Lord Patel of Bradford: Game-changing plan taking cricket to all communities

Lord Patel is supporting a new ECB plan to encourage more people to play cricket
Lord Patel is supporting a new ECB plan to encourage more people to play cricket
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It was as a boy growing up in the Great Horton area of Bradford as a first generation British Asian when I first fell in love with cricket.

I remember playing with friends, family and neighbours in the backstreets around where I lived, but I never had the opportunity to experience the game live and we didn’t have a TV to watch cricket.

So you can imagine, the best part of 50 years later, how proud I am to be involved in the launch of the ECB’s South Asian Action Plan – a plan that will cover so many areas of the game.

We can all look back on our life and identify turning points. For me, it was being appointed as captain of the cricket team at Belle Vue Boys Grammar School. Life wasn’t easy as a young South Asian in the 1970s, but cricket gave me confidence, lots of enjoyment and kept me healthy and fit.

It helped me build friendships and eventually led to me being invited to play for the Manningham Mills Cricket Club by my PE teacher – Richard Noble – who remains a friend to this day. While I was made to feel welcome at my mostly white, village club, I never did quite fit in.

Decades later, I still see the same challenges for young players joining teams and one in five South Asians still have trouble finding a place to play the game they love. But I hope that is all about to change with the launch of a new plan that aims to transform the way that South Asian communities play, support and get involved in cricket in England and Wales.

The new South Asian Action Plan has been created following hundreds of conversations with parents, coaches, players and teachers, each of whom have given us a true understanding of the barriers that communities currently face when trying to be part of cricket.

A third of our recreational cricketers in this country come from South Asian communities but only four per cent of professionals do. There are more than a million South Asian cricket fans but, although 40 per cent purchased tickets for the ICC Champions Trophy, significantly less do for domestic matches.

To thrive, cricket needs to be a game that truly inspires and works for the benefit of all its communities and this plan sets out a number of recommendations ranging from the recreational to the elite game, to fan attendance, culture, governance and ensuring that we are marketing and communicating cricket in the right way.

Our plan to introduce up to three pilot Urban Cricket Centres in the next year is one of my favourite points. Having a place where you can play cricket seven days a week come rain or shine, winter or summer, is going to make an enormous difference in these urban areas. It’s something I wish I had growing up.

These centres go to the very essence of this plan, connecting people with other communities and getting many more young girls and boys, men and women, playing the game I love.

We want to get more children playing cricket in schools with the delivery of sessions to 6,000 primary schools in deprived urban communities nationally through Chance to Shine by next year.

But it’s not just children who we want to get playing cricket and we’re also aiming to get tens of thousands of new female players involved in city softball leagues by next year.

And at the professional level we want to not only award bursaries to talented young South Asian players but also support the progression of BAME coaches who are working in the professional game by adopting the ‘Rooney Rule’ for all future ECB coaching roles.

I believe our plans can be truly transformative and our long-term ambition is that in ten years’ time nobody will say ‘South Asian cricket’ anymore, but will be talking about cricket and people who love the game and contribute at every level from recreational cricket to the England teams.

The creation of new cricket coaches, centres, pitches and leagues will not only just benefit one community, it will create more opportunities for boys, girls, mums, dads or grandparents across England and Wales to be part of cricket whatever their community or background.

I believe this plan is the beginning of a new, long-term way of thinking and I believe that many more can experience all the benefits that cricket has taught me, a boy from Bradford with an unending passion for 
the game.

Lord Patel of Bradford is a member of the House of Lords and a Senior Independent Director of the England Wales Cricket Board (ECB)