George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
A new scheme which aims to encourage more players of Asian origin into professional cricket in England and Wales has been set up.
The South Asian Cricket Association (SACA) will offer bursaries, education opportunities and coaching aimed at helping British Asian cricketers between the ages of 18 and 24 pursue a career in county cricket. Former England seamer Kabir Ali is among the directors, while Wasim Khan, the PCB's CEO, Isa Guha, the former England swing bowler and current broadcaster, and Preet Kaur Gill MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, are among the patrons. Ambassadors include Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Saqib Mahmood.
While there are already schemes aimed at encouraging players from the South Asian community - most notably, the ECB's South Asian Action Plan (SAAP) - they are primarily aimed at boosting participation levels. The premise of SACA is built on the understanding that there are few problems at participation level - 30% of recreational cricketers in England and Wales are classified as 'British Asian' - but the figure drops alarmingly to around 5% when it comes to men's professional cricket.
Research also suggests that, while British Asian cricketers account for 15.5% of the numbers on the ECB's talent pathway at the Under-10 to Under-15 levels, this figure drops to 12.9% at U16-U19 levels. And the situation is worsening: in 2014, there were 30 British Asian cricketers within the professional county game, but there were only 22 in 2020.
To counter this trend, SACA aims to select a squad of around 16 players during the summer of 2021. To do this, they will consult with academy coaches across the land, stage a series of trial games and hold interviews.
Those players will then be offered individual training programmes, including strength and conditioning and dietary advice, aimed at helping them find a pathway into the professional game. They will also receive educational opportunities with a view to providing them with employment options once their playing days have ended. The squad will play competitive matches against county second teams and the National Counties (formerly minor counties).
By overcoming some of the obstacles which are routinely reported to inhibit their progress, SACA aims to increase the percentage of British Asian players within the professional game to 8% by the end of 2024 and 15% by the end of 2027. The scheme also aims to see 10% of coaches coming from the British Asian community by the end of 2027.
The ECB has not yet pledged any funding, though it is understood a presentation was favourably received by Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, in recent days. SACA is understood to be close to naming a partnership with a major university and has some private investment and donations in place.
The scheme is based upon the PhD research of Tom Brown, a pathway coach at Warwickshire, at Birmingham City University.