By Michelle Hayes
Saba Nasim's achievements are many.
Since qualifying as a Level 2 cricket coach in February 2013, she has been instrumental in introducing scores of girls to cricket and providing opportunities for play in East London.
Her shelves will no doubt soon need reinforcing under the weight of the awards she has won for her coaching work.
They include ECB Coach of the Year 2015 and Coach of the Year at last year's Asian Cricket Awards, in addition to being honoured as a Point of Light by Prime Minister David Cameron and nominated for a NatWest Outstanding Service to Cricket Award (OSCA).
It's a hugely impressive roll call of honours for the Redbridge solicitor, who has made a huge impact on cricket in her local area in just three years.
Nasim is not in it for the awards, however. It’s all for the love of the game and sharing that experience with others.
Nasim and fellow newly qualified coach Hannah Newman founded their Chance to Shine Street project in 2013 – in the process setting up the East London borough of Redbridge’s first girls’ cricket team. Today, that team – Redbridge Rangers – is thriving, with plenty of enthusiastic players of all ages taking part in weekly training sessions.
“We started the project back in May 2013 to address the need for a local cricket club for girls who had never played before, playing tape-ball cricket with a soft ball as we were in some areas where there weren’t actual cricket pitches for them to train on,” said Nasim.
“We went into schools and offered taster sessions for girls and an after-school club, which was free to attend. We tried to get girls through that way and then slowly, slowly we started picking up the numbers and more joined in.
“The girls told their friends about it and we started seeing more. Now we have a regular group of 15-20 girls turning up every week.”
Hard work pays off
Success did not come easy, though and, like most things in this sport, passion and perseverance played their part in growing the project for Nasim and Newman.
“It was quite hard,” said Nasim.
“Schools were reluctant to let us in the door to give the free taster sessions. We would ask if you can’t give us any of your curriculum time just allow us a lunchtime slot and one of your indoor halls or your gym and we can do taster sessions there. We really wanted to get the word out that there was a cricket club for girls outside of school if they wanted to join.
“It was pretty hard at the beginning but we kept persevering. We gave more talks in assemblies and told girls about the game.
“We visited about five to eight schools a week for the first few months – going into different boroughs of London – and just tried to push the project in the local schools and community centres, even local cricket clubs.”
It was hard work for the first few months but luckily it’s grown since then.
Hard work, undoubtedly, but for Nasim the pay-off is more than worth the time and effort invested.
“It’s seeing the smiles on the girls’ faces when they’re playing the sport and enjoying it, and week on week seeing them improve in their skills, whether it’s bowling, batting or catching and fielding. Watching them grow into young, confident women and have the satisfaction that cricket has done that for them is brilliant.”
“It’s not just a sport – it teaches so many other things that I don’t think any other sport teaches you, the leadership and confidence qualities that you get from playing cricket. There are whole different aspects to it, I don’t think there’s any other sport that can match it really.”
For Nasim, cricket is almost a 24/7 operation: “Two nights a week after work I will do the coaching for the Chance to Shine Street project and about two lunchtimes a week as well, depending on the schools’ availability. This is in addition to the admin of getting players for the Sunday games that I play in.”
It doesn’t stop there. There's also the matter of coaching and playing for her local club, Wanstead CC.
“If the men are sometimes short they give me a call on a Saturday morning and ask me to play in the Saturday men’s 50-over game as well, which I can’t say no to. So it’s men’s cricket on Saturday, women’s cricket on Sunday and cricket admin in between!”
That’s a lot to squeeze in on top of work and other commitments but Nasim's approach is simple.
“I think it’s just about being very well-organised, sticking to your plans and using sport as your release.
“Cricket is a very sociable game. I have such good friends and met so many wonderful people through it. One sport has branched out to so many different things.”
“I have a real passion for the sport. Having played it I just wanted to pass on the knowledge and the skills that I had learned to girls in the community and try and get them to take up the sport earlier on.
“I started off playing when I was 10 but then left it when I was doing my GCSEs and so I wanted girls to have enthusiasm for the sport at a younger age so that they’re more likely to carry on playing and not have a break from cricket.
“The passion for the game though my family, myself playing it and my coaching, just giving back to the community is what keeps me going.”
Passion and inspiration – a powerful combination which has made and continues to make a huge difference to the girls and young women she coaches.