Of Batsmen and Bowlers
The popular global game cricket
Picture 20,000 spectators suspended in time and space, their attention transfixed upon a small leather-bound ball balanced on the tips of a fielder’s fingers. The hopes and dreams of millions rest on what happens next.
It’s a classic sequence played out across professional ballparks in
North America every summer. Except this: it isn’t North America. The
sport you’re envisioning isn’t even baseball.
The location is Beausejour Stadium, West Indies, and the sport is
Last summer, thousands of supporters from across the globe flooded
the Caribbean to cheer on their nations during the 2007 Cricket
World Cup. According to some estimates, television broadcasts
beamed the more than month-long tournament into the homes of
another two billion.
It was a global event in every sense. Yet the passion felt by so many
from Barbados to Australia is lost on most Canadians. None of
Canada’s major networks picked up broadcasting rights to even a single
match. With such scant domestic interest, it’s no surprise then
that cricket has barely registered a pulse among collegiate sports in
That is, until recently.
Cricket has been played intermittently across Ontario campuses for years to be sure, but it has always been on the periphery, with players snatching up a few hours of gym time to play ‘“tape ball” (an indoor version named after the softer, taped tennis ball that substitutes for the rock-hard outdoor ball).
“I kept getting bombarded with a lot of international students almost flooding the office.”
But over the last year or so, indoor cricket has been gaining ground
in the OCAA. Both the number of teams and tournaments are on the
Seneca has held an outdoor tournament since 2004, while Sheridan
hosted its first competition two years ago. But both events have been
stocked with only a few informal college clubs. Teams from McMaster
and York universities, as well as the University of Toronto helped fill
out the brackets.
Sheridan’s tournament in February 2007 marked a change though.
Stalwart clubs such as Seneca and Centennial were joined by host
Sheridan, George Brown, and the just-formed team from Georgian.
For the first time, cricket had gathered the minimum number of
OCAA schools (five) to qualify as a varsity sport. Humber would form
a side in September to push that total to six.
“Initially I didn’t know that cricket was even available here,” says Richard Munro, Humber’s inaugural coach. When the school’s athletic department released a communiqué in September asking for volunteers for a cricket team, the 31-year-old native of South Africa and longtime cricket player stepped up to the plate.
According to the coach, a group of 50 or so students showed up to tryouts.
“Then I realized how huge cricket is becoming here,” says Munro, a
former computer technician at Humber.
Sarfaraz Khan puts that figure closer to 75. “Competition wise, there
was a lot,” says the 20-year-old business administration student and
Humber player. Khan moved to Canada in 2000 from Mumbai, India, and
has played in suburban leagues in the Greater Toronto Area since.
Like Khan, virtually all of Humber’s players – in fact, most players
across the extramural circuit – hail from somewhere other than Canada.
“Definitely the majority are from Asia and the West Indies,” Munro says.
The creation of Humber’s team is in large part due to the efforts of
recreation co-ordinator Jennifer Maclam.
“I kept getting bombarded with a lot of international students almost
flooding the office,” she says. “It came to a point where I said, ‘OK, we’re
buying cricket equipment. Why not spend a few hundred dollars and
make 500 people happy.’”
“It’s really been word of mouth,” says Sterling Ivany, extramural coordinator
at Georgian College in Barrie. Ivany says Georgian’s team was
formed last February after several students brought the Sheridan tournament
to his attention.
“We had a cricket club that began playing last fall. We got them some
gym space and some time to play and then [the Sheridan] tournament
came up so we picked a team and went from there.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s pretty competitive,” Ivany adds. “A couple of the
teams are just fantastic.”
What’s remarkable is how quickly the game has mobilized. In the last
year, a tournament at Georgian has been added to the Seneca, Sheridan
and U of T Mississauga day-longs, while teams such as Humber
and Georgian have tipped the sport into varsity-status
Humber plans on hosting its own outdoor competition
this coming fall, according to Maclam.
Armed with some momentum now, the
question becomes: when will cricket move
from the margins of the OCAA extramural
system into a fully funded varsity sport?
Not in 2008-09. Perhaps the following
Don’t hold your breath.
Ivany says a few other tournaments are
needed to demonstrate consistent success
over a couple of years. “Then we can
move down the road,” he says.
Maclam, also an executive on the OCAA
extramural board of directors, would like to
see cricket go varsity. “There’s enough interest
and skilled players,” she says.