Yorkshire face being thrown out of the Twenty20 Cup – and, by consequence, out of the hunt for the £2.5m Champions League jackpot – after fielding an ineligible player in the group match in which they clinched their place in the last eight.
That possibility emerged after their quarter-final match against Durham at Chester-le-Street last night was called off barely 10 minutes before the scheduled 5.10pm start time, with thousands of spectators already at the Riverside ground.
The England and Wales Cricket Board decided the match could not take place because 17-year-old academy player Azeem Rafiq had played for Yorkshire in the group match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on 27 June when not registered for first-team cricket. Yorkshire won that match by nine wickets to confirm their place in the quarter-finals.
It is not clear why Rafiq's eligibility was queried, although Nottinghamshire, who stand to take Yorkshire's quarter-final place, last night denied raising the issue.
Ironically, off-spinner Rafiq, who had not been selected for last night's game, has captained England's Under-15 and Under-16 teams. Born in Pakistan and resident in Barnsley since 2001, he has been with Yorkshire since September 2006 and signed an academy contract last year.
An ECB disciplinary panel will meet this week to decide Yorkshire's fate. They may order a replay of the Nottinghamshire match, although the county's director of cricket, Martyn Moxon, said last night he feared Yorkshire would be disqualified.
"The club was told there was a problem on Friday, at which point it was assumed we might get a fine and a slap on the wrist," Moxon said. "But the full magnitude of the situation was made clear to us today and my view is that we could be thrown out.
"Azeem is on the ECB's notified list as a contracted academy player but once he plays first-team cricket the regulations change and he is not registered to play under ICC regulations. The form that he should sign to play first-team cricket was missed for whatever reason."
Moxon called the mistake "a disaster for the club", but received sympathy from the Durham chief executive, David Harker, who insisted last night's match should have gone ahead.
"He is a 17-year-old who has been on their books for some time, bowled two overs at Trent Bridge and scored no runs in a match Yorkshire won by nine wickets, so how terrible a crime it is I'm not sure," Harker said. "It is not as if he is a guy who has come in from overseas to win them a game. I think we should have played and the ECB decided afterwards what sanction was appropriate. We were expecting six or seven thousand people here today and I'm not convinced this was a good enough reason to call the game off."
Harker said that Durham had been contacted by the ECB at 2.45pm to be told that the match could not go ahead. After attempts were made to persuade the ECB to let it take place, it was called off just before 5pm.
"I don't know how much it will cost us in financial terms, but to me the biggest cost is to the reputation of cricket," Harker said. "I think we look like amateurs."
Should Yorkshire be disqualified, it is expected that Nottinghamshire, who would have qualified had they beaten Yorkshire on 27 June, will take their place. A replay would open the possibility of Glamorgan qualifying, should that match end in a tie.
The ECB chief executive, David Collier, insisted his organisation had made the right decision. "The worst would have been to let the game go ahead with the knowledge that it may well have to be replayed," he said.
Rafiq's status is further complicated because he does not hold a British passport, even though his work permit allows him to remain in the country.
"The player is not qualified as an English cricketer, so if Yorkshire had applied for registration, they would have had to de-register [Pakistani all-rounder] Rana Naved to be able to play Rafiq in the game against Nottinghamshire," Collier said. "But the bottom line is the player was not registered to play in first-class cricket."
* Essex amassed 192 for 9, batting first in their Twenty20 Cup quarter-final against Northamptonshire at Chelmsford last night. Ravi Bopara top-scored with 47 off 26 balls while Graham Napier managed 40 from 20 balls.Reuse content