By Steve Morgan
There's no substitute for experience. It's small wonder then that Amna Rafiq has proved such a hit in her work getting girls – particularly those from Asian backgrounds – in to cricket.
Though only 20, Amna has seen enough from forging a path in the game herself to know just what is needed to help tomorrow’s Amnas.
Her work as community engagement officer for Leicestershire – she celebrated a year in the post earlier this summer – has proved inspirational for opening doors to those whose familial or cultural circumstances often make the game hard to access.
As an aspiring cricketer growing up in Barnsley – older brother Azeem made headlines in June 2012 as Yorkshire’s youngest captain – Amna made her way through the white-rose county’s set-up while a prime mover in establishing a girls’ section at her own side, Barnsley CC. She also started coaching at 13 as part of Yorkshire’s Young Leadership Academy – where she was the only girl.
“It was the chance to avoid people facing what I faced as a kid,” she says of her Barnsley CC days. “Not having enough girls to set up a girls’ team – just trying to get more and more girls into cricket, basically, so they could have that opportunity. We did end up having a girls’ team at Barnsley and then we got sponsors, kit... it just felt really good.”
That determination and ability to get things done – with support from her family and Barnsley CC – proved a watershed in Amna’s own approach to cricket. Though she still plays for Leicestershire when work allows, what drives her is helping others. Winner of a NatWest OSCA when she was just 16, she has been shortlisted for this September’s Asian Cricket Awards. Her nomination for the latter came in part off the back of a six-week spell of community work for a Muslim girls’ school in Leicester.
“First of all it was hard to get the girls into cricket, because it’s just not seen in that culture as the norm for girls to attend,” says Amna. “In the first week, we had five. In the second week, it went up, then it went up again and we ended up with 22 girls across the six weeks.” Now the girls have joined forces with Leicester Caribbeans CC and have their own section there.
It’s not just the enjoyment of the game for the game’s sake: for Amna, cricket acts as a gateway for personal and emotional development, a crucial factor in any teenager’s life. “They have obviously enjoyed the cricket,” she adds, “but it’s also about getting them to come out, away from their homes and do something else.”
After she’d finished the course, Amna received a lengthy thank-you letter from the girls. “They said the biggest thing was being able to speak to me about anything and everything – that I understood not only their cricket, but their lives, the stuff that they face. They call me their sister!” she smiles.
That accolade, especially for a young woman whose own family ties are so strong, makes the hard yards worth the while. Amna is also heavily involved in the current Search for a Star initiative, a scheme run by Leicestershire under the aegis of Amna’s mentor Wasim Khan, the county’s chief executive, which aims to give Asian cricketers aged between 16 and 24 the chance of a summer contract.
About more than playing
“Until I moved to Leicester, I don’t think I’d realised how lucky I and my family are,” Amna says.
“Some people have to work really, really hard for what they’ve got. The thing is there are a lot of really good cricketers out there and some of them are missing out.
“As an Asian coming from that background, the biggest barrier I want to break down is that if you have a daughter who wants to play cricket – allow her to do it because it’s about so much more than just playing the game.”
To illustrate, Amna tells the story of one of her Leicester school girls who was mascot for a recent England women’s game as a reward for attending all the sessions. “I thought she was going to pass out!” she says. “She’d never been to a ground or anything, it was such a big thing for her and something so easy to take for granted.”
The 2016 Asian Cricket Awards take place at the Kia Oval on Friday 23 September. The awards celebrate contributions to the game by British Asian players, coaches, volunteers and administrators. For more details, visit www.asiancricketawards.co.uk.