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Of Batsmen and Bowlers

The popular global game cricket
is at long last making strides
in Ontario’s colleges. Will it
find its legs as an OCAA sport?

By James Sturgeon

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 cricket.

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 Ontario.

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.”

Jennifer Maclam
recreation co-ordinator

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 rise.

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 eligibility.

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 year?

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.