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The realization that Asian cricketers make up around thirty percent of all those who play our wonderful game in this country has been cause for both reflection and now action.
In cricket’s drive to boost participation and jostle for the attention, there’s been recognition that celebrating the achievements, in both the professional and amateur arena, of this significant demographic is a smart thing to do.
Enter two, innovative thinkers in Jas Jassal BEM and Baljit Rihal who conceived the idea back in 2013 after similar success in creating the Asian Football Awards last October.
These inaugural cricket industry awards set out to scoop up everyone involved in the game and pat them on the back; not just the well-paid professionals providing inspiration through performance.
Much in the same vein as the ECB’s Outstanding Services to Cricket Awards (OCSAs), so the Asian Cricket Awards will include a nod to those involved in tireless community work, whether on or off the pitch.
As someone who has served on many a cricket club committee at quite a peripheral level, it’s a heartfelt motivation of mine to continue to laud the likes of the coach, groundsman, whomever commands the tea urn and those individuals and families that single-handedly keep cricket teams and clubs afloat year after year.
If sustained for years to come, the Talk Home Mobile Asian Cricket Awards will hopefully engender publicity for and interest in everyone involved with Asian cricket and that’s to be applauded.
The Awards are also an opportunity to ensure some of the stories that are spread across grassroots cricket and communities get to see the light of day.
A look down the nominations shortlist reveals a plethora of extraordinary tales, many of which have a Yorkshire origin and sadly, a couple with a posthumous element to them.
The late Numan Shabbir Syed is considered for Coach of the Year Award after being Director of black and ethnic minority cricket centres for the Yorkshire Cricket Board for years, among many other other projects and community accomplishments.
The Inspiration Award includes the late Farid Karolia who founded Mount Cricket Club in Batley, along with Hanif Mayet, back in 1976 at a time when there was a paucity of Asian teams in the Dewsbury and District League.
Farid’s work in the ensuing decades ensured thousands of juniors took up and enjoyed the game and Mount CC became a powerhouse in local cricket winning titles aplenty.
His work in club and schools in the Batley and Dewsbury area of West Yorkshire, as chairman of Dewsbury District League and the Yorkshire Cricket Board’s black and ethic representative for 15 years are all testament to the man.
Back in late August at Headingley, Farid Karolia won the Yorkshire Cricket Board’s Numan Shabbir Syed Award for Services to Black Minority Ethnic Cricket; an award collected by his brother Yusuf.
Yusef’s subsequent heartfelt speech about Farid’s passion for cricket and community was one of the most powerful I’ve ever had the privilege to hear. You could have heard a pin drop in the room of eighty or so people.
Stories like Numan and Farid are the cogs that turn behind the scenes and deserve a wider audience. There are many more like them and with late September and early October traditionally awards time, hopefully those achievements aren’t lost in the torrent of seasonal awards ceremonies.
Professional cricketers continue to play a vital part as role models and there are four county stars up for a gong in Varun Chopra, Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Ravi Bopara.
Accomplished opener Chopra has impressed ever since he scored a century for Essex, aged eighteen, on debut back in 2006 and has been the only Warwickshire batsman to hit 1,000 runs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Meanwhile, Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid has had a watershed year for the White Rose with both bat and ball, earning him a place on the England Performance Programme (EPP).
Rashid will travel to Sri Lanka with England to help prepare them for the one-day series before he links up with the EPP’s batting and spin camp in late November.
We have a fierce expectation of Adil Rashid in Yorkshire, often converging on both the complimentary and contradictory.
Having been destined for great things since he was bamboozling Bradford League batsmen in his early teens, we expect him to play for England, he’s good enough after all, right?
But that would mean he’s not going to play for Yorkshire. Which would never do. Thoughts on Rashid’s genius or fragility can oscillate as much as Headingley’s cloud cover in any single afternoon within the stands.
The engrained feeling from some is that England messed him about but regardless of the merits of that, it’s time to move on (after all, he last played in an England shirt against South Africa at Centurion on Nov 15, 2009).
His considerable impact on Yorkshire’s 2014 season is another flag to the national selectors who have nudged the door to representing his country open with their foot.
Rashid’s 577 first-class runs and 46 wickets were a timely reminder that both leg spin and unorthodox strokeplay are alive and well.
His competition comes from the likes of Ali, Borthwick, Kerrigan, Tredwell, Parry and Root but Rashid’s potential in all three formats might make for a compelling, left-field World Cup pick early next year.
Heart say Adil to win Professional Player of the Year – we tried to set up an interview but I think he was over in Pakistan at a wedding – but head says Moeen Ali.
