The ECB believe they can tackle the disconnect between mainstream English cricket and the South Asian communities that make up more than 30% of the recreational cricketers in the country, after unveiling a detailed plan of action to broaden cricket’s reach in England and Wales
The South Asian Communities Action Plan is part of the ECB’s wider efforts to place participation at the heart of their strategy, and has been born of a recognition that, for the average British Asian cricket fan, the game as it stands is not sufficiently tailored to their needs or interests.
At a recreational level, a lack of facilities has long hampered development among South Asian communities, particularly in urban areas, while the relative lack of Asian cricketers at first-class level points to a scouting and talent pathway system that has consistently failed to bring through the best players to elite competition.
As a consequence, the few Asian players who have broken through to England recognition, including Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in recent years, have done so in spite of the system, not because of it. The new message from the ECB, however, is that that needs to change for the greater well-being of the sport.
“Cricket is a force for good in society and our job is to ensure that it makes a positive impact on as many people’s lives as possible,” said Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive.
“Whilst we’ve long acknowledged the passion for the game in South Asian communities in the UK and had the best intentions, we have never fully understood how to engage with South Asian communities. This report gives us a road map to change that.”
The plan was drawn up with the help of an advisory group including notable figures such as Wasim Khan, the Leicestershire chief executive who in 1992 became the first British Asian to play county cricket; Isa Guha, the former England women’s cricketer, and the writer and broadcaster, Mark Nicholas.
It sets out 11 recommended actions, including the development of 1,000 non-turf and 100 turf pitches by 2024, the proliferation of talent scouts throughout Asian communities; greater diversity in coaching, including the adoption of the “Rooney Rule” to encourage ethnic minorities to progress through the professional game, and bursaries to enable talented youngsters to cope with the escalating costs of equipment as they rise through the ranks.
These initiatives will be focussed on ten “core cities” – Birmingham, Bradford, Kirklees, Leeds, Leicester, London, Luton, Manchester, Sandwell and Slough – where 61% of the country’s South Asian communities live.
“Growing up in inner-city Birmingham, I fully understand some of the challenges and barriers for young South Asian cricketers,” said Moeen. “Many parents are still struggling to afford kit for their kids and the new bursaries will give emerging players the opportunity to continue to improve and develop in the game.
“In the next six months, England’s men play against Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka and as well as hoping to play my part on the pitch, I’m looking forward to seeing a new generation of players, fans and coaches coming into the game.”
Lord Patel of Bradford, the ECB Senior Independent Director, who has driven the development of the Action Plan, added:
“As a British Asian who grew up playing cricket in the streets and on the pitches of Bradford in the 1960s, I have first-hand experience of the enormous benefits of our sport. Cricket gave me the confidence, connections and opportunities to meet new people outside my community, as well as develop life-long friendships.
“The passion South Asian communities in the UK have for cricket remains high but, over 50 years later, there is still so much untapped potential. This plan will help to change that – starting today.”