The frontrunner of English deaf cricket

By Noy Shani  @TLE_Sport  @NoyShani

The London Economic continues its countdown for the cricket World cup which will kick off in just two weeks time in Australia and New Zealand.

Noy Shani spoke to Darren Talbot, Development Officer and Lions team manager for the England Cricket Association for the Deaf (ECAD), about the challenges England will be facing down under and his own challenges in promoting deaf cricket at home.

Darren Talbot, 43, started playing cricket at 7 years of age, describing himself as ‘a cricket nut’, but after playing for the Surrey U-19 team for three years, including captaining them, his career stalled.

He drifted away from club cricket, but in 2004, the chairman at his local cricket club, who was a family friend and was desperate to set up a junior section, persuaded him to become a coach, despite having no qualifications.

“Somehow I decided to go for it, and frankly it changed my life.  I was working in the City doing a job I didn’t enjoy and quite honestly wasn’t very good at, so I decided to carve a career in cricket as a coach,” he says.

Darren has fallen for the charm of cricket coaching and deaf cricket coaching in England and Europe.  Talking to me from Brussels, where among many other roles, he guides Belgium’s national women’s cricket team, he reckons deaf cricket is probably the most exciting thing he does these days.

“It all started for me about 6 years ago when a coach colleague of mine, whose daughter is profoundly deaf, told me he’d love to do some deaf coaching one day.

“One of her biggest challenges was going to a mainstream school and as well as having a teacher, she had an interpreter.  So rather than look at the teacher, she was looking at the interpreter and so she lost quite a lot of communication from the teacher, such as facial expressions that we naturally pick up in the hearing world.

“In the cricket world it was the same.  So there’s deaf cricket going on, but the coach coaches and there is an interpreter.  What brings coaching alive for a lot of players is expression.

“In 2013 we adopted the South East to become the Surrey county deaf team, the first ever county deaf team and we represented Surrey in the county indoor tournament in December that year,” he says enthusiastically.

All of a sudden, from having no deaf county teams, there are four, soon to be five across the country.

“The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) run a lot of deaf teams and there are lots of opportunities to play county cricket.  The challenge is to get the message out there to all ages,” he adds, restating he would like to see the ECB more involved in the process, as funding is still a difficult thing to come by.

To find out more about the current state of play and funding sources for deaf cricket I approached the ECB myself.

“We support and fund an England Deaf Cricket Team.  Deaf players are also welcomed onto the Disability Cricket Player pathway and talented players are invited and funded to attend one of the four regionally based ECB Talent Development Centres,” an ECB Communications Officer said.

They are currently working with UK Deaf Sport to support the development of the game in their areas of priority and those of ECAD, while areas of main consideration according to them are the North West, Midlands and London regions.

“We are hoping that the network of ECB Regional Disability Cricket development forums will become the vehicle for this development at a more targeted level.  We see working with ECAD and the National Deaf Children’s Society as vital, if the domestic game is to grow,” they added.

Still, at the moment Darren doesn’t have any training sessions as players are all over the country.  “A lot of the players, because of their disability, may not have quite as well-paid jobs as others so asking them to spend £50, £60 to travel to a central part of the country, to pay for a coach and a facility – that’s money has got to come from somewhere so I’m on the lookout for someone who can sponsor the Lions team so we can bring through young deaf players.”

It seems only timely to ask Darren about the upcoming World Cup and what he thinks of England’s chances in the tournament.

“We don’t take 50-over cricket seriously enough or play enough of it to ever be a contender.  We may have these huge aspirations to win it one day but I don’t think we are good enough.  It’s not to say that we couldn’t just have a very good tournament, but I would say that it is very unlikely that we will qualify beyond the quarter finals,“ he comments.

And he thinks he knows why: “It’s a cultural thing, the very fact that we have persevered with Alistair Cook at the top of the order for so long, I wasn’t necessarily against that as there is nothing wrong with having someone who can bat to 100 while others bat around him, unfortunately, he couldn’t manage to get to 20.

“England have only ever managed to score 350 twice in a one day international. If you look down the list, India, Australia and South Africa have done it a number of times. I think until we have a team that is scoring 275-300 on a regular basis, we are just not going to threaten.”

Axed Alastair Cook won’t be there for England this World Cup, but from those who will play, Darren mentions James Anderson and Stuart Broad as the key players, while branding co-hosts New Zealand as his favourites for the trophy: “I have a sneaky feeling about them, they’ve played such great and explosive cricket recently”.

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photo: victorious Surrey T20 ECAD team

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