Lord Kamlesh Patel says learning cricket in Bradford ‘changed my life’

He has a storied career that has seen him serve on the Government's front bench, elevated to the House of Lords and even named as Yorkshire man of the year.

But for Lord Kamlesh Patel, who arrived in Bradford in the early 1960s from Kenya, his Indian family one of thousands fleeing a hostile government, it was his childhood exposure to cricket that helped turn him into the man he later became.

Decades later, his love of the sport saw him become a Senior Independent Director of its national governing body, the first British-Asian to take on such a role at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

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Lord Kamlesh Patel is the chairman of Social Work England. Pic: Tony Johnson

And while the 59-year-old will be joining the rest of the cricket-loving nation at celebrating its return in the form of today's England-West Indies Test Match in Southampton, he worries about the long-term impact caused by Covid-19.

Club cricket, which has lain dormant all summer, remains on hold after the Prime Minister said restrictions cannot be relaxed because the ball is a “natural vector” of the disease. It is hoped recreational cricket can restart this weekend.

"It's a significant worry", Lord Patel tells The Yorkshire Post. "The ECB has been in the top position it could ever be but there is no hiding the fact that every sport in the country has lost a lot of money.

"You want to keep young kids engaged, cricket is a sport people play in the summer and you don't want to lose a chunk of people who go on to do other things.

Lord Kamlesh Patel moved to Bradford from Kenya when he was one. Pic: Tony Johnson

"People are netting, which is nice, and we have the behind-closed-doors Test match with the West Indies, at least that will be back on TV so the interest will rise.

"We have got the West Indies, we have got Pakistan, I don't know if Australia will come. I know clubs are trying to see if they can get five, or six, or ten games in to get us to the end of the season at the end of September, but it is a worry."

Currently the chairman of regulator Social Work England, Lord Patel worked as a social worker in inner-city Bradford and carried out pioneering work on drug misuse and mental health problems.

Made an OBE in 1999, in 2006 he was created a life peer with the title Baron Patel of Bradford and two years later he served as a Minister in the final years of Gordon Brown's government.

Lord Kamlesh Patel moved to Bradford from Kenya when he was one. Pic: Tony Johnson

Life was challenging for the young Kamlesh Patel growing up in the Great Horton area of Bradford at a time when immigrants were viewed with suspicion by many.

But he describes his breakthrough coming as a result of two PE teachers, one called Ian Lightowler who taught him to play the sport and another at Belle Vue Boys' Grammar School who introduced him to one of the city's top clubs.

"I was a little kid, but I became captain of the school cricket team and that changed everything," he says. "We had a game, the staff versus the students, with everyone watching, it was great.

"And the PE teacher was a first team bowler at Manningham Mill, and I was 16. After the game he said 'come with me to Manningham Mill', I went to play there.

"I had no idea, I caught two buses with my little bag. It was a different world.

"From being this little kid living on the backstreets of Bradford to going somewhere where you've got a phenomenal cricket pitch, these professional cricketers.

"They took you in and you're playing. For me it was a life-changing experience, building confidence and learning to meet other people and being ambitious, I suppose. I just loved the sport and it gave me a break to then do a multitude of jobs."

After five-and-a-half years at the ECB which he calls "the best five-and-a-half years I've ever had", Lord Patel will step down next month.

As well as reforming the organisation's governance, he made an impact by leading the South Asian Advisory Group, set up to help the community engage with cricket and build ties with the game's authorities.

"I've been involved with lots of things to make sure cricket is the sport for everyone in this country," he says. "The South Asian action plan has been a huge success, I hope they can build on this success, it wasn't just me, it was the whole ECB team that went on a journey and learned.

"I hope they can take that further, particularly with the current Black Lives Matter movement."