Former Yorkshire and England fast bowler Ajmal Shahzad relished the chance to return to his Bradford roots today – and was delighted to support the ECB’s new South Asian Action Plan.
The 32-year-old, who played 15 times for England in all three formats after making history in 2004 by becoming the first cricketer from Yorkshire’s South Asian communities to represent the county at first team level, was a special guest at the Bradford Park Avenue ground which has been transformed in the last two years, in what is effectively a forerunner of the Action Plan.
Shahzad entertained the children of Girlington Primary School and St Philip’s Primary Academy in a question and answer session after they had played some All Stars Cricket on the outfield, then presented them all with medals.
He shared memories of playing second-team cricket alongside Matthew Hoggard and Anthony McGrath at the ground, which staged 306 first-class matches between 1880 and 1996 in addition to hosting a Football League club – and is overlooked by the stunning Bradford Grand Mosque.
“It’s great to be here,” he said. “You can see how much the kids are enjoying their cricket. The great thing is they’ve got the facilities here at Park Avenue, and with this new Action Plan we’re going to see more of these sorts of facilities springing up across Yorkshire and the rest of the country.”
Three of the 10 Core Cities that are identified in the Action Plan are in Yorkshire – Bradford, Leeds, and the Kirklees district which includes Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley.
Umar Rafiq, a director of the Yorkshire Cricket Board who previously managed youth services in Kirklees, said: “We have been working with Yorkshire for a number of years now encouraging young people to take up cricket and use our facilities. This Action Plan is going to be a real boost to that, with Kirklees being one of the Core Cities.
“Bradford Park Avenue is a great example of a facility with a great history of cricket, which wasn’t such a great facility a couple of years ago, but has now been resurrected. It’s about looking at what can be done to bring cohesion, and bring the communities together.”
Nasa Hussain has been a central figure in the Park Avenue story. A former Bradford League cricketer with Undercliffe, he is now employed by Yorkshire as head groundsman at Park Avenue, and has worked with Richard Robinson on laying a new square of 17 pitches – although Hussain’s significance goes well beyond that, as he is also a Diverse Communities Officer in Bradford, and vice chairman of the National Asian Cricket Council.
“I think it’s huge,” he says of the Action Plan. “It’s telling people that they’re wanted. There’s issues with facilities, which is part of the 11-point plan, and also with the pathways and the talent ID. There’s a lot there for people to look at and feel confident in.
“We’re pretty blessed in Bradford. We’ve had two England players recently in Ajmal and Adil Rashid, and Usman Arshad who played up at Durham is another Bradford lad. But is three enough? With the amount of cricket that is actually played, there could be more that could actually make it.