To mark the start of South Asian Heritage Month the ECB Reporters Network is providing a piece written by Middlesex Participation Manager, Mash Mehter, on his role and how cricket can action creative ways to engage more people from south Asian communities.
A second-generation Hackney-born immigrant, Mash Mehter was a
pioneer for south Asian cricket coaches when he took up the role aged just 16.
Twenty-two years on, the married father of three is in his second stint as a participation manager with Middlesex, his remit to help those from ethnic minorities – and south Asians in particular – access the game.
Mehter speaks passionately of the need to think creatively about engaging the south Asian community by embracing the culture – and cites Middlesex’s partnership with the Hounslow Mosque, where they run weekly sessions, as a strong example of the way forward.
By Mash Mehter, Middlesex Participation Manager
In south Asian culture the place of worship or faith setting is the heart of the community, where faith leaders play a vital role and the worshippers in their congregation will respect what they have to say.
So it’s about connecting the key people and working in partnership with local or national bodies to help facilitate the relationships we have with places like Hounslow Mosque.
I was fortunate enough to be operations manager for the 2021 Census, which showed London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, perhaps the most diverse next to New York.
With Middlesex having 17 of the London boroughs, it would be remiss if we only concentrated on your traditional Caucasian cricket clubs, so we’ve had to think outside the box. Therefore a lot of the projects I am involved in are in non-traditional settings, not necessarily at a cricket club or even in schools.
In Middlesex alone there are a number of Islamic faith schools or Madrasas. Being from the south Asian community made it easier for me to build those relationships, especially in faith settings. That’s not just mosques, but temples, gurdwaras and even among community groups.
Many Muslims have the Madrasa, which is where they go after school finishes at 3:30pm and learn about their religion at the mosque, how to read the Koran and so forth. So we are running this national programme at the mosque, to allow them to either take part in cricket before they go to Madrasa or for the older children after they’ve finished Madrasa.
We are trying to accommodate the children, because otherwise most of them will be excluded by their religious practice from going to an All Stars centre or conventional club setting.
Some of those at the mosque won’t be comfortable sending their children to a traditional cricket club or a park to play cricket, for many different reasons.
When I growing up in Hackney, we used to play cricket on the streets where the milk crates or black bins were the stumps, but things are very different now with rising crime. As a parent, sometimes I don’t feel comfortable with sending my kids to the streets to play as anything could happen.
So by running the awareness programme at the mosque, we are capturing children and young teenagers by providing a safe space.
Cricket is a religion in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India and now also in Afghanistan, but you will see there are a lower percentage of females actively involved, irrespective of whether it is cricket or any other sport.
So for us there is also a major focus on getting more south Asian women and girls involved – not just in playing, but also volunteering and coaching because they will act as the role models for the next generation.
We all know cricket is not everyone’s cup of tea, so we can’t sell cricket to the millions if we simply promote it as a cricket session. To give women and girls a taste of cricket we want to combine it with other activities, like aerobics sessions or self-defence. We’re trying to be creative and innovative to see what attracts women to come.
Traditional hard-ball cricket is not the only way to identify talent. If you look at Pakistan, some of the cricketing legends and in more recent times players like Haris Rauf have been picked up through tape-ball cricket.
That could be a platform for those who don’t want to play club cricket or hard ball cricket. It is a different format, but it’s still cricket.
We need to be more creative, potentially hosting open trials to identify the next fast bowler, which they do in Pakistan where they will have hundreds if not thousands of young people, not just kids but people of all ages coming and bowling. That’s where you might find that one golden nugget who could be bowling 90 miles an hour.
The youngsters we are meeting in these community hubs have aspirations to play professional cricket. The kids are watching IPL or PSL at home and they want to be hitting those big sixes.
I would love to be talking to you in 10 years’ time and have half the Middlesex squad from ethnic minority communities.