Shahzad hoping South Asian communities embrace ECB’s new initiative

Yorkshire's Ajmal Shahzad.
Yorkshire's Ajmal Shahzad.
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Ajmal Shahzad hopes South Asian communities can maximise opportunities presented by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s new national action plan.

The former England seamer returned to Bradford Park Avenue, scene of one of his first Yorkshire matches, to promote the initiative and meet shoolchildren it is designed to help.

Shahzad was a teenage pioneer when he became the first British Asian to represent the White Rose in 2004.

Now 32, after a career which took him to the 2011 World Cup, brought a Test debut and included stints with four counties, Shahzad wants others to reach their potential.

He acknowledges the ‘Rooney Rule’, a guarantee in the ECB’s plan that at least one black, Asian or minority ethnic candidate is interviewed for coaching roles, will ‘knock down another barrier’.

Above all, though, Shahzad believes teamwork will be the driving force to ensure the initiative ‘bears the fruit’ it should.

He told Press Association Sport: “I think [the ECB] has asked all the right questions. And for me, they’ve done everything they possibly can, definitely that I could think of to help the South Asian community right now.”

There will be immediate benefits, including bursaries for those who impress at City Cup tournaments.

But Shahzad said: “This is not a short-term plan, it’s long-term, (so) we’re not going to see the fruits for at least five years, maybe 10.

“I think the South Asian communities have got to give back a little bit as well, really embrace this and get involved and take advantage of what they’ve got.

“If they work together, and dovetail...we will see the fruits of this. Participation will really go through the roof, and we’ll see a lot more youngsters get involved in the county set-ups, and fingers crossed all the way to the top.”

Shahzad’s own path through Bradford Grammar School and nearby Woodhouse Grove gave him an advantage many others will never have.

“I’m not from the streets,” he said.

“I’m a Bradford lad, and I know exactly what (others) have had to go through... 10, 15 years ago when we were trying to get involved in the sport.

“But I was lucky, because I had a private education - and I was privileged enough to get involved in cricket at school.”

The ECB’s bursary plan can only help.

“One of the big things for me was the financial backing,” he added.

“I was lucky enough to have a father who worked hard but then invested money in me at 15, 16, 17 to get the right coaching.

“There are many children here, that is not accessible to them.

“Getting the coaches in the schools will be fantastic for them. Then we’ve got the City Cup for those who missed out on the scouting process for their counties and get another chance to really show what they’ve got.

“Then there’s financial backing for those guys to really go at it professionally.”

As for the route into coaching, one he is currently exploring himself with Ampleforth College, Shahzad said: “The ‘Rooney Rule’ ... gives black and ethnic minorities every possible chance to get to where they want to be.

“For me, people get picked, get jobs on merit, whatever colour, creed, wherever they are from. This is just about knocking down another barrier, opening up the pathway, we keep moving forward.

“For the South Asian community, I think that’s a great thing.

“I know, from being involved, that parents find it easier, the understanding from other Asian coaches, of what the child is going through.”

In the most formative years, as England all-rounder Moeen Ali has previously spelled out, accessible and affordable equipment is key.

Shahzad said: “The things that have held back the South Asian community, has been lack of facilities.

“Especially in the inner cities, the schools lack the coaching facilities.

“From today (this should) get people off the street, playing cricket.”