Meanwhile, Moeen Ali has not had a quiet summer. In fact, he’s managed to pack in the full range of triumph and disaster.
The Ali family have remarkable cricketing genes. Moeen’s brother Kabir and cousin Kadeer have also both played county cricket which must have made for some serious tussles in the back garden growing up.
Now centrally contracted with England, Moeen Ali is clearly a cricketer identified as the real deal; able to adapt to and thrive whether Test, ODI or T20.
It’s early days and has not been plain sailing but if the trajectory of his spin bowling (figurative not literal) is anything to go by, he has an exciting future.
Graeme Swann’s retirement has led to what felt at times as a desperate scrabble to find a successor overnight.
Despite others with better county spin bowling credentials, England backed Ali and he has delivered in spades – most notably his 6-67 in the third Investec Test against India.
Being mindlessly booed at Edgbaston and told off by the International Cricket Council for his wristbands with a humanitarian message meant life was rarely dull but he remains hugely popular with fans, ready with intelligent opinion and deserving of any and all recognition.
The last professional on the shortlist is Essex and England allrounder Ravi Bopara (which incidentally was honed from 400 entries by a judging panel that included Lord Patel of Bradford, Baroness Warsi, former Senior Minister of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs and Mike Gatting OBE, ECB Managing Director of Cricket Partnerships.)
The twenty-nine year old from Forest Gate, ensconced in London’s borough of Newham, has racked up runs, wickets and appearances for club and country in a career that has dazzled and demented supporters in equal measure, ever since he got his first professional contract with Essex in 2002.
He has racked up 108 ODI appearances for England; has 9,201 first-class runs and while his achingly languid demeanour and modes of dismissal can drive us all potty, he absolutely must play for England in the 2015 World Cup.
To return to the broader context of Asian cricket once more, the Asian Cricket Awards offer a vehicle to engage with that relatively small portion of the national population who seem to play about a third of all the cricket.
Take the 2011 census that shows 5.3m residents in Yorkshire and the Humber of which Pakistani Asians made up 4% or 226,000 people.
It’s not a matter for public record how many of those like or play cricket; perhaps have a Pakistan or England Test shirt kicking about the house or know Shahid Afridi’s strike rate by heart. But anecdotally, it’s a lot.
An afternoon conversation with Jas Jassal about the origins and ambitions of these new awards reveals a passion for improving social skills, community outreach and using sport as a driver to educate and improve people’s lives.
Jas himself boasts an impressive resume having been a recipient of the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year Honours for his charitable and community service, not to mention being a proud London Olympics torchbearer.
Cricket Yorkshire even has its own indirect connection of a sort with the Awards via our commercial partners, Cricket Deal Direct, sponsoring two county cricketers, Worcestershire’s Salma Bi and Middlesex’s Ravi Patel, who are both up for awards.
We can’t wrap up the subject of Asian-specific cricket awards without treading what is a fair enough but potentially dicey line of questioning, notably: why should there be Asian-only awards?
Jassal’s answer strikes to the heart of the point: these awards are all about trying to reward and celebrate rather than separate or segregate.
The gala awards ceremony, which is sold out, will take place at Lord’s on Tuesday 7 October – the evening after the ECB’s own NatWest OSCAs – so the Asian Cricket Awards complement existing volunteer recognition nationally across all ages and backgrounds.
The other broader point is much simpler: why not? More the merrier should be the philosophy when it comes to appreciating the work those across cricket do to enrich our experience of it.
These awards and others like them need to be more than a mere jolly in the capital by a select few backslapping each other but meeting, networking and dare I say in self-congratulatory mode, encouraging media sources to publicise the work done behind scenes beyond the event itself is just as key.
Asian cricket here in Yorkshire has its robust challenges along with all grassroots cricket scrapping for legitimacy and traction but in both its structured and fractured forms, deserves to be listened to.
Since its inception as a cricket website in 2010, Cricket Yorkshire has quite deliberately sought close links with the Yorkshire Cricket Board (YCB), the governing body for recreational cricket in the county.
As an organisation, a county cricket board with the size and scale of Yorkshire to manage has a devil of a job administering things but I’ve been struck by the energy and drive of the people from directors to coaches.
From thriving, long-running leagues like the Quaid E Azam to competitions like the Lord Taverner’s City Cup where cities like Bradford can take on say Birmingham for regional bragging rights, Yorkshire can be proud of its grassroots cricket and the part that Asian cricketers, coaches, volunteers and supporters play in that.
* Photo by Nigel Roddis (Getty Images).