Marnus Labuschagne, Prem Sisodiya and Glamorgan's search for future Welsh-Asian stars

Marnus Labuschagne with children at a community event in Grangetown, Cardiff
Marnus Labuschagne has a batting average of 54.31 from 26 Tests for Australia

Marnus Labuschagne is the world’s number one Test batter, a fierce competitor and a leg-spinner with some notable international scalps to his name. Not that a group of Cardiff school children seem fazed.

Shazeem is barely taller than the stumps behind him but has no problem dispatching three consecutive Labuschagne deliveries for six – all on to a nearby roof for good measure, and to the loud approval of his fellow pupils.

A crowd has gathered to meet Labuschagne at the Grange Pavilion, a community centre in the Grangetown area of the Welsh capital, along with his Glamorgan team-mates to mark the start of their T20 Blast campaign on Thursday.

More significantly, this visit is part of the county’s efforts to strengthen its relationship with Asian communities across Wales.

“It’s amazing to come to a centre like this, which does so much for the community around this area,” Labuschagne tells BBC Sport Wales.

“To see so many different cultures, so many different people come together and enjoy the game we love, it’s just amazing to see. I got my T20 practice in for the day too!”

Last year, former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq told a Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee that cricket is “institutionally racist”.

Rafiq’s powerful testimony prompted the England and Wales Cricket Board to launch a wide-ranging action plan to tackle discrimination and racism in cricket.

Glamorgan then outlined plans to be more diverse on and off the field, with one of the main areas for improvement being the number of players from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who make the step up from recreational to professional cricket.

Current players Prem Sisodiya and Kiran Carlson are the only Welsh-born cricketers of Asian heritage to play first-team matches for Glamorgan.

That is despite the fact that almost two-thirds of the 600 cricketers who play in the Cardiff Midweek Cricket League are British-Asian.

Sisodiya, a 23-year-old left-arm spinner who was raised in Grangetown, is another of Glamorgan’s players taking part in the event at the Grange Pavilion.

“It would have been massive if we’d had something like this when we were younger,” he says.

“It’s so nice to see there’s something like this in the community now, and there’s a place for kids from all backgrounds and different ages to go and socialise with each other, make new friends and then have opportunities in different sports. It’s amazing to see.”

Whereas Sisodiya and Carlson, 24, had to break new ground as Glamorgan’s first Welsh-born players of Asian heritage, their presence in the team means they are role models for future generations.

“I love it. I’m always trying to be around as many of these community events as I can,” Sisodiya says.

“For me growing up, it would have been nice to have that [someone to look up to], and now I’m in a position to provide that to these kids. It’s an honour, really.

“I don’t think it will really hit me until I’m done playing. For now, I’m just focusing on making myself better and trying to cement my place in the team.

“But it’s a proud moment for my family, for Kiran’s family – it’s a big thing for us.”

As Sisodiya heads off to sign autographs, he stops for a quick chat with another Grangetown resident, Glamorgan’s diversity champion and talent scout, Mojeid Ilyas.

Prem Sisodiya with children at a community event in Grangetown, Cardiff
Prem Sisodiya represented England at the Under-19 World Cup in 2018

A former Wales Minor Counties and Glamorgan second-team player, Ilyas started his new role earlier this month having previously worked as diverse communities development officer for Glamorgan and Cricket Wales.

“This is where I learned to play the game, playing with my brothers and friends. We used to play here for hours,” he says.

“In the past couple of years, Cricket Wales and Glamorgan have done amazing outreach work to get into these communities. We’re doing weekly sessions here, doing sessions with schools.

“It’s a massive focus to come to these inner-city communities and make the game accessible for everyone across Wales.”

Earlier this year, Ilyas helped Glamorgan collaborate with Wales Golf to run free late-night sessions, allowing Muslims observing Ramadan to play sport.

Whether it is playing cricket for fun or with aspirations of doing so professionally, Glamorgan hope initiatives like these – and events such as the one at Grange Pavilion – can open the sport up to new audiences.

“I think Kiran and Prem are a massive part of it. Prem has just been signing autographs for loads of kids and he’s just come straight from a second-team game,” Ilyas adds.

“It’s massive that he’s doing so much and giving back to his community. He grew up in Grangetown and these kids see him and think: ‘If someone like Prem, who looks like me and grew up in Grangetown, went on to play professional cricket, why can’t I?’. That’s massive.

“We took a group of young girls from Pillgwenlly [in Newport] to Sophia Gardens and they saw the commentary box and the media centre and suddenly their dream was to work as commentators or in the media.

“So we’re opening up different pathways. Cricket’s a massive opportunity to work in different areas – you can play, you can coach, you can be a volunteer, you can work with the ground staff. There are so many different avenues, and that’s what we’re opening the kids’ eyes to.”

Glamorgan will be giving thousands of free tickets to schools for this season’s home T20 Blast games, with around 2,500 handed out for Middlesex’s visit to Sophia Gardens on 21 June.

“It’s a brilliant initiative by Glamorgan. Schools play such an important role in so-called deprived areas, giving kids access to school trips and all kinds of things they might not otherwise be able to afford,” says Ilyas.

“The fact that thousands of kids are going to be able to watch Glamorgan live, some might just enjoy the game and others might be inspired to take up the game.”

If others take to cricket as Shazeem took to Labuschagne’s bowling, Glamorgan might not have to look far for their next Sisodiya or Carlson.

“Most definitely. There’s a lot of talent around, not just in Grangetown, but around all of Cardiff,” Sisodiya says.

“There’s been a big push for Glamorgan getting into more schools and getting more people involved in cricket and it’s just really good to see.

“The talent-spotting starts from when kids are young so, if you can spot that talent early, why wouldn’t there be more like me?”

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