By Guy Williams, The Cricket Paper

A major multi-million pound action plan to boost cricket in Asian communities was announced last week by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Guy Williams reports:

No one should underestimate the importance of cricketers with an Asian background to the future of the sport in this country, whether it’s at first class level or in the club game. Top class cricketers, such as Nasser Hussain, Mooen Ali, Adil Rashid, Ravi Bopara and Monty Panesar, have already made a big impact and others, like Amar Virdi (Surrey) and Hasseb Hameed and Saqib Mahmood, both of Lancashire, appear to have the potential to forge a similar impression.

Given that 30 per cent of club cricketers-40 per cent in the Bradford League-are from an Asian heritage, although only six per cent of the population in England and Wales(3.2m) is from an Asian background, it is clear to see this strong influence and one which will continue to grow. Indeed, the chief executive of Leicestershire, Wasim Khan, is leading the ECB’s inquiry into the future of county cricket and will consider proposals to change the structure of the County Championship from 2020.

At Lord’s, the ECB have recognised that if cricket is to grow, then much, much more has to be done to smash the barriers preventing the future Mooen Alis and Adil Rashids breaking through and becoming England stars and role models.

Engaging South Asian Communities, ECB Action Plan 2018, drawn up by Lord Patel of Bradford, the first person from an Asian family to be appointed as an ECB director, is hugely significant, and if successful, would transform facilities and opportunities in towns and cities like London, Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester, Luton, Slough, Sandwell, Leeds, Bradford and other West Yorkshire areas.

A former Bradford League player in the 1980s, Lord Patel, chair of Social Work England, explains his report’s ambitions:

“ Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Afghans and Nepalese are passionate about cricket and many thousands in the UK are fanatical followers of the IPL.This market is enormous and we haven’t tapped into it.

“Over the next seven years, the aim is to install 1,000 non-turf pitches in parks and 250 turf pitches and, importantly, 20 or so indoor cricket centres in urban areas with big Asian populations.

“These centres will have up to eight lanes or nets and to make them viable will be open all times of the day and open to everyone regardless of background.

“We spoke to hundreds of people and analysed 1,000 pieces of data and one fact that emerged was that South Asian communities want to play cricket 365 days of the year, but they don’t have access to facilities. So if you are a taxi driver or a restaurant worker, finishing late, and you want to have a game for a couple of hours, he or she should be able to do that and play in an indoor league.

“Our aim also is to deliver cricket into 6,000 primary schools through the Chance to Shine scheme and to establish coaching courses to train 200 female coaches and to set up 10 new Women’s Soft Ball Cricket Leagues.

“One of the big findings of our survey was that more than 40 per cent of Asian cricketers did not believe there were opportunities for their best players in their counties to progress to a professional standard. That has to be tackled, so we will award bursaries to young and talented cricketers to help their coaching and we will support 10 Asian coaches to find openings on a work placement scheme.

“The action plan will finance what we call Community Talent Champions. I’ve seen it for myself-young 10-12 year olds bowling googlies, but these kids will never come to the attention of the cricket establishment because they or their parents feel estranged from traditional cricket networks. So these talent spotters will guide kids and liaise with the counties.

“As regards as to who will play for all this, as in the past there’ll be ECB money, support from Sport England, we hope Sky Television and help from the British Asian Trust and the National Asian Cricket Council.

“The scheme will cost several millions over the next five to seven years. The indoor cricket centres will be the most expensive at probably more than £300,000 each.”

One of the principal aims is to bring different communities together and cricketers of all backgrounds together, and while barriers facing Asians exist, is it not a fair criticism to say that some Asian cricketers prefer to stick together and don’t stay for a pint after a game?

“It’s true that there are different cultures and religions. Many Asians do drink and socialise, so I think there’s give and take on both sides. I think it’s changing slowly, but I think the old model of a cricket club having to survive on bar takings is probably not the right model, so I believe the ECB have to look at how clubs can survive without the necessity of having a bar, although it’s great to have that income. But we should be able to have a sport that survives without the need to have a drink.”

Bearing in mind that India’s billionaires are so vital to any growth in cricket, Lord Patel is flying to Mumbai to present his report before this weekend’s IPL clash between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals, and he also points out that the ECB’s plan was regarded as so important that it was discussed by the Cabinet.

An image of Lauren Winfield-Hill and Adil Rashid, with the Yorkshire logo and Northern Diamonds logo in the middle

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