Mel Mahmood is a cricket umpire and Participation Manager for the Yorkshire Cricket Southern Premier League. Here she shares her journey in cricket, the women’s and girls’ game in South Yorkshire as well as a formal link-up with the Premier League.
I was 45 years old when I first picked up a cricket bat. My cricket-mad husband had been asked to set up a women’s softball team at Higham Cricket Club in Barnsley and I had gone along to support him and “have a go.”
Well, it turned out I had a game. Couldn’t bowl for toffee but I could bat. And I was really, really annoyed! You see, I had never been given the chance to play before – ever. I went to school at a bog-standard comprehensive – even the boys didn’t play and there simply weren’t any women’s or girls’ teams to join.
So, far too late for me to make anything of myself as a player of the game I’d always enjoyed watching but very quickly fell in love with actually playing.
I did not want this to be the case for anyone else ever again, so I thought: What could I do to give my support to this game? And make sure that everyone – female or male, young, old and regardless of background – whomever – wants to play – gets to play?
As I got more involved in cricket club life, which I highly recommend by the way, it became apparent that pretty much all clubs across the board struggle to find or secure umpires and there are certainly not enough female umpires, and this is where fate stepped in.
Literally the day after I had expressed a possible interest in umpiring – I was introduced to the legend that is Mr Terry Bentham.
At the time I had no clue who Mr B is (and he is far too modest to tell you) but fortunately and with no agenda at all, we simply just hit it off and he has been a dear friend and mentor ever since. I know I am very lucky to have his support and will be forever grateful.
So, Terry encouraged me to take the Level 1, 2 and over the past winter period, Level 3 ECB ACO Umpire courses. Bless him (and Mrs B), he came to my first few (truly terrifying) turnouts but with his help, my knowledge and confidence grew and within the first season for the SYSPL, I went from standing at Division 7 to Division 2 matches.
It was then that the Yorkshire Cricket Southern Premier League (YCSPL) approached me and asked if I would consider joining the League Executive as Participation Manager – for the Women’s and Girls and the Juniors League – encouraging clubs to form and support the same.
So very quickly, within a year, I had been invited to truly support and encourage the game, as I had originally wanted.
A game, with the explosion of support for the Women’s Hundred and T20 game, has seen a massive rise in interest at grassroots level, of women’s and girls’ teams across the country. In the YCSPL alone, we now have 36 teams in Softball and 11 teams in Hardball Super 8’s this season. That’s an increase of 10 teams from last summer alone.
The future of this branch of the game is very exciting but I am also very happy, as an umpire, to be seeing women now playing in what would have been traditionally all-male games. I witnessed some great bowling from a young woman from Aston Hall last season.
This, eventual, complete integration in the game, I feel, will secure the future of the game for generations to come. And this, is why I love the game – its potential for true equity because the game itself is based on having a team that has a range of skills, techniques, teamwork and tactics, not just pure brute strength. It truly is a game for all.
There are exciting times ahead here In South Yorkshire and we recently, in collaboration with the Regional ECB representatives, welcomed the South Yorkshire Women’s and Girls’ League into the YCSPL, providing a formal structure and governance to move the game forward even further.
More importantly, the League can and will provide greater access to funds for development and training.
In mid-April, I attended the first ECB ACO All-Female Umpiring Conference at Milton Keynes where I got some ideas as to how to encourage more women and girls to get involved with the officiating side of cricket. The future’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to a great season – wishing you all one too.
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