More fixtures to help British South Asian talent make breakthrough in 2024

ECB funding enables South Asian Cricket Academy to increase the number of fixtures in the upcoming season to showcase emerging British South Asian cricketers.

By Dr Tom Brown

In 2022, my PhD research highlighted the stark disparities regarding representation within high-performance cricket in England and Wales. Indeed, despite British South Asian players constituting approximately 30% of recreational cricket and 20% of the elite pathway, less than 5% found themselves in the professional ranks. As such, I approached former international cricketer Kabir Ali and together we forged the South Asian Cricket Academy (SACA) as a launchpad for talented individuals within the South Asian community to ascend to professional cricketing careers.

It's crucial to emphasize that SACA was conceived as a short-term measure, with a targeted duration of four to six years. While broader structural transformations are imperative for the long run, there exists a cohort of players brimming with talent who cannot afford to wait for such changes. The SACA men's programme has, therefore, been strategically designed to deliver comprehensive training programs across four distinct regions—Bradford, Birmingham, Bristol, and London—during the winter months. This approach aims to prepare players aged 18 and above for a robust fixture list against county 2nd XIs, providing a platform to showcase their skills during the summer months.

Thanks to an injection of newly pledged funds from the ECB in 2024, SACA's fixture list has expanded significantly. With 21 matches against county 2nd XIs and two additional fixtures against county first XIs, aspiring cricketers associated with SACA now have increased exposure and opportunities. In its two seasons so far, SACA has celebrated remarkable success, with seven players securing coveted county contracts. Kashif Ali (Worcestershire), Andy Umeed (Somerset), Zain Ul Hassan (Glamorgan), Jafer Chohan (Yorkshire), Zaman Akhter (Gloucestershire), Hassan Azad (Northamptonshire), and Arafat Bhuiyan (Kent) have collectively contributed to around a 30% increase in the number of British South Asian professional players across England and Wales.

The impact of these SACA graduates has been nothing short of impressive, with each of them earning their places in the first XIs of their respective counties within the past 18 months. Notable achievements include Jafer Chohan's selection by Southern Brave for The Hundred after a successful T20 Blast campaign, Andy Umeed's prolific performance as the second leading run-scorer in the 50-over competition including a mammoth 172* vs Derbyshire, Kashif Ali marking his List A and First-Class debuts with a hundred and a half century respectively, and Arafat Bhuiyan's stellar First-Class debut against Surrey, where he claimed a four-wicket haul against three England international players.

Beyond the immediate success stories, SACA has secured trials for 18 other players at First-Class counties during the 2023 season. With the talent pool expanding, our challenge now lies in the exceptionally high standard of competition, prompting us to develop a 2nd tier of SACA fixtures for the coming summer. Regional centres will engage in matches against each other, providing players with opportunities to compete for positions within the SACA 1st XI, further elevating the overall competitiveness and depth of talent within the academy.

SACA's impact extends beyond players to coaches within the South Asian community. Two of SACA's coaches, including Kabir Ali, have transitioned into roles as performance coaches at First-Class counties, contributing to the development of professional and aspiring academy players. This year, our partnership with the ECB will enable a selected group of coaches (both male and female) to access additional mentoring, attain qualifications, and secure opportunities to coach elite players, positioning them as viable candidates for future performance roles within the cricketing landscape.

Further, the financial backing from the ECB has empowered SACA to forge partnerships with ACE and Take Her Lead, facilitating additional research initiatives aimed at addressing prevailing inequality issues within cricket. In collaboration with the ECB and its charitable allies, two PhDs at Birmingham City University will investigate the intricacies of creating inclusive high-performance environments and understanding the socio-cultural landscape and barriers within women's high-performance cricket.

The aim is for this research to provide counties with valuable insights on rendering high-performance environments more objective and culturally attuned. Ultimately, we aspire for counties to no longer rely on programs like ours, as inclusivity becomes ingrained in the fabric of high-performance cricket, empowering players and bridging disparities in the sport we love.