Kashif Ali learned how to club from Mohammad Yousuf and Joe Root. There were no trainers around when he and his musketeers played tapeball justice, so he watched his favourite players on YouTube, and tried to imitate them. When he was 12, his family moved from Kashmir to Luton, and three times latterly he played his first hardball game. By the time he was 24 he’d played in the 2nd XIs of six different first- class counties – without ever making it further.
Two weeks agone
, Kashif eventually made his first- class debut, for Worcestershire. Their County Championship match against Derbyshire was a low- scoring affair where the cleft ran rampant, and only four complete overs had been sailed when Kashif was hastened in at No 5, his platoon 23 for three. He put on nearly a century stand for the fourth gate with Jack Haynes, and top- scored in the innings with 52. “ I did n’t suppose too important about it, ” he says. “ I just went by, played my shots, and backed myself. ” The coming day, Worcestershire inked him on a two- time deal. “ It’s what I ’ve wanted for quite a many times now, so that felt really good. ”
For some – including Kashif himself – the moral of this story is that if you keep faith in yourself, dreams can come true. But there’s another assignment too. Kashif is one of the first graduates of the South Asian Cricket Academy, an “ intervention programme ” launched this time to help British Asians overcome the systemic inequalities and unnoticeable impulses that keep them out of the professional game. Kashif had been reverberating around justice’s development system for times without chancing a county. It has taken the Academy lower than half a season to secure him a contract.
The Academy was born out of a discussion between Kabir Ali, the former England each- rounder, and his club teammate Tom Brown, the Birmingham City University experimenter whose work revealed that while British Asians make up 30 of the recreational game in England, they constitute only 5 of professional cricketers. That difference was raised at last time’s DCMS sounds into allegations of structural racism within the sport; neither the ECB nor the individual counties have got close to working it.
“ I kept being told that if you ’re good enough you ’ll make it anyhow of your background, ” says Brown. undecided, Brown and Kabir came up with the idea of offering British Asian cricketers acclimatized guiding and education, alongside match openings against county resistances. Players would admit support developed for them collectively, from strength and exertion training to nutritive advice. “ We wanted to show that effects do n’t have to be done the way they ’ve always been done, ” says Brown, “ and we figured, indeed if no bone
got inked this time, at least we’d have created a literacy terrain that approached effects else. ”
rather, success has come snappily. In recent triumphs against Northamptonshire and Surrey seconds SACA’s platoon was missing further than half their first- choice players, who were formerly on county trials. Indeed Brown was surprised at the ready gift they uncovered when he launched the scheme, they anticipated to find around 16 players good enough to contend for a professional contract. They’ve formerly showcased 30 in their sides, with further awaiting their turn.
Andy Umeed, who opened the fur for Warwickshire in 14 matches between 2016 and 2017, is another SACA player to earn a county contract after Somerset inked him to the end of 2023. For Umeed, the occasion to train through the downtime, and the guidance of elite trainers, enabled him to get his career back on track and “ ground that gap between club justice and the professional game ”. For Kashif, the openings to impress county trainers have been crucial. “ It has been really helpful in gaining exposure, and counties having a look at you, ” he says. “ I’ve trialled quite a lot in the history but noway got noticed. ”
Funded by Birmingham City University, SACA has entered lower attention than the ACE programme, which was conceived around the same time in response to a dramatic decline in black British professionals. The academe’s size and compass is more limited than Ebony Rainford- Brent’s design; ACE has grown fleetly since gaining charitable status in October 2020, while SACA was created with the intention to make itself obsolete within six times, a short fix until the rest of the county system catches up with its ideas.
But they’ve one notable thing in common both were set up by individualities who could see a problem, and were fed up of staying for the people apparently in charge to fix it. Rainford- Brent’s voice as a black woman in the Surrey boardroom eventually urged action on an issue that justice has known about for further than a decade. The ECB only lately got involved, publicizing in April that it would fund ACE’s “ continued expansion ” as part of the action plan launched in the wake of the Rafiq sounds.
Brown may be hoping that SACA’s achievements eventually earn them some fiscal backing too; so far, they’ve entered no support from justice’s governing body. He says “ mindsets are starting to shift ” around gift identification, including the understanding that players may develop important latterly than the current system allows for. But in proposition, at least, SACA remains an amateur side “ and the fact we ’ve contended and indeed beaten professional sides proves there’s gift out there not making it. ”