By Dave Baldwin
A week or so after England’s miraculous Cricket World Cup victory, the Yorkshire-born spin bowler Adil Rashid was visiting his local mosque in Bradford. There he found cricket fans overjoyed at the success of their home-grown hero. After posing for selfies with young supporters at Masjid Umar, the 31-year-old told the BBC: “They’re seeing someone from this area who has made something for themselves and achieved something massive. There is hope there for them. He has done it and so can we. If I can be an inspiration to the youngsters – or anyone for that matter – then I have done my job.”
This is an important message. For a young person of South Asian heritage in Bradford, where social mobility can be a challenge, having a role model like Adil Rashid can be a powerful motivating force.
There is another important message to be found in England’s cricketing success: the contribution made by diversity. Mr Rashid said: “For us as a team, being so diverse – with myself, Moeen Ali, Eoin Morgan, Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes – it shows how we can come together and unite and play under the England banner. Unity can achieve so many things. We want to give the message that regardless of race, religion or colour, we have to respect everyone and be 100 per cent committed to what you want to do.”
Solid sentiments from Mr Rashid, who made history in 2006 when he became the first Yorkshireman of Pakistani heritage to represent Yorkshire County Cricket Club. He went on to launch the Adil Rashid Cricket Academy with his brother Amar in Bradford in 2012 to prepare and nurture future cricket stars, particularly those from disadvantaged communities.
Inspiration is one thing, infrastructure is another. It can be difficult to realise your ambitions if you don’t have access to good facilities, especially in urban areas. In this respect, the ongoing redevelopment of Bradford Park Avenue cricket ground is encouraging news. Established in 1880, the site was considered one of the great spiritual homes of cricket, hosting 306 first-class matches up until 1996 and regularly attracting crowds of 25,000 fans. It officially reopened in 2017 following a multi-million pound investment with eight new artificial practice wickets and a community pavilion.
A spokesman for YCCC told us: “We are optimistic that with new funding in 2020, we will be able to look at the next phases of the regeneration of Park Avenue. This will include a new pavilion and urban cricket centre. We continue to work in conjunction with the England and Wales Cricket Board, Government and Bradford Council to continue the regeneration of the famous old cricket ground. The ground continues to be used more and more by girls and boys, men and women from within the local community. We are very optimistic about its long-term future.”
Cricket is a great leveller. Lord Kamlesh Patel of Bradford, senior independent director at the ECB and a long-standing champion of our district, is trying to increase the number of British Asians getting into the game through the South Asian action plan he launched a year ago. The public health pioneer grew up playing cricket in the streets and on the pitches of Bradford in 1960s and credits the game for giving him the confidence, connections and opportunities to meet people outside his community and develop lifelong friendships.
The ECB’s plan aims to engage more effectively with South Asian communities to draw more players, fans and volunteers into every level of the game. It covers recreational cricket, talent development and retention, attendance, administration and culture and facilities and is targeting 10 core cities, including Bradford. There is a sound business case for the plan: research shows South Asian communities contribute 18 per cent of the cricketing economy.
We know sport has huge economic benefits. According to Sport England, it generates in excess of £20bn in GVA every year and supports more than 400,000 full-time jobs. There are countless wider benefits for society, not least the happiness and wellbeing of those taking part, improved health and education, reduced crime, community development and increased volunteering. Above all, watching sporting success together creates a feel-good factor like no other: it’s called national pride. I’m proud that Bradford – which can claim another World Cup winner in Jonny Bairstow – is playing its part with these stories of inspiration, diversity and regeneration.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club