Spinner inspired by supporting community in setting up new business.

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Former Yorkshire and England under-19s captain Azeem Rafiq has used his time during the current pandemic to launch his own business, Matki Chai.

The 29-year-old started lockdown by providing meals for NHS staff at a Barnsley hospital, which escalated an idea he has had for some time, opening up a Pakistani tea shop in a family venture.

Matki Chai is based in a shipping container in a car park in Rotherham, selling traditional Pakistani cuisine and tea in clay pots – a unique offering for South Yorkshire. Rafiq already has plans in motion to expand from one location to a number of franchises.

The shop opened on Friday 17 July and is the latest step towards some comfort and stability for Rafiq and his family following a turbulent few years. The PCA member’s first child was tragically stillborn in May 2018 and Rafiq was then released from Yorkshire later that year.

In this Q&A, Rafiq explains how the circumstances around his departure from the professional game “set him back a while” and how he is looking forward both in terms of his business and his cricket career…

  • Q: You’ve had a busy lockdown, culminating with the launch of Matki Chai?
  • A: When lockdown started, my sister and I were regularly going to the hospital because I have a lot of friends that work in A&E. We dropped off food, chocolate and other things which just made us think ‘why don’t we do more?’ We started doing some meals and, at the same time, raising some money for Barnsley Hospice by selling food that we had made.
  • It quickly escalated and we were selling out almost straight away, so the idea came about to get a commercial kitchen. We looked at areas where you can start with minimal costs and this concept of a shipping container in a big car park came about.
  • We wanted to do something a little bit different so we came up with the idea of serving the tea in a clay pot which is the old school Pakistani way and it gives a different taste which is really nice.
  • Q: Did the idea for Matki Chai come to you during lockdown?
  • A: I have been thinking about it and working on it for a while but it all kicked into action through lockdown. Lockdown has provided a lot of challenges for everyone, including myself and my family. Our religious beliefs are that everything happens for a reason and that Allah is the best planner, so the way we looked at it is that we had to go out and do the best we can, follow the rules and grow ourselves.
  • Q: How have you balanced your business ventures with your dream of becoming a professional cricketer?
  • A: I only just came out of cricket a couple of years ago, mainly due to family issues. I have got myself in the best physical shape I could and I wanted to give cricket a real big shot this year, but I have also had things in the pipeline which I couldn’t really commit to full-time because I still want to be a professional cricketer. I have also just finished year one of my ECB Level 4 coaching badge which is part of my long-term goal.
  • As a result, Matki Chai is it in terms of business ventures. We have had an incredible response and we’ve only just opened. We have had enquiries from up and down the country from people wanting to buy a franchise from us which gives us confidence but we do want to walk before we can run. It is a family thing and we will give it our all.
  • Q: How will your family support the business?
  • A: Myself, my mum and my sister will be in the kitchen. It is definitely going to be a family affair and we are hoping to get a couple of employees trained up as well depending on how quickly we grow. Franchising is something that is big at the moment in the Asian community and we know that this model works so have aspirations in that area too.
  • Q: How was your transition out of the game – even though you are trying to get back in?
  • A: The circumstances that came with my departure from Yorkshire – from both a professional and personal point of view – were not great and it honestly set me back for a while. I have had to pick myself up, but I am not shy of hard work so I am going to give it my all to get back into it. I am still young so I am not ruling out getting back into the game in the slightest. Coronavirus has affected this a little bit but everything happens for a reason so I am still excited by the prospect of returning to professional cricket.
  • Q: Does this business now show you that cricket isn’t everything?
  • A: I have had the bumpiest cricket career I could have ever imagined. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the whole thing and I can assure you cricket is not the be all and end all. Any advice I could give in the game is make sure you spend any free time you have to put things in place for the future because it is a difficult time. I read an article with Matt Prior a while ago and he said you go from being the England wicketkeeper to the former England wicketkeeper in one day and honestly some of the things he talked about were bang on.
  • You can count on one hand the people you keep in touch with from cricket. It isn’t a malicious thing, it is just natural and you are exposed to the real world out there so the quicker you can get your head around what you want to do it will help your cricket as well.
  • My plan is to get myself set in this field and then I don’t need to worry about my finances, I can go back and play cricket. Cricket is a much easier game when you can just enjoy it because at times it can become unenjoyable.
  • Q: What positives can you take from leaving the game?
  • A: There are so many. I am going to be finishing my Level 4 badge next year at the age of 30. Coaching is going to be a longer career than playing, regardless of how long you play. Diving into the real world and trying to make your way – that gets me out of bed in the morning and gives me a buzz and I absolutely love it. I’ve always wanted to work for myself, I like the responsibility and the pressure of making decisions – the thing that frustrated me in cricket was when decisions wouldn’t be made. I would rather make a decision and if it goes wrong I can learn from it. You live and die by your decisions and if you look at leaving cricket with open eyes there’s a lot of positives and a lot of opportunities out there.
  • Q: With short-term contracts in cricket – is it helpful to plan now you have more time to work with?
  • A: I didn’t mind short-term contracts, everyone is different. It is professional sport, its cut throat and it doesn’t stop for anyone. It is more accepting life after cricket is going to be longer and preparing for that. We start playing cricket because we love it and I have been guilty of this at times and I am sure a lot of people would be if they lost the fun and enjoyment because all of the adult things which come into play.
  • Q: Your shop certainly has a different culture, but have you taken any inspiration from Tim Linley?
  • A: The concept is so different but I have followed Tim’s journey and it shows there is a lot you can do. There are a lot of transferable skills – you are working under pressure a lot, you need to make decisions. The first step is all important and that step for us was going out to do some good work for the community. In return Allah has pushed us towards this and fingers crossed everything goes well. All we can do is give it our all and leave it in Allah’s hands.

You can visit Matki Chai on Fitzwilliam Road, Rotherham, or follow the shop on Facebook and Instagram to keep up-to-date with Azeem and his family’s progress.

Click here for more information on the PCA’s Personal Development and Welfare Programme.