Warwickshire Cricket Board’s Chris Kenny is in the Indoor School at Edgbaston for his “favourite time of the week” - his weekly coaching session with the Warwickshire Access cricket team.
The players in the Access team have a range of disabilities but Chris says they all have something very much in common. “They all love to be here and work hard; they give it everything. I can see first-hand how much it means to them.”
After their training session, Phillip Turton (aged 25, opening bat and wicketkeeper) talks of his enjoyment and the importance of coming to Edgbaston each week.
“It’s the highlight of my week,” he says. “Matches are important but we also have to train. It’s like a job, in that to succeed you have to work hard to get to the top. If I wasn’t coming here, I would be sitting in my room all the time.”
Phillip’s mum, Patricia, agrees that Warwickshire Access cricket has helped Phillip immensely.
“With Phillip’s learning disabilities (ADHD, autism and dyspraxia) I even wasn’t sure he would be able to play cricket when he started out,” she said. “Cricket has helped him such a lot. It’s good for his physical and mental health – and it gets him off gaming all the time. It’s his lifeline.
“My lifeline is here too. I’ve got my Warwickshire membership card with me, and we’ll go and watch the county match together afterwards. We feel safe here at Edgbaston.”
These feelings are echoed by other families. There is a strong sense of belonging to the wider Warwickshire cricket family. Phillip and his team-mates Daniel and Tayyab (both aged 30) loved attending the Warwickshire CCC end-of-season awards night in 2019, meeting members of the men’s first XI such as Dom Sibley and Henry Brookes. They were also delighted to be visited more recently from director of cricket Paul Farbrace and first team coach Mark Robinson, who presented the Access team with their Warwickshire caps.
Such moments mean a lot, giving the players not just a sense of belonging but also of how being treated as equals gives them confidence to continue and develop as cricketers.
There is a shared sense of pride that comes from playing for Warwickshire in the matches at weekends and training at Edgbaston during the week. The players’ individual journeys into cricket, however, have been quite different.
Captain, Hannah Pettigrew (aged 20) has a learning disability and was introduced to cricket at primary school via Chance to Shine. She played for Warwickshire throughout the girls’ county age groups. Hannah’s team-mate Tayyab Khawaja, who has been clocked by the speed gun bowling at 75mph, also played cricket from a young age. He says, “I was in hospital between 2012 and 2016 and cricket kept me going.”
Tayyab is a consistent wicket taker and there is no doubt of the importance cricket plays in his life, helping him to manage his anxiety.
Phillip Turton, in contrast to his team-mates, didn’t start playing cricket until he was in the sixth form at school in Selly Oak. His mum Patricia recalls the day Phillip came home and said, ‘I want to play cricket. Come and meet my teacher.’
Patricia was doubtful, but having met Phillip’s inspirational teacher Martyn Collis, she soon realised cricket was a serious proposition, The family haven’t looked back since. Phillip now assists Martyn as a volunteer, helping young people with learning difficulties, something which helps his own development too.
The sense of enjoyment and fun pervades the team chat after training. There is talk about their aspirations to play for England. Some have already represented their country in the national Access team. The chat about cricket carries on long after the session on the team WhatsApp group. Parents, players, and coaches have created a strong community in the Access Cricket team which plays an important role in their lives.
The wonderful work done by Andy Wyles at the Warwickshire Cricket Board is appreciated by all, though ultimately it’s the players who train hard and give their all in matches each weekend. “People say they have a disability and they can’t do it; but they can,” observes Patricia Turton. “There’s no stopping them.”