Faith in the Future: Eman Cup final at Lord’s

By Tim Beard

The Eman Cup is a national tournament for 8-11 yr old cricketers based around Muslim faith schools across the country. Supported by the ECB and Faith Associates, 50 teams started out on this particular ‘road to Lord’s’ in five regional centres – Lancashire, Yorkshire, Middlesex, Essex and Warwickshire. 

The winners of each region made the journey to the Home of Cricket’s Indoor Centre on Sunday, a 6.30am start to the bus journey for many.  Lunches were provided in the Indoor Centre café, and as I arrived Warwickshire had just finished theirs and were setting off on a tour of the ground.

The cricketers involved are from ethnically diverse communities and many of them had never picked up a cricket bat before the tournament began. Others were obviously well-coached and highly proficient, having mastered the mechanics of cricket at this early age. 

Shaukat Warraich, the CEO of Faith Associates told me that the idea for the tournament had been five years in the making and sprang from a desire to incorporate more recreational sport into Madrassah programmes.

Growing awareness of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and the competing attractions of technology make this an educational imperative. Cricket is the perfect answer – it’s a non-contact sport that boys and girls can play together. The ECB is fully involved – they have trained and provided coaches and motivators and helped to provide venues including Emirates Old Trafford, Park Avenue Bradford Dome and all the way to today’s special day out at the Home of Cricket. 

Some may even be dreaming of returning in the future – that’s all part of the plan, according to Shaukat. He likes to see the passion that the players bring, and has a soft-spoken determination to make this project work. He speaks fluently and articulately to a live feed for the Islam Channel.

The ECB’s Diverse Communities Volunteering Manager, Sabah Hamed, has a clear-eyed vision of spreading the game into these different communities around the country and seeking to provide all the long-term lifestyle benefits that active participation in team sport in a healthy community can bestow. We lean on the balcony and have half an eye on the matches below as we speak. 

She’s particularly keen to get girls and women involved in her various projects and is frank about some of the cultural challenges this can bring inside and outside of the game. She’s clear about the plan, though – get the players into cricket by staging enjoyable participatory tournaments like these (and there are plans for a Sikh Temple-based tournament, for instance) and then encourage all those who want to carry on playing at whatever level into the established cricket club ‘Dynamos’ programmes that all cricket clubs can run. 

Then it’s over to the clubs to be supportive and welcoming towards everyone – something that cricket is aware it has to do better and is already making significant strides in through its Raising The Game initiative which calls on everyone involved in cricket to prioritise inclusivity. Other more strictly cricket-related challenges include the transition to hard-ball cricket and the expense of buying the kit that goes with it.

As the tannoy politely requests that Essex shake hands with Middlesex after their game, she tells me of the importance of recognisable role models in the growth of community sport and the way that they can help to provide a safe space for players to have a go at something they may never have done before without too much pressure from those watching or playing alongside them. There have been tapeball tournaments for South Asian women running concurrently that have been very popular and the ECB has been running a Core Cities programme (Birmingham, Bradford, Kirklees, Leeds, Leicester, London (Middlesex, Essex and Surrey), Luton, Manchester, Sandwell, Slough and Nottingham) that targets communities for these initiatives. They kicked off with a very successful tournament in Bradford last month.

Eman Cup

There’s certainly great enthusiasm from those watching up on the balcony in the Indoor Centre. The same polite tannoy intervenes at one stage and asks spectators and coaches to keep their messages simple for fear of bewildering players at this early stage of their cricket career. The cricket itself is noisy and energetic – there’s three runs for a leg-side wide, flashing Zing bails and each batter faces two balls before having to change ends if there isn’t a run, while each fielder must bowl an over. It’s highly participative and simple to stage.

Sabah tells me too that there is positive alignment with other agencies who are trying to spread cricket in these areas, such as ACE, Chance to Shine, and MCC Foundation. On the way out I see one the teams posing for a photo in front of the shot of England’s ODI World Cup winners in the Indoor Centre café – the dreams are alive.

This article appeared in this week's edition of The Cricket Paper.