Mancunian Mentor

As a promising teenage batsman with Lancashire, Rehaan Rather might easily have turned pro. Instead, this youngest of three brothers from a cricket mad family, who proudly served Cheetham Hill CC, found his calling elsewhere.

For Rehaan, the thrill never lay in his own performances though he recalls his first hundred, made in a junior Roses match, with affection.

His mojo came from loving the game for its own sake. “Whether I get a duck or score a hundred, getting some kind of enjoyment out of it, not feeling the pressure to perform,” he recalls. “The higher I went, the fewer of my friends were around – it just started to feel like a chore.”

As a result, a disillusioned Rehaan packed his kit bag and at 15 gave the game up, only returning to Cheetham Hill CC aged 22, when his father Mahmood became chairman, and asked him to help with coaching. It turned out pretty well.

Rehaan now devotes most of his waking hours to introducing others to cricket, inspiring, nurturing and nourishing a love for the sport. Having completed his masters’ degree in management and information studies, he gambled on leaving his sixth form college job to become a community coach after Richard Joyce, operations manager of Chance to Shine Street cricket, phoned having heard good reports of his hands-on approach through Lancashire Cricket Board MD Bobby Denning.

In November 2015, he was named outstanding coach at the Chance to Shine Street Awards and then offered a full-time role as a development coach with Lancashire Cricket Board. It’s the perfect marriage: their backing for his sterling work on a beat covering Longsight, Moss Side, his old Cheetham Hill stomping ground, and Old Trafford: bringing the game to those who might not otherwise encounter it.

In any given week – all year round – hundreds of inner-city kids pass through the hands of Rehaan and his 10-strong team, particularly those from south Asian communities: kids and teenagers for whom school and home life can be tough – and integration a challenge. As the softly-spoken Rehaan explains, cricket in whatever format, able-bodied, disabled, hard-ball, soft-ball, tape-ball, or in a 25-team indoor league on a Sunday – provides a unique release: its structures and codes, backed by solid encouragement, offering instructive lessons to those on the margins.

“The best thing about the game for me is the social skills it gives you,” he says. “Cricket might be the most productive thing these kids do. We’ve had a huge influx of Afghan refugees – they don’t have any social skills, they can barely speak English. I’m seen as a sort of father figure to them because they don’t have parents here, they might live in foster homes.

“And if I can attract one new person through the doors to play cricket, that’s a success. My job is to make their first experience meaningful and positive – it’s about enjoyment, engagement and having fun.”

There is poignant symmetry in Rehaan’s story. Cheetham Hill CC have – temporarily at least, folded – but their old boy, the lad for whom the grassroots game was always best, is doing all he can to make sure that flame burns bright again. An average day on his beat – in and out of schools, taking in games, checking in on his favourite charges – might last until 9pm, spreading the word and tending Lancashire’s less-heralded roses.

“I take it upon myself to get to know those people and try and create a rapport with parents and teachers,” he says. The slight downside is that as an ardent Manchester United fan, he occasionally has to sport the rival club crest for community work sponsored by Manchester City. “We came to a compromise,” he laughs. “City let me choose what jacket to wear. But I had to have their badge on it.” Whatever the badge, Rehaan wears it with honour – and
distinction.

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