ANDREW GALE hailed Azeem Rafiq's improved fitness and heightened confidence after the off-spinner took three wickets on day one of Yorkshire's pre-season friendly against Papua New Guinea in Dubai yesterday.

Yorkshire were made to work hard for their wickets, with PNG finishing on 266-7 from 87 overs, although they lost four for eight shortly after tea to slip from 202-3.

Rafiq struck once in each session on the way to 3-42 from 14 overs.

Josh Shaw, Steve Patterson, Will Rhodes and Karl Carver all picked up one wicket apiece on Gale's first match day as coach and Gary Ballance's first as permanent captain.

Rafiq is set for an increased role in Yorkshire's team this summer given Adil Rashid's unavailability for the first Championship match followed by likely Champions Trophy selection with England.

"Azeem's started where he left off last season," said Gale, whose opposite number is former New Zealand off-spinner Dipak Patel.

"He's spinning the ball more, he's done a lot of work in the winter on his action, and he looks really confident at the minute.

"The Champions Trophy is just around the corner, and you'd imagine Adil will be part of that, so Rafa's going to be a big part of our plans.

"His fitness has improved having spent time out of the game.

"He's stronger, which means he can spin the ball more. Ultimately, he's more confident and knows his own game inside out. That's going to help us."

Gale was pleased with Yorkshire's performance with the ball and in the field, and on his own change from captain to coach, he added: "The day felt a lot longer not being involved!

"There weren't as many nerves there. I was a lot more laid back, and I probably enjoyed the day more really."