Inner-city cricket: is ethnic minority talent being missed?

Players of south Asian heritage make up about 30% of recreational cricketers in the UK. however only four percent make up the pool
of professional players When you play at a certain level, at school level, especially in Birmingham, an element of prejudice. You obviously moved from Derbyshire to Leicestershire,
presumably to get more game time? Played a few first-class games there, took
my first-class hat-trick there, which was good, but my career at Leicester was cut short. That disparity translates to the stands too,
where we see dwindling numbers from BAME backgrounds. It was a family day out: we’ll be taking food,
we’ll be taking drink. I went to cricket watching games like that, then I find out my dad wasn’t
gonna go to any games to watch cricket, so then he thought I wouldn’t go to the cricket. Recently the ECB announced their action plan
to change the way it interacts with these communities. The board have implemented a
Rooney Rule for all coaching roles, meaning at least one applicant from a black, Asian
or minority ethnic background will be interviewed for jobs in the future, but will that make
a difference? There are only a handful of black cricketers
in county cricket, so we’ve come to Handsworth Cricket Club, the last remaining Caribbean
club in Birmingham, to speak to some community members. Welcome to Handsworth. Ya see the amount of dominoes we play, beautiful
cricket, with a beautiful atmosphere. Handsworth is the place to be. Handsworth Cricket Club was formed from two
Afro-Caribbean clubs in the late 60s merging together. Today though, the club relies almost
exclusively on Asian players to help field all three teams. Do you see a next generation of kids coming through
and just taking over where these guys are here? Nah. Indian kids, yes, but not black kids,
not in Handsworth any more. At Handsworth, we have to cater for a different variety now.
Not Caribbean cricketers – I think that’s the last of it. What you’re looking at here
is big people, so we’re finished. So the issue that we’ve got with our young
people, I think football seems to be more the sweetheart at the moment, because there’s
more money, there’s more stars. We were talking to people about the make-up
of the youth set-up here and how you’re having to rely more on people from other backgrounds…
You know, this is obviously a proud Caribbean club we’re here with all these flags from
the region.. But it was never always set out to be only
a Caribbean club. It’s about cricket in the park for young people of Birmingham, and Birmingham
is very diverse. So for me, it’s not only about Caribbean, it’s about young people.
I think cricket, in itself, provides a good stability for young people going forward because
it builds your character. What do you put that down to, the fact that there’s only.. it’s gone from six or
seven Caribbean clubs in the area to just one? Aging members and the fact that a lot of those
guys I was playing with have emigrated from the West Indies, so cricket was in their blood,
they were playing cricket. Obviously as they got older, because there were no youngsters
coming through with the affinity of cricket, then those clubs would sort of die out. If a club like Handsworth Cricket Club are
going to struggle to bring through the next generation of Caribbean players for their
purposes, then what hope does first-class or even international cricket with England have
for showing that representation of Caribbean players? I guess with any minority group,
it now just rest on the will of individuals.. What’s the standard like here and are there
players here who you reckon could go all the way? The standard is quite high. I would say that
a lot of these players can go on to play Warwickshire league cricket and I don’t know what goes
wrong because if you look at Warwickshire under-aged district teams, predominantly the
players tend to be of a south Asian background. So I think the more interesting question is:
if they’re good enough for the underage teams how come they can’t make that leap to the
county team? The standard of cricket is surprisingly high
actually. If you consider that these are just players playing on a Sunday
because it’s the only free time they have, we’re talking about a lot of these players
operating on a level just below county level and some of them are even first-class cricketers
from overseas as well. Do you think the Asian players are judged
by a different standard then? I think what it is, you know, Asian players:
if they underperform they’re scrutinised a bit more than white players We need some of the coaches to perhaps look
a little deeper into Asian players and perhaps help them develop a bit more. Because I think
the problem does come just at that development age, when they get 16, 17, 18, when they become
adults. There’s a lot of cricketers out here do we
ever get anyone coming? Like, in football, you get scouts coming. Do you ever get any
anyone coming here? No. Does anyone come here? Very rarely. What do you think that’s down to? A lot of
people not making the next step. It really and truly is down to them themselves
on how hard they work. It’s not about colour, racism. Anything like that it’s all down to
you. It all comes back down to: do you chase the
game of cricket or do you earn a living? Because a lot of the people are from deprived areas.
It’s got nothing to do with race, it’s got nothing to do with your skin colour or anything
like that. I think that if people are going to start bringing that up it’s only to cause
division. As the world’s moved on, people here have
moved on as well, and it’s quite heartening actually to see that third/fourth generation
of Asian cricketers say: actually it’s not down to race, it’s about how much you put
in, it’s about family support, family support that is now forthcoming as well. So it’s been
quite eye-opening for me personally as well. We’re in Nottingham to speak to left arm quick
bowler Atif Sheikh. Atif started his career at Derbyshire, then moved on to Leicestershire
and also represented England at under-19 level. Currently though, he’s unattached and trying
to work his way back into the game. Atif, how you doing? Vish, thanks for having
us. I have my first shirt that I’ve wore for Derbyshire.
This yellow one, this was 2010 when I first got signed and my England shirt was for South
Africa, Cape Town, for the under-19s, England. That must have been incredible to go from,
y’know, just being an academy player and then just popping on an English shirt. It definitely was. When I first got signed
for Derby, I think the year after I’ve got picked for the under-17s, so everything was
happening so quick at that time and I was only 17 when I got picked for the under-19s.
Then I thought, you know what, I can actually play a bit of cricket, I can actually bowl. So what happened at Leicestershire then, at
the end of that 2016 season? Yeah the Sri Lanka match, that was the only
first team game I played and the rest of the season I was playing second team. You’re obviously trying to work your way back
into the game now, how is that going? Yeah, it’s going okay. I played a bit for
Warwickshire this season. Hopefully I need to just keep going and see how it goes. I’m
still bowling well. All I can do is do what I can do and just hope for something to happen. Atif is able to bowl at speeds in excess of 90 miles
per hour and appeared for England under-19’s alongside the likes of England Test captain Joe Root and their star all-rounder Ben Stokes. So this was against Gloucestershire in 2014.
Goodman was batting there, he was on 215 not out, and this is my hat trick – my first first-class
hat-trick. It was in my second first-class match as well, so.. my second first-class
match, so it was nice to get it. I mean to get out a guy who’s scored 200 anyway
is pretty impressive. Are you frustrated as well that like there’s constant talk in English
cricket about fast bowlers, left arm quicks and here’s one kind of twiddling his thumbs.
Does that frustrate you at all? It’s very frustrating to be honest with you.
I’ve heard it a lot, especially over The Ashes – how they needed a quick bowler. When they mention a quick bowler it’s fine, but when they start mentioning they want a left arm bowler who can bowl quick.. Were there any challenges you faced because
of the fact that you’re from an Asian background going through the system? I think with Asian people, I think people
get a bit mixed up with being chilled out laid-back rather than being lazy. I used to
get people calling me that, but I asked them if one day you telling me I can bowl 90 miles
per hour, and the next day I’m lazy, I don’t know how that works out. A lazy man can’t
ball that fast. So the ECB have got this new scheme in terms
of engaging, I suppose, Asian audiences, but also Asian coaches, Asian players. You’ve
been in the system for a while: how big an effect would that have to have more Asian
coaches, say? Have you ever had an Asian coach? At the county level I’ve never had an Asian
coach. Even though you’ve played for Leicestershire,
Derbyshire.. Even though I’ve played for Leicestershire,
Derbyshire, where there’s quite a lot of Asians around there, I’ve never had an Asian coach,
but I think it would be a good idea for players to have an Asian coach or an Asian manager
or advisor to speak to, because they can understand the player more. There’s a lot of Asians that
don’t feel that they can get out of their shell. If they had Asian coaches it would definitely

