman Afzaal

This year, the first course takes place on the weekend of 7 January at The Oval, the ground where Afzaal scored a half century against Australia during the 2001 Ashes series.

After making a good impression in the middle of an England injury crisis, though, he had a difficult winter and was dropped after arriving in New Zealand overweight.

The Pakistan-born batsman's off-field attitude was also criticised.

Four years ago it was his relationship with former Miss World Diana Hayden that hit the headlines. More recently he has been seeing Bollywood star Amrita Arora.

But he says he has become more mature and experienced, helped by former South Africa captain Kepler Wessels, his coach at Northants.

"I was left [out] for little reasons. One was fitness and the others were [pause] the right reasons," he explained.

"I went away from Nottinghamshire to Northamptonshire and worked hard with Kepler Wessells and made a fresh start.

AFZAAL'S FIRST-CLASS STATS
Afzaal celebrates his half century against Australia in 2001
2005 (Nthants) 1187 runs at 47.48, best 168no
2004 (Nthants) 1365 runs at 59.34, best 167 no
2003 (Notts) 477 runs at 34.07, best 161 no
2002 (Notts) 1275 runs at 45.53, best 134
2001 (Notts/Eng) 1011 runs at 37.44, best 138

"I worked damned hard and I'm glad the last two seasons for Northamptonshire have been good, not just on the field but off the field as well."

As he is unlikely to be part of the England A side that begins a tour of the West Indies next month, Afzaal is still some way down England's waiting list.

Essex opener Alastair Cook and highly-rated Middlesex left-hander Ed Joyce should both be given a chance first, even if Afzaal makes a strong start to the season.

But he says that strength in depth, along with increasing experience, means England are well set for the future despite their recent struggles in Pakistan.

"It's an exciting time for English cricket because there's a lot of talented players in the team and a lot of talented players sitting outside," Afzaal added.

"When England tour India it will be an exciting series because they will be more used to the climate and the pitches.

"Pakistan played well in their back garden but I think it will be a different series when Pakistan tour England."

Even if he is not taking part by then, Afzaal will be playing his part in developing England stars for the future.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Northamptonshire batsman Usman Afzaal



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