A group of budding female cricketers from Blackburn will begin their quest to play at Lord’s next month after being part of a project run by the charitable arm of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which gives more girls and boys from state schools the opportunity to play the sport.

The MCC Foundation Hubs programme gives more than 3,200 state school children in 77 locations across the country access to free weekly cricket sessions. The Hubs not only focus on cricket but provide mental health training, nutrition awareness and strength & conditioning.

The Blackburn Girls’ Hub is a brand-new hub to open this year with 14 girls between the ages of 11 and 16 already attending every week.

It provides everything from top-class coaching, match play and free equipment in an accessible venue too, giving girls across Lancashire the best possible introduction to hardball cricket.

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This week marked the last of 10 free weekly sessions at Blackburn Central High School and the girls will now battle it out against other girls’ hubs from across the country as part of the MCC Foundation National Hubs Competition.

This takes place across the next two months for the ultimate chance to play at Lord’s in the end of season National Hubs Final on Saturday, July 29.

Blackburn MCC Foundation Hub manager Peter Boase said: “The Hub programme for me is all about positive impact on each participant – from technical improvement to their ability, developing confidence or widening their social circle.

“There are so many benefits for the girls, to be able to remove the financial barrier and provide safe and private environments for the girls to play in are very important.

"Being able to play with other girls and a female coach has really allowed them to build confidence and ultimately increased their development too.”

The weekly sessions are run by leading women’s coach Jean Darby, who said: “Blackburn has many disadvantaged communities and the MCCF Hub has provided an opportunity for them to play for free at a brilliant venue with all the equipment provided too.

“Some girls can’t afford to play traditional cricket but are really talented young girls, they now have the opportunity to progress into hardball cricket if they want and develop their skills.”

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Nearly a third of those who are taking part across the UK in the MCCF Hubs programme are girls – up from 16 per cent in 2019 as the popularity of the women’s game continues to grow.

Anila Shafiq, who has played this season, said: “I joined Blackburn girls’ hub initially to improve my cricket skills, but I’ve gained so much more from new friend to developing teamwork and leadership skills too.

"It has also allowed me to meet new people from different backgrounds and fabricate a diverse team.”