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Adil Rashid: 'When kids see me play, they know that it's possible'

England legspinner is back on the world stage, with an eye on the next generation

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
07-Jun-2024
Adil Rashid holds the T20 World Cup aloft, England vs Pakistan, T20 World Cup final, Melbourne, November 13, 2022

Adil Rashid was instrumental in England's World T20 triumph in 2022  •  Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

"You want to be a role model for the next generation," says Adil Rashid, sitting outside England's dressing room at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. "Especially where I'm from, in Bradford. When they see me play, they know that it's possible, regardless of where you come from or your background. They know you've come from the bottom, and made it to the top."
Rashid is about to start his 10th year as a mainstay of England's limited-overs team. His consistent excellence can obscure just how remarkable his story is: a boy from Bradford, the son of a taxi driver, and a legspinner with Pakistani heritage who has become a double world champion and a source of inspiration for South Asian cricketers in England and Wales.
Rashid is the youngest of three brothers but "always had that something special about him," recalls Amar, the middle brother. "We used to play in our basement every day and on our drive, in the park or on the local astroturf. We were always playing together. He always had that natural ability."
Amar is sitting on the balcony of what used to be a warehouse in Thornton, to the west of Bradford. In late 2022, he and his family transformed it into the Adil Rashid Cricket Centre through extensive renovation. It is now a modern four-lane net facility used by aspiring young players, club cricketers and professionals, the only one of its kind in the immediate area.
"I've invested quite a bit of money," Adil says. "It's about giving back to the community, and also having something there for the next generation of cricketers coming through. There's a big demand in terms of club cricket as well: Under-10s, second team, first team, Bradford League, Yorkshire League. It was almost a no-brainer - it was just about finding a location."
After seeing a dozen different potential sites, Amar settled on Thornton. He played to a decent standard himself, with nine List A appearances for the Unicorns - an invitational side in the county 40-over competition - in 2011. But coaching has always been his passion: "It's what I've enjoyed and what I've known all my life."
Amar runs the centre, and was instrumental in the initial idea to set up an academy named after his younger brother over a decade ago. "As funny as it might sound, I coach a lot of fast bowlers," he says. "We are going for the more modern style of coaching here: helping fast bowlers to develop speed; power-hitting and 360-degree batting; and the uniqueness of legspin." They are skills that have rarely been produced through the traditional English system.
The centre is the northern training base for the South Asian Cricket Academy (SACA), a scheme launched in 2021 by Tom Brown following his PhD research at Birmingham City University. SACA's aim is to address the underrepresentation of British South Asian players at the top level: according to its research 30% of recreational cricketers in England and Wales are British South Asian, which drops to 5% within men's professional cricket.
Eight SACA graduates have signed professional contracts since becoming involved in the scheme. Foremost among them are Kashif Ali, who scored twin hundreds for Worcestershire in their first County Championship match of the season, and the legspinner Jafer Chohan, an ever-present for Yorkshire in the T20 Blast since signing his first professional deal.
Chohan, a student at Loughborough University, was released by Middlesex five years ago, aged 17. "I was really hating cricket at that point," he recalls. He played for SACA in their first full season, and their head coach Kabir Ali tipped Yorkshire off about him. He also impressed Joe Root while net-bowling to England's Test squad before a tour to Pakistan.
It culminated in an open trial at the centre later that year, attended by coaches from the northern first-class counties: Darren Gough, then Yorkshire's managing director, quickly offered him a contract. Chohan has continued to work closely with Amar ever since. "Growing up, my only spin coach was my dad," he says. "Coming here has taken my bowling to the next level."
Chohan was inspired by Adil: "For me, someone of Pakistani origin, watching him made me feel like 'you know what? I can actually do it.' Him and Moeen [Ali] have done so much for the Asian community: they made me want to embrace being Asian a lot more, rather than feeling embarrassed about it. It actually feels like more of a cool thing which, when I was younger, maybe it didn't."
Now, Chohan is mentored by his idol. "I couldn't be more grateful: without him and Amar, my game wouldn't be where it is right now. He has been very open with me: it doesn't get much better than bowling with one of the best legspinners in the world. Last year, when I got called up to the four-day squad, he saw that and gave me a call to give me a few tips… Those little things go a long way."
Adil is proud of the progress that Chohan has made, with him and Amar mentoring him. "That's what the centre and the academy is there for," he says. "It's for people who don't get recognised, but you see the talent is there. Jafer has worked with my brother and with me and he has broken through. It was a big moment for the academy and for the centre, to know that people have come through and made it."
"It's about giving back to the community, and also having something there for the next generation of cricketers coming through. It was almost a no-brainer - it was just about finding a location"
Adil Rashid on setting up his academy
I arrive at the centre on a rainy Wednesday lunchtime, the day of England's washed-out T20 international against Pakistan at Headingley. As Amar speaks about his vision to roll the centres out across the country, a legspinner is bowling in an empty net, aiming at a cone while working on his variations.
His name is Kyme Tahirkheli, an allrounder who nearly gave up on the sport altogether when he was released by Yorkshire's academy at 17. Now aged 25, he is regularly training at the centre as he searches for a pro contract. He recently trialled at Worcestershire, and hit 117 off 101 for SACA in a red-ball friendly against Lancashire's 2nd XI last month.
"I was put off by cricket when I left Yorkshire: I felt like my stats showed consistently that I was a performer," he says. "I came across Amar in 2020, and since then I've been coming down religiously… I've been working hard, every single day. It's hard graft - in many ways, you've got to work harder than the guys who have contracts - but I've been putting in performances for SACA."
Like Chohan, Tahirkheli sees Adil and Moeen as "a big inspiration". He says: "For myself, being a South Asian from Bradford, it really resonates with me seeing Adil go out and achieve these great heights. Every time I've met him, he's always very humble: you wouldn't be able to recognise the things that he's achieved or what position he's in, in life. That's really inspiring for me - and many others - to try and emulate him."
The centre is a small business which charges for use, but the academy has sponsored players who cannot afford to pay for one-on-one coaching. Amar hopes to source additional funding: "We need to start applying for more: we haven't nailed it down yet. There are a lot of kids from deprived areas around here, so we need that funding to help sponsor more of them."
It is also Adil's training base when he is at home. He spent three months training there between the ILT20 in February and England's T20I series against Pakistan, and continues to use Amar as a coach when he is on international duty. In the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, Amar would watch from home and send Adil advice; it culminated in him taking 2 for 22 in the final.
Rashid is already a double world champion, part of the first men's team to hold both white-ball World Cups simultaneously. Over the next three weeks, England have the chance to set another record by becoming the first men's team to retain the T20 World Cup. "That's the aim, inshallah," he says. "We have the belief to do that.
"We've got the team, the squad, the backroom staff, the mentality, the positive energy. Can we make history again? That's what we're driving towards. Hopefully, inshallah we can go out there, do our thing, and be victorious." Whether they do or not, Rashid has made his hometown proud.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98