The ground-breaking Disability Premier League will launch this summer with the final to be staged as a double header to the England Women’s Vitality IT20 against India in Bristol in September.
In a world-first for cricket, and following a successful pilot last year, the four-team DPL brings together players from across disability cricket to play alongside each other in the same teams.
A draft was staged in early May with coaches of the four teams – Black Cats, Hawks, Pirates and Tridents – carefully selecting their 16-player squads ahead of the competition start in August.
England Physical Disability all-rounder, Will Flynn, was one of the first names selected and we caught up with him at the Media Day to help launch the competition at Lord’s to get his thoughts on an important step forward for disability cricket.
Q: What has the buzz been like amongst the players ahead of the Draft and now that the picks are made and you know which teams you’ll be playing in?
WF: There has been a few texts flying around. There has been a nice suspense to it and there’s a bit of curiosity about it which is great. We had the pilot last year and we saw how well it worked so I think we’re all just really excited for it to get going – it didn’t really matter what team you’re in.
I’ve been selected by Pirates so I’ve got my new team and I can’t wait to play alongside the likes of Umesh Valjee, who is a legend of the England Deaf team, and Alex Jervis from the Learning Disability Team and my PD team-mate Liam Thomas. Those are some serious players and I think the standard will be even better than last year so just looking forward to getting started.
Q: Everyone who was involved in the pilot games last year has had nothing but good things to say – why was it so well received and what stood out for you?
WF: It was interesting because no-one really knew what to expect. It was like a new club and you’re all bunged in together in a changing room and you’re trying to get to know people.
There were obviously additional challenges, like the fact hardly anybody outside the Deaf team knew how to do sign language – which is important not just to communicate but obviously out I the middle, especially when you’re trying to take a quick single!
But as ever we found ways to communicate and engage. That for me was one of the biggest positives and in my mind reflects a truly innovative and inclusive environment of the competition that I was really proud to be a part of.
I actually found it really intriguing and learned how to sign language with the deaf players. I was batting with a guy called James Dixon, he’s from Lancashire and has been a part of the England Deaf squad for a while now. You figure out how to try and run and you’re trying to communicate. It’s really amazing how it works and how quickly that cricket becomes the shared knowledge that allows you to engage and then quickly focus on just playing the game.
It didn’t take long and you’re just admiring the other players’ ability to compete at a really high level. I remember thinking: ‘Wow these guys play really good level of club cricket as well. How do they do that. You have no idea what to expect’.
Q: One thing a lot of people don’t realise is the quality of cricket – many of the players are playing in Premier League teams across the country. How valuable will the DPL, and the prospect of playing before a women’s international, be to showcase the talent with disability cricket?
WF: It’s not for ourselves to judge but it has to be a benefit for us. The DPL will help to show people outside of disability cricket, or who have never experienced it, about how we do it and how professionally we go about our cricket. A lot of us are England internationals and we’re proud to wear the badge and we’re proud of the challenges we overcome to get that opportunity.
I think breaking down the barriers and showing people that disability cricket isn’t what you think is huge for us. It’s such a stereotype - that disability cricket is not going to be a very good standard – but that’s so far from the truth.
In our England Physical Disability team the whole team play Premier League club cricket or have done. We have a few people in our squad who could have been in County Seconds squads as well.
That is also evidenced through the Learning Disability and Deaf squad – it is no laughing game, it is full on and serious cricket.
Q: Where are you playing your club cricket at the moment?
I’m playing at Hursley Park. We’re in the division below the Premier League and looking to push back up into it this year.
It’s a great set-up there. No-one looks at me funny with my leg. I warm-up in shorts, it’s the new norm!
My brother Tom captains the side and it is really great atmosphere. Having people like me playing in these higher leagues and Premier Leagues, if we can break down those barriers and show other players that cricket in general provides a great opportunity not just to play sport but also to progress to a good level.
We’re lucky that cricket is a sport that allows that not just through the support of clubs and leagues, but because of the way the sport is designed.
It helps you to dream big - can we follow the same path as women’s cricket; they sold out their World Cup final in 2017. Who is to say that disability cricket can’t do the same?
Q: You have played on front of some healthy crowds with the England PD team, and the carrot for the finalists of the DPL is the play ahead of an England Women’s match. How competitive will the players get to try and reach that final?
WF: We want to make it big time. We want to play in front of that crowd. It will be a new venue for disability cricket as well. That is a massive positive for the DPL and provides even more incentives.
We had quite a good crowd for the World Series final against India in Worcester in 2019. They always have fantastic crowds down at Arundel Castle as well, and I believe we’re due to play the Duke of Norfolk XI again down there at the end of July. You even get to bump into royalty sometimes.
We come from very normal lives so to experience these opportunities is amazing – but were competitive too. We want to win!