INTERNATIONAL Mixed Ability Sport (IMAS), who were at the forefront of developing rugby union for people with disabilities, are tackling a new sport – cricket.

A partnership between national disability charity United Response, Baildon Cricket Club and IMAS led to an eight-week course over the summer, which finished last month.

The weekly sessions were instigated by United Response service manager Lou Richardson and director of cricket at Baildon, Darren Wilson.

What initially began as some coaching sessions for people with disabilities and autistic people supported by United Response, has grown into a vision of a mixed ability team embedded at Baildon CC.

Coach James Butterfield has developed the weekly sessions to take into account player needs and is creating a pathway for some of the new participants to compete at senior-level cricket.

The variety and fun element of training has seen the number of players grow week on week.

Wilson said: “We share the site with Baildon Rugby Club, and I had seen their mixed ability team the Bumble Bees.

“I got talking to some of those guys and thought maybe we could do the same in cricket.

“When Lou came along and proposed that we could run some summer sessions, the idea just snowballed. I’m really proud of the way the club members enthusiastically got on board.”

He added: “Some of these people had never picked up a cricket bat before, but that doesn’t matter. We make sure that everyone’s involved, everyone feels included and no one’s left out.

“We’ve also got everyone a Baildon hoodie, so they feel like part of the club and when they’re out and about with their hoodie on, they can feel proud to represent Baildon, and that can spark conversations with others.”

New player and IMAS trainer Obaid Malik has experience of disability and spoke about what it means to him to become a member of a cricket team.

He said: “I used to play at school, but I never got chance to play in a club. This is a new experience. I’ve met so many new people and made new friends.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James Butterfield conducts a warm-up IMAS session at Baildon CC.James Butterfield conducts a warm-up IMAS session at Baildon CC. (Image: UGC.)

Obaid travels to the sessions with personal assistant Amjad, who spoke about his own cricket involvement.

He said: “I used to play in the Bradford League till I broke my arm and that, combined with my age (60), meant I needed to find more social cricket. Coming here with Obaid has been an amazing opportunity to re-involve myself in the game.”

IMAS co-founder Mark Goodwin said: “Mixed ability sports sessions are different from the tradition of a separate disability sports offer.

“So, people with disabilities are coming to play cricket but they’re playing alongside and with members of the cricket club, volunteers, staff and personal assistants.

“This changes the traditional status quo of ‘support worker’ and ‘supported person’. They become team-mates.

“What’s happening at Baildon CC is nothing short of revolutionary. It’s a great partnership between our organisations, and I look forward to building on that.”

United Response support worker Zeeshan Najeeb added: “I think these sessions are brilliant. I come from a sports background and it’s good that we do some kind of physical activity, plus it’s good social bonding for people we support.”

Baildon Cricket Club’s involvement with mixed ability is bringing positive change to the club, with a long-term goal to get a permanent MA team set up so they can play regular matches.

Richardson added: “We have people who solely attend for the social element and to enjoy watching cricket on a warm summer evening in a community setting.

“Baildon (CC) were originally a bit out of their comfort zone and it’s fantastic to see their growing commitment to membership of the people we support.”

A final word from new cricketer Marie, who has a learning disability and attended the latest session: “I love coming here, it makes me happy, it makes me feel in a good place.”