Freedoms and forward-defences: Bats, Balls and Bradford Girls

Picture Shows: Sabeha
(C) RAW TV Ltd – Photographer: Gussy Sakula-Barry

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 girls cricket team for one final tournament after their GCSEs. It is a challenging time without the routine of school and the critics and doubters have not gone away.

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.

Made by Raw

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 Sabeha Salam (above), 17, who was one of the girls in the team. She is doing some voluntary coaching at the Karmand Centre in Bradford.

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.

Sabeha is initially nervous on the phone, I can’t imagine she gets too many press requests before her 18th birthday. But, like a batsman who becomes more comfortable after a few overs at the crease, she comes out of her shell soon enough.

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, Sabeha is taking charge of indoor cricket sessions and looking forward to getting involved with games when summer arrives, as well as trying to set up a Bradford College girls team.

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, Sabeha plans to use this momentum to help others follow in her footsteps:

“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.”

Importantly, Sabeha has the backing of her family who naturally want the best for her. As she puts it herself, she has to put her head down in her Health and Social Care course for sure but can also embrace the other targets in life.

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?

Picture Shows: Sabeha – (C) RAW TV Ltd – Photographer: Gussy Sakula-Barry

What do you think?

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Journalist, author and conquering Yorkshire one cricket tea at a time.

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