Ish Jalal: “Cricket can change people’s lives. I’ve seen it.”

Ish Jalal is the chair of the Sussex Cricket Foundation and has written about his journey in cricket as a volunteer who helped to establish a new club to helping the next generation to take ownership of growing the game he loves.

This Volunteers’ Week we are proud to share the stories of volunteers across England and Wales who make up The Cricket Collective and help to make cricket happen.

All the people volunteering behind the scenes to run cricket clubs and County Cricket Boards and Foundations play a vital role in shaping cricket for communities, players and volunteers.

Whether you’re a treasurer, secretary, safeguarding officer, chair or any other committee member, you help make cricket happen. In this blog, the Chair of Sussex Cricket Foundation, Ish Jalal, shares his volunteering story from club captain to County Foundation Chair.

I’ve always been into cricket. I played at my local comprehensive in Crawley and fell in love with the game. I looked to play at any opportunity, so went along with my brother to play when I was about nine. I was very young so I was always sent out to field at long leg and not really given much of a chance! I wanted to be really involved in the game so I decided to be a wicketkeeper instead of just standing on the boundary.

Growing up, there weren’t many opportunities to play in Crawley so a group of us decided to set up a team. We travelled all over London, to Ilford, to Reading, we’d go absolutely anywhere that meant we could play. We eventually became a club [Crawley Eagles] and I got more and more involved.

I started off captaining then got involved in the club admin. We wanted the club to do well and grow, but we faced a number of challenges getting into leagues. There were some tough requirements, including owning your own ground and having a first and second team.

In those days we were just a park team so we couldn’t comply. We faced a number of barriers, but we worked at it and built good relationships with other clubs to support our efforts.

We were eventually accepted into the league. The experience I gained from this led me to get more and more involved in the club admin side. I became chair of Crawley Eagles at a very young age. My number one objective then still hasn’t changed to this day: to be a community-centric club. We were lucky enough to be able to take over a disused clubhouse thanks to generous donations and fundraising by local people.

We are the product of our community, and so we became more than a cricket club. We became a hub for people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. Some play cricket, some don’t but they can still get involved. It’s not all about the sport.

As a chair – whether of a county or club – your role should be to enable people, to give them the space to influence things and make decisions. I believe if you give people autonomy and responsibility, they will thrive. You can’t knock people down for trying. They might make mistakes, but they will thrive. And if they are struggling, you can be there to support.

If you enable people to take on more responsibility, you need to know when to step aside and so about eight years ago I moved away from my club role and into different areas. Sussex has always been my county. I used to go and watch the Pakistani players – Mushy [Mushtaq Ahmed], Imran Khan – at Hove and it was great. I became a Director at Sussex County Cricket Club. Then I got involved at the Foundation, having heard about the great work they were doing, and I became a trustee and helped out on a number of their committees.

I have tried to be a voice for some of the urban areas that are not always heard at county level. I want all the different areas to become integrated into the county because that’s when you start to make some real change. It takes effort on all sides, to align the county, leagues, clubs, players, and volunteers.

I’m very proud to have been elected Chair of Sussex Cricket Foundation. It’s an honour. The Foundation is the charitable arm of Sussex Cricket and so it’s a highly desirable role but it’s also a lot of responsibility. It’s my job to promote cricket, but also change people lives. That’s what cricket can do. I’m a great believer in that because I’ve seen it in my own life.

I’ve seen people play cricket and become much more rounded people. It teaches you so much, more so than any other sport. All those skills, competencies, capabilities that can be learnt through cricket can help change people’s lives.

There are two driving factors behind all my work. The first is community, as I’ve mentioned. It’s critical to think of cricket first and foremost at a community level. You can go on to play for England, but you have started at the recreational level.

The second thing is volunteers. Everything we do – all our sport’s growth – comes from volunteers. I am just a small part of this. Without volunteers, we can’t do anything. And it’s not just one or two people, it’s a whole army of volunteers. They’re absolutely the lifeblood of cricket.

My proudest moment as a cricket volunteer was when our club committee and captains transitioned to the next generation of leaders. That was a fundamental change for us. The people who helped establish the club are still around but their involvement has changed. They have helped bring the younger people in and opened the space up for them.

The fact that this was possible shows the belief there is in the club as a community. Young people have so many more demands on their time nowadays. Having young people take on the running of things means they can be experts in making the club and volunteering even more appealing to others their age. My job is to enable and support them with that.

My advice to people thinking about volunteering is to just give it a go. Go and enjoy it, but most importantly be open, honest and yourself. Being yourself is the best way to thrive and bring value to the club, community, and yourself.

If you want to start your volunteer journey or are an existing volunteer looking for advice on how to inspire more people to get involved, visit The Cricket Collective page.

You can also still share your own volunteer stories or thank the local legends from your club using #TheCricketCollective’