The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

IT IS NOW OR NEVER FOR ASIAN ENGAGEMENT IN UK CRICKET, SAYS LORD PATEL

One of English cricket’s key behind-the-scenes players believes the sport can be a force for social good

One of English cricket’s most important administrators says it is now or never for the South Asian community to engage with the ECB.

Lord Patel of Bradford is an independent director on the ECB board, and he told The Cricketer: “There are 3m South Asians in Britain. A third want to play/engage with cricket every day. Cricket is the only sport in England and Wales that has the South Asian community knocking the door down and we have been shutting it!

“If we don’t crack it in the next few years we will never do it. We’ve just had the Champions Trophy. Next summer India and Pakistan are touring. In 2019 it is the World Cup and the Ashes. Then in 2020 it’s the new T20. The stars have aligned. The Asian community is saying yes to working with the ECB for the first time ever.”

The Labour peer is one of 13 ECB board members, and was a key figure in delivering the television deal from 2020–24. He has the power to engage the British Asian population. It could deliver a stunning boost in participation figures that the United Kingdom game needs and funding body UK Sport demands.

“Britain’s South Asians represent only five per cent of the population, yet they account for 18 per cent of the £685m spent on cricket every year,” he added.

Lord Patel has spoken exclusively to The Cricketer

Lord Patel moved to Britain from Kenya when he was one, and encountered dreadful poverty and racism. “I never quite figured out why I got chased regularly by skinheads shouting that they were ‘Paki bashers’ – suffice to say I didn’t hang around to seek an explanation – I became a good runner!”

He has worked tirelessly to help mental-health patients, and to alleviate drug abuse in prison. Now his focus is on using cricket as a force for good in the UK. “What Yorkshire, Essex and Warwickshire are doing now for community cricket, South Asian cricket, is phenomenal. There are a lot still in the dark ages but I think everyone wants to move in the right direction.

"Cricket has to change, because we have been losing lots of young people. Council pitches are derelict. We must improve. This is where my belief about the South Asian community comes in.

“In the UK 30 per cent of recreational cricket is played by South Asians. If you add backstreets, tape-ball and so on, it’s nearer 40 per cent. Despite living in urban areas, in poverty and deprivation, they will still spend money on cricket – equipment, pitch hire and so on. So we have devised a strategy. We have looked at every aspect of the game – 70,000 pieces of data, a heat map. It is a 10-point action plan.

"We need people like me who love cricket but can bring something else to it" - Lord Patel

“The ECB take governance very seriously – including diversity and inclusion – we’ll have three or four women, out of 10 or 12 on the board. I’m absolutely staying on, I’m an independent board member.

"We need people like me who love cricket but can bring something else to it. I defer cricket knowledge to others. We don’t necessarily need people who are associated with a specific county – we need people who can run a Test, know what it takes to be a professional cricketer and so on.”

He has encouraged the ECB to support the mental health charity, Mind. “We were the only sports organisation at the recent Mind Mental Health Media awards. We can influence children: show it is OK for five-year-olds to talk about it. To think, ‘my super hero talks about it, so can I!’ We have responsibility.”

One aspect of the modern game Lord Patel cannot bear is sledging, however.

“I think professionals shouldn’t sledge, or what do you tell children? They replicate it. It’s horrible. My son captained a team in Bradford. We had young kids, we nearly won the league, and he actually said to them, ‘You do not talk to the batters.’ There is constant, awful sledging and I think it’s foul. Umpires should stay ‘stop this’. It is ugly.”

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