The BBC Three film Bats, Balls and Bradford Girls is an absolute must-see documentary available on iPlayer. There are moments of wit, courage, selflessness and from the accents to the urban landscape, it is unmistakably Yorkshire.
At its heart are the stories from an Asian girls’ cricket team who formed at Carlton Bolling College in Bradford and grabbed headlines by becoming county and then North of England champions.
Along the way, they have broken down cultural barriers in the Muslim community by showing that girls can play cricket too and also do their families proud. They’ve had to push against strongly-held views that girls should not be involved in sport but study and stay at home instead.
Bats, Balls and Bradford Girls is the reunion of the
It is a delight to spend some time in the company of the narrator, Zainab, a star bowler who is chaperoned to games by her dad, Sajid. That dynamic is in contrast to a team-mate Hanfia, who was kicked out of school but tempted back by the lure of playing cricket but her mum is supportive of her push to begin a creative course in Leeds.
It is a documentary that will surprise and sadden but it’s impossible not be swept along by the bubbly camaraderie between the girls, despite the prejudices they are faced with. We also meet Jasmin whose family are Rohingya and fled persecution from Myanmar.
She was born in a refugee camp in Bangladesh after her father died and now cares for her mother who is partially paralysed and unable to feed herself. Jasmin is a talented young sportswoman who has turned down a football scholarship in America to focus on the daily realities of being a carer.
Cricket has given these girls a way to socialise and to be themselves but I’m left worrying for their futures and hoping they get the chance to be whatever they want to be.
BBC scheduling is probably no less convoluted than trying to placate everyone who tears their hair out at the county cricket calendar – but I wish this had been on BBC One or BBC Two with its bigger audiences.
It has made me think about the challenges in different communities but also the dangers of one-eyed cultural stereotyping and questions over integration. Many of the girls idolise Joe Root and are beside themselves at getting a selfie with Jonny Bairstow.
They have found cricket just at the time (in their teens) when the game has such struggles with retention. Will they continue their involvement?
On the eve of the BBC Three film being broadcast, I spoke to
It’s for the Wicketz programme, delivered in the city by the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation, that supports 8-16 year-olds in areas of deprivation who don’t have easy access to sport.
She’s an all-rounder who likes bowling and firing down yorkers at batsmen but has only been playing cricket for three years, since getting involved at Carlton Bolling: “I just joined it for the fun of it then I started to like it. My coaches were encouraging me.”
Now at Bradford College,
She has done her ECB Coach Support Worker course and with the help of Nasa Hussain, the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation’s Community Development Officer for Bradford, there’s scope to go on and progress further.
The publicity around the Carlton Bolling girls cricket team was considerable and they became role models for other girls wanting to tread the same path and win more freedom. Now,
“I still want to carry on with cricket. My family wants me to do it. Cricket’s my passion but I also want to coach to encourage other people. I want them to think positive and have fun.”
One of which seems to be taking her cricket seriously and seeing where it leads. It needn’t be one life choice or the other after all. The overriding feeling you’re left with is one of admiration for these forward-thinking young women and who knows where their cricket journey goes next?