Hamzah Hussain blinks at me studiously from behind a pair of dark-rimmed glasses before beginning to share how the game of cricket inspired him.
It is an interview I’ve been excited about for ages. Hamzah is the architect (literally as it turns out) behind Cricket Arena, a community interest company that organises cricket tournaments in Sheffield.
They have caught my eye for years (and won a Cricket Yorkshire Award) because of the engaging video on channels like Instagram and TikTok, showing young cricketers sending stumps cartwheeling and thudding boundaries off the sports hall walls.
Hamzah, Director of Cricket Arena CIC, started playing cricket in his mid-teens and always wanted to be an architect: “I love making things. I used to spend my childhood playing the computer game SIMS, building houses and bringing things to reality.”
His undergraduate degree at Sheffield Hallam University involved an essay on health inequality and the angle Hamzah took was how architects can make cricket more accessible and affordable.
He tells me that the South Yorkshire city has huge inequality between the more affluent South West and more diverse and economically deprived areas in the North and East of Sheffield.
That led to a Masters at University of Sheffield on bringing to life the research he’d done: “How do we actually create this space that’s making cricket a game for everyone? Affordable, accessible, appealing.”
That drive and expertise in a city that needs more cricket facilities caught the attention of both the England & Wales Cricket Board and Sheffield City Council. Hamzah’s aim to offer more opportunities in his community tapped into the strategic aims of what was once called the ECB’s South Asian Action Plan.
Plans are ongoing to create a covered, outdoor cricket arena to enable softball cricket all year round.
If that sounds familiar, you might well be thinking of the Cricket Dome at Bradford Park Avenue, built by Total Play Ltd and inspired at the beginning by Hamzah who shared his research and concepts with the ECB Facilities team.
How Cricket Arena began
In 2017, Hamzah’s mate, Bash, ran an indoor cricket league at a sports hall called YMA in Sheffield and that got the cogs turning. Hamzah picks up the story:
”I thought, ‘How can we grow it? How can we move from 20 people to six to eight teams in the city every year?’ ”
Part of that evolution was a successful grant bid but social media has played its role in sharing regular videos, photos and creating a buzz on the Cricket Arena accounts across Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.
A camcorder was purchased to record all of the games and with Hamzah’s interest in the media side, Cricket Arena launched in 2019 and has never looked back.
A year as Community Development Officer (Sheffield) for Yorkshire Cricket Foundation gave Hamzah a turbo-charged insight into participation events. It involved organising Core Cities projects such as inter-city cups, tapeball and softball tournaments and the YCF Hundred.
Another string to his bow was creating a pilot participation hub in Firvale, Sheffield, to make cricket affordable & accessible to diverse communities.
But a little like me with Cricket Yorkshire, I got the strong sense that Hamzah’s true purpose lies with Cricket Arena and it is going from strength to strength.
Mini Bash League (MBL)
He tells me: “Now, we have a men’s league from January to March, finishing just before Ramadan. We also started a new concept this year from September to December, a young indoor league that took 72 kids off the street every week.”
The MBL or Mini Bash League is exactly the kind of thing that Cricket Arena does really well. Both in terms of delivering it for young people in Sheffield but also using videos, interviews, a player auction and other innovation to make it exciting and creating hype.
It has helped newcomers to make friends through cricket and feel as if they have a support network, as well as role models.
Over 12 weeks, 72 players, 5,359 runs, 260 wickets and 347 sixes later, the MBL has encouraged Sheffield’s young cricketers to come together, with backing from National Express Foundation & Sheffield City Trust.
Hamzah tells me that some of the best players in Sheffield came along to watch the MBL and manage teams. His head is fizzing with ideas and already thinking about what’s next. That could be outdoor training and for some, a link up with clubs.
“Young people want to play sport because they want to have fun with their friends.
So, we have to make it fun. If it’s not, they stop playing. The most fun thing for young people is competition.”
There is also constant innovation. Shohaib Khaliq is the new leagues manager and he introduced a player auction where the six team captains had a fictional £100k to spend on their squads for their 2024 Sheffield Cup.
While a bit of fun, it also cannily stopped one or two sides dominating all of the time. The best 12 cricketers were categorised as ‘Diamond Players’ with a limit of two for each team.
What’s next for Hamzah and Cricket Arena?
The ideas, formats and enthusiasm keep on coming. Expect lots of energy, opportunities to play for all ages and a permanent home for Cricket Arena is the ultimate goal.
Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park would tick many boxes as a central, convenient hub, with Darnall on the doorstep and Burngreave nearby.
There is already a cricket pitch there but Hamzah’s vision is for a new facility dedicated to cricket: “It’s right in the heart of Sheffield with perfect road access and transport links so if we could build there, it would be amazing. That’s what I’m pushing for.”
It’s an incredible vision and a journey that has already come so far. So, if you work for a business in Sheffield or South Yorkshire (could be national too), Cricket Arena are looking for sponsors to make these tournaments happen.
Get in touch with Hamzah / Cricket Arena
You can email Hamzah via [email protected].
You can follow all the games and developments via social media:
🏏 Cricket Arena on TikTok
💥 Cricket Arena on Instagram
🏏 Cricket Arena on YouTube
- My new book is out: Dales, Bails and Cricket Club Tales - February 24, 2024
- Fantasy Club Cricket: Compete against your teammates this season - February 23, 2024
- Kickstart your season with Village Cricket Co (10% Off) - February 23, 2024