CONNECTING: Ex-cricketer Graeme Swann and professional dancer Oti Mabuse attend an All Stars Cricket session as part of the ECB’s South Asian Plan

by TOM HARRISON, CEO of England Cricket Board (ECB)

BACK in May I was pleased to see “English cricket’s game-changer” as the front-page headline of the Eastern Eye. It heralded the ECB’s action plan to widen cricket’s appeal with south Asian communities.

Six months on, it’s fair to say that there has been progress both on and off the pitch.

On the pitch it’s been an excellent season.

On Thursday, England women will play in the semi-finals of the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in the West Indies. Our men’s team have had a fantastic 2018 too in both Test and white-ball cricket.

Series victories over Pakistan, India and now Sri Lanka will see our Test team finish the year as the number two ranked team in the world. The 5-0 series victory over Australia by our men’s white-ball team underlined why they go into next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup as one of the favourites.

I’d like to praise two players who have been central to England’s white- and red-ball success this summer. Mooen Ali and Adil Rashid have performed brilliantly and are superb role models for any aspiring cricketer. Significantly, they both also learnt their cricket on inner-city pitches.

Our job as a national governing body is to ensure that there is a structure to support young people from inner cities who are inspired by Moeen and Adil. And that is where the South Asian Action Plan comes into play.

Central to the South Asian Action Plan was meaningful change built on true understanding and knowledge. The Plan took 15 months to complete.

We started by acknowledging where we had fallen short in the past and talked extensively with the communities we needed to engage with. We undertook wide-ranging social science research in South Asian communities. We wanted to be driven by insight and evidence, not by perception or opinion.

The research enabled us to understand, at a local level, a myriad of different demographics from language and religion to age, employment status and even density of population. It’s how we identified ten ‘Core Cities’ where we could invest to reach 61 per cent of the South Asian population in England and Wales.

The aim of the Plan is to transform the way cricket engages with British South Asian communities.

To ensure it was quantifiable, 11 key measures were created, and each of these has short-term deliverables and long-term ambitions.

The first of the key measures was to provide access to year-round cricket facilities in urban areas.

Our actions are already matching our ambitions. By the end of 2019 we wanted to have installed 100 non-turf and 25 turf pitches in urban areas. In just six months we have built 58 non-turf and renovated 14 turf pitches in the Core Cities.

Working in partnership with the British Asian Trust, we have identified Leyton Cricket Club in East London as our first Urban Cricket Centre. These are purpose-built sites specifically designed to provide cricket in urban areas.

Our long-term aim is to create a nationwide network of affordable cricket facilities that will benefit South Asian communities.

Of course, facilities are important but without proper engagement they won’t work. That’s why I’m so pleased about our latest announcement that we will recruit 2,000 south Asian female mentors to help develop the next generation of cricketers.

The ambition to expand the female coaching network was another of the 11 key measures, and again it was founded on insight. Thirty per cent of people surveyed during the consultation process said that more female coaches would encourage more south Asian women and girls to play.

This £1.2m investment to develop a network of female role models comes from a Sport England grant, in partnership with the National Lottery. The new volunteer ‘activators’ will deliver All Stars Cricket, ECB’s entry level cricket programme for five to eight year olds, across seven cities and act as role models, showing young people the positive part that cricket can play in their lives.

Crucially, we believe it will attract young girls from a diverse range of backgrounds to play cricket.

Equally as important is the fact the women running their sessions will be able to relate better with young aspiring cricketers and their culture.

At the ECB we are encouraged by what we and our partners have achieved so far in six months.

Creating a network of female mentors demonstrates what the South Asian Action Plan is all about – it’s game changing.