‘Their passion is off the scale’: how the Ramadan Cricket League supports young Muslims

나는t has just gone 10pm on Tuesday in Birmingham and Edgbaston’s cavernous indoor school, usually closed at this late hour, is echoing with the cheers and laughter of some friendly but competitive cricket being played.

This is the Ramadan Cricket League, a twice-weekly competition being piloted by Warwickshire and Chance To Shine to provide a safe and accessible space for young Muslims from the local community to play cricket after breaking their daily fast. The county believe it to be the first of its kind in the sport.

It has four teams from the existing Chance to Shine projects in Aston, Nechells, Saltley and Sparkhill playing six-a-side games every Tuesday and Friday night during Ramadan. Their transport is paid for and, after prayers on the pitch, the taped-up tennis ball that is synonymous with subcontinental cricket starts to be fizzed down.

The stroke play is always aggressive, the fielding is at times electric and some of the celebrations are straight out of the professional game. Covid‑19 restrictions mean this initial tournament can be played only by 16- to 18-year-olds but the intention in future years is to open it up to adults and swell the numbers.

The league is the brainchild of Eaton Gordon, community cricket development manager at Warwickshire. Along with heading up the new ACE programme, designed to engage with the Afro-Caribbean community, Gordon spotted Ramadan as a chance to further the county’s ties with Birmingham’s Muslim population.

“Their passion for cricket is off the scale,” says Gordon. “If they could play 24/7, they would. ECB are realising that, other counties too. But I’ve been involved in community cricket for a long time and have seen it since day one.”

Mohammed Arif, a well-known development coach in these parts, 말한다: “Some parents say their kids are supposed to be at the mosque after Iftar [the evening meal], but we’re putting on something here that is faith-based but also social and active.

“Half of these lads might not be going anyway, they’d either be wagging or probably at home texting each other or on social media. Ramadan is a challenging month with fatigue and fasting; we’re putting on an event that is for both minds and bodies.

“Some of these kids have never been out of their postcodes before and parents worry. But as coaches we are aware of that. We arrange their taxis and we’re all trained in mental-health first aid to help with any anxiety. We’re very proud of that.”

The intention of the scheme, and similar daytime projects for girls aged 14-16 in Birmingham and Coventry, is broader than just cricket. One example is Manan Janjua, a 17-year-old leg-spinner, who moved to the UK from Norway with his family five years ago and says Chance to Shine cricket helped him to learn English and make friends.

그 말, Manan is still keen to see how far he can go in the sport – alongside plans to study medicine or biochemistry at university – and his diving catch is one of a number of highlights during the two-hour session. In Shozair Ali, another Warwickshire development coach, the players also have a mentor who has sampled the professional game.

Tempted into cricket by the promise of selection for the football team at nearby Queensbridge School, Shozair was then spotted playing for Azad Sports in the local parks cricket aged 14 and offered a trial at Warwickshire. The right-arm seamer says it was among his first experiences of playing with a hard cricket ball but a year later he was turning out for England Under-15s at Lord’s.

Shozair went on to play in the Under-19s World Cup in 2012, coming up against the likes of Babar Azam, Quinton de Kock and Pat Cummins, and while injury cut short his career he wants to mentor others in a way that was possibly absent in the past.

“I know a couple of the lads from Sparkhill here want to go as far as they can, club level or even county and England,” Shozair says. “It never quite worked out for me. When I first came through the door everything was new. Injuries played their part.

“I now know Kadeer and Moeen Ali very well and can call on them for advice any time. Had I done so back then, guys from a similar background, things may have been different. But now I have the second best job in cricket.”

Herein lies one of the past failings of English cricket: a lack of coaches from similar backgrounds to the talent pool. Warwickshire have made progress in recent times and while Kadeer has now left the academy set-up to coach at Worcestershire and another, Mo Sheik, has gone freelance, Tharindu Perera and Omar Ali are two British Asian pathway coaches who can help guide the next generation.

The club says British Asian representation among its pathway has hovered around 50% in recent seasons and the latest intake of six to the academy were all of Asian heritage. But first team squad has just one contracted player from this background (plus Hanuma Vihari on a short-term overseas deal) and its coaching staff is all white – out of sync with the city in which the club resides.

The latter serves as a counterpoint to enjoyable nights like Tuesday. As Stuart Cain, Warwickshire’s chief executive, 말한다: “We are acutely aware that there is a lot of work still to be done.”

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