Rafiq overwhelmed by chance to lead
Newly-named England Under-19s World Cup skipper Azeem Rafiq has conceded the magnitude of being awarded the captaincy for the tournament has yet to fully sink in.
Rafiq was today named as captain for the event due to be held in New Zealand next month, with his brief to return with the trophy England Under-19s last captured back in 1998.
The Yorkshire off-spinner has recently led the side in both home and away series against Bangladesh this year but was left humbled by the news he will again lead the team in the World Cup.
“It’s a real honour for me to captain England at a World Cup, I’m really thrilled and really looking forward to it,” he told ecb.co.uk.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. The World Cup is such a big thing and a big opportunity. I also want to thank the coaches who have put their faith in me to lead the side.
“I’ve done it before but the World Cup just caps it off. It’s an ICC event and I’m just really excited and can’t wait to get going.”
Rafiq, who gave full notice of his talents in hitting a maiden first-class hundred from only 82 balls against Worcestershire in June, is now setting his sights on facing fellow group sides India, Hong Kong and Afghanistan when the tournament commences on January 16.
Having already endured a tough sub-continental tour to Bangladesh, in which the captaincy changed to Paul Best halfway through, there is little doubt where the main focus is for Rafiq.
“Personally, I am looking forward to the India game. It will be massive," he said.
“India will be a tough game. It will test us out but that is what you play for and the lads should be looking forward to that.
“I have not played against India or been there before, but I suppose that could be a good thing because I’ve got no assumptions on them and can just react to what I see.”
India, the current holders, are England’s final group opponents on January 21 and will provide the stiffest test during the group stages.
However, with the top two sides in each group going through to the Super League quarter-finals Rafiq believes the squad have a great chance of progressing to the latter stages.
“We have got a lot of talent in the team, there is no doubt about that,” he added.
“I think we are quite a balanced team. We’ve got a couple of very experienced batters, and James Vince did really well in county cricket last year.
“Bowling-wise, Danny Briggs and I are the leading spinners who have played county cricket and in the seam department Nathan Buck will lead our attack.”
It is this nucleus of the side that Rafiq believes will make or break England’s chances.
The 18-year-old, himself already steeped in junior honours for England having represented the Under-15 and Under-17 sides - the latter of which he captained, has pinpointed the big-game knowledge he and his team-mates hold.
“A lot of the lads are pretty experienced now and I have a lot of help around me.
“I just want to get the best out of the lads because it is about England winning the World Cup, that’s what we will be judged on. If we can do that then I’ve done well.
“I know everyone is excited now and when we get to New Zealand we will be ready to nail that first game.”
Despite Rafiq having made his name primarily due to prodigious achivements on the field, he will also be remembered for being at the centre of an unfortunate administrative mix-up that saw Yorkshire expelled from the Twenty20 Cup in 2008.
The event thrust the then 17-year-old into the headlights of a full media storm, however he now admits it helped his development and is able to look back with a smile.
“I’ve always said that all that helped me grow up mentally a lot quicker," he said.
"What I went through in those two weeks was extreme, like having press people outside my house so I wasn’t able to go out.
“I feel I’m better equipped and I know what is going on around me more than some of the others.
"I have a bit more awareness and I think it did speed up my development and help when I came to play first team cricket.
“I look back at now and laugh it really.”