‘Naseem Shah worth every penny for Birmingham Phoenix’

Warwickshire to celebrate 70 years of Pakistan-England cricket relations

By Imran Munawar/Saima Haroon
May 09, 2024
Cain said that, before signing Naseem Shah, they did a lot of research and found it beneficial for Birmingham Phoenix to have someone like him in the squad. - ICC 

BIRMINGHAM: This year marks the 70 years of cricketing relationships between Pakistan and England and Warwickshire County Cricket Club will celebrate that by hosting a series of events at Edgbaston during the upcoming tour of Pakistani women and men’s cricket teams.

The development was confirmed by club’s Chief Executive Stuart Cain in an exclusive interview with Geo News.

Pakistan women and men’s cricket teams are visiting England this month for the white -ball series and Edgbaston is set to host both women and men’s T20I fixtures on May 11 and 25, respectively.

The club will be hosting a reception on the eve of men’s T20I game where officials from England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) are expected to attend the event and the guest of honour will be Pakistan’s oldest living Test cricketer Wazir Mohammad, who was member of the team which won the famous Oval Test way back in 1954.

“We are working with the Pakistan consulate and some local businessmen to hold a reception here at Edgbaston involving the Pakistan Cricket Board where we celebrate the fact that this is a 70th year of Pakistan playing in England,” Cain said.

“The first game was back in 1954 and we're blessed that Wazir Muhammad who played in that match lives here in Birmingham and also his brother Mushtaq. We will be inviting them along as guests of honours so we can have a really good night to celebrate the long history of playing England versus Pakistan and also some of the many great games they had here at Edgbaston.”

Although, Pakistan women team has played international matches previously at Edgbaston during the commonwealth games in 2022 but this will be first time, they will be playing a T20I match against England at this venue. To mark this occasion the club is working with the Consulate of Pakistan in Birmingham to invite young girls from local schools, situated mainly in areas where residents are largely of Pakistani origin.

“We've got a reputation for hosting great women's cricket like women Ashes and the commonwealth games. So, we're working with the Pakistan consulate and some local mosques to use this match as a showcase to try and get young girls excited about the sport and hopefully picking up a bat and ball. And it’s just not young girls that can play but also women coaches, volunteers, scorers and administrators too because we need to get more women’s teams playing recreational cricket locally across Warwickshire and the West Midlands,” he said.

“We will be taking some of the coaches into the schools leading up to the games and trying to get some of the players involved as well. Together hopefully we can get a few more people excited about the game, pick up a bat in the ball and hopefully get a few more women and girls teams playing long term as a result of the women's Pakistan game so we're looking forward to that.”

The Warwickshire CCC chief also told Geo that the public response for both men and women games have been overwhelming. The men’s contest has long been fully sold out whereas more than 12,000 tickets for the women’s T20I so far have been sold. This will be the first time the international cricketing season in England will kick start with a women’s match.

“We're really looking forward to it, it's really the curtain raiser to the season with the first big game here at Edgbaston. It's always a great game when Pakistan come to Edgbaston. The response to both games has been brilliant, the men's game is sold out so Edgbaston will be really lively for that. We're looking forward to that and the women's game as well I think this be one of the first time that Pakistan women will be playing in front of about 12 to 15,000 spectators which is a really good crowd for women's cricket as well which just shows what interest there is in watching Pakistan whether it be the men or the women,” Cain added.

‘Hasan Ali is my favourite Pakistani cricketer’

The Warwickshire CCC chief’s favourite Pakistani cricketer is Hasan Ali. Pakistani pacer was signed by the club last season for the county championship and the T20 Blast where he won hearts of players and management on and off the field. Hasan Ali is back at Edgbaston for this season too for this season.

“He was a real star for us last year, he has got a great personality and also is a great cricketer. He does a lot for us in the community and we could tell the players are genuinely pleased to see him. I think having him in the squad will make a big difference on the field but also off the field in the way that we can work in the community but also with the way that he just gets everyone happier in the dressing room. I think that's what it means to be a Bear is not only a good cricketer but also a good person and I think Hasan personifies that,” he said.

‘Naseem Shah worth every penny for Birmingham Phoenix’

This year for The Hundred, Birmingham Phoenix, based in Edgbaston, has signed Pakistani fast bowler Naseem Shah in the £125,000 category, making him the first Pakistani cricketer in that category to feature in the short format tournament.

Cain said that, before signing Naseem Shah, they did a lot of research and found it beneficial for Birmingham Phoenix to have someone like him in the squad and hopefully it will pay the team in getting better results in this year’s tournament.

“Fingers crossed; we think he's worth every penny. We did what we did because we think Naseem Shah is a world class player and if you look at some of the stats we think he’s one of the best bowlers around at the moment and signing him for the Phoenix and putting along with people like Will Smeed and Moeen Ali etc. we think we got a really exciting team this year. We're just looking forward to August when hopefully they will be playing in front of a packed Edgbaston,” he said.

Pakistani cricketers’ impact on young local players

Last year fast bowler Hasan Ali and Mir Hamza featured for Warwickshire in the county championship while Shadab Khan was signed by Birmingham Phoenix. Whereas this year Hasan has returned to Warwickshire but the club has also signed Pakistani fast bowling all-rounder Amir Jamal, both are featuring not only in the county championship but will play in the T20 Blast too and in The Hundred another Pakistani pace ace Naseem Shah will star for Birmingham Phoenix.

Speaking about the impact of signing Pakistani cricketers on the young players, especially of Pakistani origin, Cain said that having these world-renowned cricketers at Edgbaston will help the club find the future superstar.

“It has a big impact cause people can see people like themselves playing professional cricket and that's really important. We're working hard through the pathways now to get more young local talent coming in and I think between 11 and 16 years old about 40% to 50% of the players in our pathways are now those who would like to be professional cricketers and are from predominantly British Pakistani community,” he said.

“So, our job now is to keep and nurture that talent and find the next Moeen Ali, find the next Amir, find the next Taz (Tazeem Ali), find the next Hasan Ali and give them really good careers as professional cricketers and hopefully go on to play for their country.”

Warwickshire continues to push for equality, diversity and inclusion

For the last few years since Cain took charge as chief executive, the club has taken numerous step to be open for everyone regardless of race, gender and religion, particularly engaging with the local Muslim community. For many years, the “Ramadan Cricket League” is held regularly during the holy month of Ramadan, post Iftar, to engage with more young Muslim cricketers.

Apart from celebrating Christmas, now the club is regularly holding events to celebrate Diwali, Bisakhi and opening the colt training ground, adjacent to Edgbaston stadium, for the Eid prayers.

This year the club also held its first ever multi-faith Iftar reception. But Cain thinks that there’s still more needed to be done not only to include all the communities but also finding young male and female talent from those communities.

“I think three or four years ago Edgbaston probably didn't engage enough with communities and therefore we weren't finding talented young players and weren't getting people from the local community coming to watch the cricket,” he said.

“The more we can do to make people feel safe and welcome at Edgbaston, the better it will be not just for the cricket but for the community in general. But there's always more to be done and I want anyone from any walk of life to be able to come to Edgbaston and feel safe, secure, welcomed and have a good day out.

“For me cricket shouldn't be about gender, religion, race or about ability or disability. If you love cricket and want a good day out and feel safe with other people that are like minded then you should be able to come here at Edgbaston and we want to make people feel that way,” concluded Cain.