Growing up in Pakistan, NafeesaKatib remembers watching cricket with her siblings on a TV hired at the weekend as a treat. It wasn’t a viewing choice at the time – it was the only thing being broadcast – but she remembers it fondly. “Even if we didn’t like cricket we had to watch it, and in the end all of us fell in love with the game,” she says.

She remembers thinking: “Where are all the women on the cricket field?” That thought stuck with her after she moved to the UK as a teenager. Now 41, and living in Leicestershire with her husband and two children of her own, she is helping to redress that imbalance, in her role as a cricket coach for girls aged eight to 14.

Her hope is to be a role model to all the girls who attend her sessions – but also to show, as a visibly Muslim woman playing and teaching cricket, that a headscarf need not stop anyone playing sport. “If you’ve got somebody who inspires you, who shows you, yes, I can do it, it’s a great feeling. And that’s what I try do,” says Katib.

Women’s cricket has never been more popular in the UK – 2017 was a landmark year, as millions watched the England team triumph in the Women’s Cricket World Cup in front of a sold-out crowd at Lord’s. In the wake of that result, the cricket governing board said it was committed to getting more south Asian women involved in the game.

And yet, according to Sport England, only 21% of south Asian women in the UK participate in sport regularly – the lowest among all ethnic groups in the UK. Despite its huge south Asian fanbase, cricket is similarly lacking when it comes to women’s participation.

One reason is the lack of appropriate coaching and facilities. In Oadby, where Katib lives, there were no organised sporting activities for her nine-year-old daughter on a Saturday morning – until cricket came along. “Most of the things are aimed at boys, like the football clubs for example,” says Katib. “There were some crafty things for girls, but not all girls are into arts and crafts.”

Her friend and fellow coach Mai Kaziemphasises that the scheduling of sports sessions can be an issue, particularly for kids who come from a Muslim background. “Most of the Muslim kids in the area go to Islamic school between 4pm and 6pm, and that’s when most of the clubs are held,” says Kazi. But a Saturday morning works perfectly for her and her 13-year-old daughter, and the sessions are something they now do together.

The sessions run by Katib and Kazi are free, as they’re funded by Chance to Shine Street, a scheme launched in 2008 that aims to improve accessibility to cricket for young people who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to play. With the help of its official long-term partners, NatWest – who have a long history of supporting grassroots cricket to support communities and help make the game accessible to all – Chance to Shine Street has encouraged about 38,000 young people to take part, 76% of whom are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Since its inception, the broader Chance to Shineprogramme has introduced more than 3 million young people – half of whom are girls – to cricket.

The coaches have worked hard to create a safe environment for girls from all backgrounds, who might be feeling apprehensive about throwing themselves into the game.

“There are a few girls who wear headscarves,” says Katib. “The first time they came they were very nervous and really worried about them, with one hand touching their head at all times. But over time I’ve been able to give them a bit of confidence. At the end of the day, it’s all girls there.”

Although having women run the sessions has boosted participation from the local Muslim and south Asian community, it’s the sight of two familiar faces that encourages parents to keep bringing their kids back. “A lot of the mums that drop their girls off know us from school,” says Kazi. “We live in a very small borough, so it’s the kind of place where everyone knows each other. There is obviously the sense of: ‘Oh, this is run by someone we know.’”

She believes that community feeling is essential to the project’s success: “The fact it’s very local has really appealed to people – otherwise, they’d have to travel to Leicester, which isn’t always possible.”

Katib has just completed her level two coaching certificate and hopes, one day, to run her own club. But the key thing for her is to keep showing her daughter there’s no such thing as a sport girls can’t do.

“I’ve never wanted my daughter to think that certain things are only for girls, and that certain things are only for boys,” she says. “There shouldn’t be any limitations for anything.”

In 2017 one of the key elements of Natwest’s partnership with the ECB was to help raise funding to open up even more opportunities for young people, both male and female, to enjoy cricket. This will continue in 2018.

As a diverse and inclusive sport, cricket truly has no boundaries, and NatWest think that’s worth protecting. That’s why they’ve supported it since 1981. NatWest are proud to be the principal partner of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the official partners of Chance to Shine, reflecting the bank’s own values and commitment to fairness and inclusion.

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