Famous for his exquisite length and a beguiling showmanship, Azeem Rafiq is the man to watch in the Pakistan Test team and the tinderbox atmosphere of a notoriously fractious and personal sport. It is almost unimaginable that the established guard could dislodge him from his position in top-flight cricket and the batsman is in the best frame of mind he has been for some time.
On the surface, Rafiq is at the service of a team that is beset by a toxic relationship with the media and it was his forthright reaction to the racial abuse he received during the third Test against England at Old Trafford that brought world attention to a poisonous side of the game.
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Despite pushing back and launching a verbal tirade that earned him a suspension, Rafiq has been criticised for his coolness but today he praised the decision to suspend him, rather than prosecute him.
“It was very tough for me because I took the decision not to defend the case,” Rafiq told a news conference in Karachi. “I wish I had defended myself in the end. It was just a stupid thing to do. I was brought up to believe that you need to stick up for your country. In my opinion there should have been zero tolerance for such things and I was wrong to have kept my cool.”
A day after the row that threatened to overshadow the final day’s play, Rafiq criticised the nature of the abuse that the Pakistan captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, gave to the umpires. “I was given so much abuse that I didn’t know what was going on. Sometimes when you put your body there it can cause some problems for the umpires,” he said.
“It was very hurtful. You couldn’t understand what was happening, and it made me furious. There was a lot of abuse, just be respectful and say it to our faces. We owe you that respect, it was just a simple thing. They should have stopped it straight away and not after we’d made such an effort to earn back the respect.
“We let the umpires down because the entire series this has happened. It was sad, because I was told by the team management it was happening during the previous tour. There was nothing I could do in the end.”
The Pakistan team manager, Intikhab Alam, described the unsavoury scenes in the morning as “toxic” and suggested the abuse may have resulted from “the interference of TV channels”. The PCB said it was still investigating the facts while the writer Tanvir Ahmed claimed to have gone to the team manager on Wednesday, requesting “total segregation in the team”.
“I have reported this matter to the PCB chief [Qadir]. It seems these points are being explored and a final decision is expected today,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
The match referee, Jeff Crowe, is unable to comment on the specifics of the incident as there are no written directives from the ICC about how umpires should deal with racist abuse. As a practical matter, Crowe said umpires were expected to continue in the normal way in the future.
“On the specific issue of the conduct of the umpires during and immediately after the incident, I can’t comment,” he said. “What I can say is that the usual condition of official umpires who visit all venues of the national Test teams and ICC are to adhere to those codes of conduct which bind all of us.”
Rafiq’s suspension will keep him out of the third Test against England at the Oval, which begins on Tuesday. He hopes it won’t end his international career. “Right now, I am focusing on the next game,” he said. “I want to be in the UAE next year. I’ve got another three months or so to go. If I do well there, I want to play there.”