Former Shelley cricketer Mohammed Azharullah is set to complete an unlikely journey to Friends Life t20 finals day after putting love before cricket to earn his break in the county game.
The 29-year-old – who played for the Drakes Premiership side earlier this season – gave up the chance to represent Pakistan three years ago to move to England permanently and live with his wife Emma, who he met while playing in the Bradford Cricket League.
Emma was the club scorer at Pudsey Congs and they were married in 2009 at a time when Azharullah was on the radar of the Pakistan selectors.
The right-armer toured Bangladesh the previous year with Pakistan’s academy side and had helped his domestic team to the four-day and 50-over titles.
But following a brief stint playing back home following his wedding, Azharullah decided his life was in England.
Three years on and after completing his residency to qualify as a non-overseas player, Azharullah returned to first-class ranks when Northamptonshire signed him amid little fuss earlier this year while he was playing with Shelley.
Shelley officials were sad to see him go but were delighted with his move into the county game and wished him well.
It has proved an astute piece of business as he has become the surprise package of this year’s Twenty20 competition – taking a tournament-best 24 wickets at an average of 11.37 – to help the Steelbacks to only their second finals day at Edgbaston today.
And with Northamptonshire also well placed to win promotion to the LV= County Championship’s top flight, it is unsurprising that Azharullah believes he made the right decision to follow his heart.
“It was a long three years but it has all paid off. Emma was the main reason (for moving to England). I married her in 2009 and then I went back to play for two months in Pakistan.
“I played eight first-class games and took 35 wickets. There were four months left and I thought ‘I can’t keeping going back, I have to give time to my wife.’
“So I had to start this process of qualifying for county cricket.
“In January 2010 I decided I would take the time off first-class cricket and get myself ready for county cricket.
“I sacrificed my years of cricket and I have come in here and done well and I am really happy with that.”
He added: “I was in the fast bowling academy with Wasim Akram, but in 2009 because I did not play the full season I was not up for selection. I took a decision and moved on. The main thing I sacrificed was time with my family.”
Azharullah’s young family in England is now the driving motivation behind his career – and he will have added incentive at Edgbaston with finals day coinciding with his daughter Aisha’s second birthday.
“We have one lovely daughter called Aisha who will be two on finals day. I want to win a medal for her,” he said.
“You always need motivation in life. She will be there.”