Yorkshire 'utterly disappointed' after being thrown out of Twenty20 Cup

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The Independent Online

Yorkshire were last night thrown out of the Twenty20 Cup for fielding an ineligible player. In a hugely damaging and embarrassing decision for the county, a three-man England and Wales Cricket Board discipline commission settled on expulsion after deciding that Yorkshire knew as early as the start of last year that there were doubts over Azeem Rafiq's eligibility to play as a non-overseas player.

Nottinghamshire, beaten by Yorkshire in the pivotal North Division match on 27 June in which Rafiq played, will now meet Durham in the quarter-finals, although that is subject to possible appeals by Yorkshire and Durham

Yorkshire's chairman, Colin Graves, who attended the meeting at Old Trafford along with the club's chief executive Stewart Regan, said he was "totally and utterly disappointed" at the decision. Regan, who had earlier said that the "buck stops with him" will come under pressure to resign.

A statement from the club said: "[We] are extremely disappointed with this verdict and are considering whether to lodge an appeal. This decision will be made within the next 24 hours. If an appeal hearing is required it will be held in Taunton on Monday."

The ECB panel judged that Yorkshire had had ample time to clarify the 17-year-old Rafiq's eligibility before he made his first-team debut in the game against Notts. "In coming to their decision the panel took the view that this was a serious breach of the regulations and could not be passed over as a clerical error," said an ECB statement. "The panel accepted there was no deliberate flouting of the regulations. The panel find that Yorkshire were aware, no later than early 2007, that there were questions as to [Rafiq's] status and were, therefore, put on notice to check his eligibility. This was not done."

Rafiq has captained England at under-15 and under-16 levels, but does not hold a British passport and is therefore classed as an overseas player. "I'm distraught," said Darren Gough, Yorkshire's captain. "I feel for Rafiq, as far as he's concerned he is English."

Monday's quarter-final with Durham at Chester-le-Street was belatedly called off when the issue came to light. Durham are also unhappy with the verdict, claiming that they will suffer through not being able to field the same side against Notts with doubts over the availability of the South African duo Shaun Pollock and Albie Morkel. "I was a bit surprised that Nottingham were gifted the points," said David Harker, Durham's chief executive. "It appears we have suffered at the hands of Yorkshire's misdemeanour."

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