Disability cricket covers a much broader group of players than you might imagine. There are those who are physically disadvantaged, and those with learning difficulties or hearing impairments but there is one aspect which unites them all.
“The players have a high level of skill and they work incredibly hard at their gams,” says Neil Bunting, Disability Development Officer for the Surrey Cricket Foundation (SCF). “The top level of pan-disability cricket is very impressive.”
Like all of the Foundation’s activities, Disability cricket has suffered during the pandemic and Bunting explains that it created even more difficulties for some: “Many players have underlying conditions, and that made it much harder during the lockdowns, having to isolate for periods in some cases, particularly for those who play recreationally.”
But it did not stop 2021 being a busy year in Surrey, with an ECB scheme offering clubs the opportunity to apply for £500 of funding if they put themselves forward as Disability Champion Clubs – to be spent on running sessions and equipment – seeing nine applicants successful. They were: Spencer, Rowledge, Merstham, Wandgas, Epsom, Walton-on-Thames, Pirbright, Frimley Phoenix and Valley End.
The Lord’s Taverners Super 1s programme has proved very popular, with nine hubs in the county, where clubs open up to youngsters. One highly successful move was to stage Disability roadshows to coincide with Pan-Disability D40 matches at three Super 1s venues – Spencer, Rowledge and Valley End. The involvement of several Surrey Disability squad members was a great help and the scheme attracted around 20 new players to the Super 1s.
Disability Day at The Kia Oval, staged last July, saw some 250 young people enjoying a range of cricket activities, with around 20 schools and groups in attendance and able to make the most of using the outfield, the Ken Barrington Centre and various spaces around the ground. The occasion featured the inaugural Visually Impaired All Stars sessions.
Surrey celebrated becoming national champions in the D40 League, going unbeaten over three matches, while the second team won all of their six matches to claim the southern title before coming unstuck against northern winners Lancashire in the play-off.
An innovation for 2021 was the Disability Premier League (DPL), in which players across three disability impairment groups were involved, replacing the England Lions programme, and bringing together the best players in the country. The county were delighted that coach Kavin Hemraj (Hawks) was joined by players Taylor Young and Matt Harris (Hawks), Stephen Pope, Jason Talmer and Asif Abbasi (Tridents), Dan Levey and Anthony Clapham (Pirates), plus Black Cats Jonny Gale, Josh Price, Mike O’Mahoney and Umar Khan.
Bunting explains: “The DPL mirrors franchise leagues like the IPL and the Hundred, so it matches the best players in the country against each other. We’ve also got 20-30 county teams playing each other as well, so there are plenty of opportunities. There’s a lot to play for this year because there’s a tour of Australia, so everyone will be pushing very hard for a place on that.”
Another success came for the Surrey Visually Impaired first team, who enjoyed their best season yet as they hammered Yorkshire and Kent before going down to title winners Sussex. The seconds, whose programme was affected by the spring Covid restrictions, were frustrated further by each match being washed out. But the T20s saw Gloucestershire and Berkshire beaten to set up a final with Dorset Dolphins, who were restricted to 113. The runs were knocked off in just 13 overs for Surrey to claim the title for the third time in five years.
Bunting believes there is plenty of untapped talent around the county: “One in five people in this country has a disability. Obviously not everyone wants to play cricket but the more people who come into contact with the game, the better chance we have of tapping into the talent and involving more disabled people in cricket.”