A BRADFORD Under-16s side are heading to Lord’s on Saturday to take on Reading for the right to become national champions.

Maroof Khan is the head coach of the MCC Foundation Hub for Bradford and is proud of his side on and off the field ahead of this “opportunity of a lifetime”.

He told the T&A: “The boys got to the semis last year and were so disappointed to go out.

“But a lot of them are younger so had another year with us and they’ve been able to do this again and get to the final.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for them.”

Khan grew up playing cricket in Mumbai alongside Sachin Tendulkar, has been a professional in India, the US and the UK, and has represented Singapore internationally, but he has found a real passion with coaching at grassroots level.

Discussing the hub, which is led by manager Shakil Manir, Khan said: “They’re all inner-city kids from Bradford and the surrounding areas and you can really see their passion.

“We ran a selection process but wanted it to be casual, so the kids weren’t nervous or judged straight away and they had chance to bat and bowl.

“We’re proud of them, and their parents, for making such a contribution as working families.”

It is about more than just cricket too, with Khan explaining: “Some kids are able to turn up on time, some aren’t, and that’s okay.

“We have a mix of lads with Muslim backgrounds and White British boys, so when the former were fasting for Ramadan, we adhered to that.

“The British lads were all so supportive of that and we taught them what it meant.

“We paired the boys off from different backgrounds, so they could understand each other’s cultures. That was empowering.

“We try to make it a holistic experience, not just about the cricket.”

But the kids love the cricket and teamwork involved, and Khan said: “They train at Bradford Grammar School and play at Bradford Park Avenue, and for them to have been coming along even in winter says a lot.

“But they’ve also had the opportunity to play in and around places like York, so they’ve got to travel further when they may not have done otherwise.

“We’ve all got the same uniform too, so we all feel as one, as wearing it offers that sense of belonging.”

They will belong at Lord’s on Saturday, with Khan saying: “The boys are addicted to achieving, and they go into that final believing they’ll win and become MCC Hub Under-16s National Champions.

“I’m a qualified coach, and I’m taking further qualifications so I can do it at first-class level.

“But it’s the little things here, like calming the kids down who have anxieties or helping those who struggle to read and write.

“We love being together and we’re in it together.”

Khan thanked Manir for his input, his assistant coach Wes Brookes, and employers Yorkshire CCC.

He also said that Reece Bird from the MCC had been a huge help, and paid tribute to Avenue groundsman Nasa Hussain, who encouraged him to coach these young Bradford talents.