5 thoughts on “Inner-city cricket: is ethnic minority talent being missed?

  1. Cricket is a boring dying sport predominantly played at professional level , by middle to upper class white men and women . It’s a disgrace to our national sport aka Football and to a lesser level Rugby to compare those ethnically diverse games in which working class lads can prosper (yes in rugby if you’re born in a town like Halifax you can prosper , not thus in cricket) I am 30 and am happy to say not one person I know watches or follows cricket. The day cricket dissolves and disappears completely is the day I find true happiness. Can’t wait until cricket rests in peace. P.S WWE wrestlers where more recognised in a BBC survey then Alistair Cook and all England cricket players put together LOL. Please never post about this terrible sport again the Guardian. Thanks.

  2. The bloke at 5'.10" hits the nail on the head. The point made before that about no-one coming to have a look at the talent on show, isn't that down to some extent to stats? As far as I'm aware the same situation applies everywhere? But, if you've then got a kid or a youth player taking shed loads of wickets with good strike/economy rates, or hitting big runs on a regular basis – don't the stats that are uploaded to 'Playcricket' automatically trigger a response from the heads of the local league and they in turn inform the county officials? That's how my son was picked up within the District system, as soon as you're there, you're on the County radar. It's then down to you as an individual to then perform and progress? But, as the bloke at 5'.10" quite rightly infers – if you haven't got 100% support from your family that cricket's your primary career path and they're with you 100%, you're not likely to progress.

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