BLOG: "Cricket became a really strong glue that held us all together"

From the Disability Premier League brochure, we hear from four inspirational grassroots individuals about the role cricket has played for them. In the first of two parts, we hear from Bradley Donovan and Angie Pittaway

Bradley Donovan - Super 9s skipper, Level 2 Coach and Disability Development Officer

“When I first started as a cricket-mad youngster – like so many others, gripped by the theatre of the 2005 Ashes – there was no real pathway in disability cricket. Though there was a huge amount of enthusiasm among those who volunteered, you’d often turn up at a cricket club for an open day and just give it a go – it was good fun, but there was no obvious route for progression. Look where we are now – a pathway from cricket at SEND schools via Super 1s, to the international set-up for those talented enough.

I’ve been involved in the Essex disability set-up since I was about 18 – I’m 26 now, still captain our Super 9s and am the county’s disability development officer. We’ve had record numbers this year – 45 players within our three teams. Better advertising and social media have helped – and our Super 1s system is starting to filter through as we’ve gained more Disability Champion Clubs.

Wherever you’ve come from, whatever your disability, whoever you are, you can play or get involved in cricket – which is something that initially attracted me to the sport. Though other sports are adaptable, none are quite as adaptable – if you can’t use a bat, you can use your hands, or a tennis racquet. I still score for my club’s 1s and 2s as well. The DPL is a great advert – especially with the final on Sky. The future looks good, but there’s still plenty to do. I dream of a day where we might see other forms of disability cricket on free-to-air TV – not everyone has access to Sky.

One of my goals in the next three-five years is to really try and promote the wheelchair game, which is close to my heart. That’s something we can slot into the pathway and put more into people’s minds. Obviously, it’s been a slog with the pandemic, but I think that’s the one remaining piece of the disability cricket jigsaw. I know there’s the organisation, will, energy – and the quality – to make it happen. Hopefully, I can help with that push.”

Angie Pittaway - Cricket 'widow' turned administrator

"I had no interest in cricket whatsoever – I didn’t come from a cricketing family. A traditional cricket ‘widow’ if you like. I came in cold, 30-odd years ago, initially through my husband’s involvement and his family’s huge passion for it – he still plays club cricket at 62.

When we had our son, Jack, who has a learning disability, autism and co-ordination difficulties, we introduced him to basic cricketing skills – he loved catching, and our games morphed into miniature cricket contests in the lounge or garden. Cricket became Jack’s obsession. Six years later we had our second son, Freddie, who has turned into a really good cricketer – but he owes his love of the game to his brother. Cricket became a really strong glue that held us all together. Both boys are now in their respective county set-ups. Who knows, without Jack, Freddie might never have played – it became his obsession, too.

I got involved with the county disability set-up at Dorset in 2013 when Jack started playing, partly because I’m a natural organiser and wanted to help. And, with volunteering, there’s never a shortage of jobs for willing hands. I became treasurer in 2014, then chair in 2018, before we merged with Dorset Cricket Board [DCB] and became equals under one playing umbrella – one of the county’s five adult teams. In 2020, I was invited to join the DCB’s board of directors as ‘disability champion’ representing disability cricket interests and fighting our corner across the county.

I feel blessed and incredibly honoured that I’m allowed to be part of this community, because I don’t have a disability, or play disability cricket – though I did take up softball cricket at 47. I thought: ‘why not?’ after watching all those training sessions with the boys. It’s my bit of cricket I don’t have any responsibility for – and I love that feeling. I have also been fortunate to be a volunteer helper at the DPL (Disability Premier League) tournaments for the past two years. But I always go back to Jack. My son gave me the opportunity to be part of this amazing cricketing community and I wouldn’t trade it for anything – this is my happy place. We have made so many friends through cricket – and it’s great to see the growth of respect for the disability game.”