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How Canada returned to the cricket map as the T20 World Cup debut approaches

How Canada returned to the cricket map as the T20 World Cup debut approaches


The T20 Cricket World Cup is fast approaching. Anticipation is building for the first match between the co-hosts, the United States and its North American neighbor Canada on June 1. The match will be played at Grand Prairie Stadium, the former home of the Texas AirHogs and site of the inaugural Major League Cricket season last year.

While much attention is being paid to whether the home country can compete with their group's giants, India and Pakistan, the Canadians are fortunately able to fly under the radar. In a five-match warm-up series with their nearest rivals, they lost, at least geographically, 4–0, with one match being played away. Expectations are not great. Historically, the Maple Leafers can at least claim bragging rights over the US with a famous victory in the first recorded international cricket match in 1844.

There is a huge heritage in Canadian cricket and the continuation of the annual Auty Cup is a nod to the connection between the two countries on the green fields before baseball took off. Once upon a time on the prairie, cricket was declared Canada's national sport by the very first Prime Minister John A Macdonald. The Toronto Cricket Club was founded in 1827, although the game's beginnings were heavily influenced by the missions of the Royal Navy and British Army. George A. Barber, an English schoolmaster, played a prominent role in establishing the Toronto Club and is known as the father of Canadian cricket.

The most significant development in recent times for the international team has been regaining their ODI status after almost a decade of being out of the mainstream. Regaining status (the ODI) after nine long years is an outstanding achievement and a seminal moment for Cricket Canada. It puts us on the same map as the world's leading cricketing nations, said a jubilant former Cricket Canada president Rashpal Bajwa around the Emerging Cricket site last year.

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It has been a long journey back for a country that had featured in the 50-over World Cups of 1979, 2003, 2007 and 2011 before the ICC introduced the World Cricket League's new divisional structure. This meant that associate members had to finish in the top six of the World Cricket League Division 2 tournament. At rock bottom, Canada languished in League Division Three in 2017.

This has resulted in difficulties maintaining a solid playing pool. In a 2015 interview with ESPNcricinfo, former captain Rizwan Cheema summed up the mood: Once you move down the pecking order [in Associate cricket] it's hard to climb out. It's hard to even have players for the team. If there is no career as a cricketer, how do you keep your players interested?”

Now the wave, the revival makes the Maple Leaf fly in the wind again. Cricket is the country's fastest growing sport, boosted by the return of GT20, a franchise that first emerged with significant success in 2018 when it attracted stars such as Steve Smith, Chris Gayle, David Warner and Andre Russell. Before the pandemic, this was the most watched event in North America outside of the Super Bowl.

In the 2023 GT20 season, six teams were allocated $579,000 to spend on a 16-man roster, on the condition that at least six Canadians participate and three must be in the starting line-up. That averaged $36,000 per player and once again attracted a healthy group of international stars who could encourage and develop homegrown talent. Tim Southee, Mohammad Rizwan, Rassie van der Dussen and world champion all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan were among the standouts. Gayle, who at the age of 44 was now in his dotage, also returned for the fun, as did Pakistani cricket legend Shahid Afridi.

The action took place at the Brampton sports complex in Ontario, which aims to be turned into a major international cricket facility. However, the city has allocated $7 million for further growth financing could be three or four times more than an estimated $49 million to expand the current CAA Center from a 5,000-seat facility to a full-fledged and equipped venue.

The tournament was broadcast to 110 countries around the world with an estimated television audience of approximately 150 million people worldwide, the vast majority of whom were outside North America. The trick now is to grow the grassroots game and move away from the part-time 'weekend warriors' contracts of the past. There is still a shortage of dedicated cricket pitches as many matches are played at multi-sport venues. Canada's elevation to League 2 will see the team receive salaries between $55,000 and $65,000 and train full-time.

Canada's first appearance in the T20 World Cup will be led by 37-year-old skipper Saad Bin Zafar, a veteran of 38 T20Is. As with the US team, most of the playing members are in their thirties and of Indian or Pakistani descent, although opening bat Aaron Johnson brings some Caribbean flair to the team. His 74 at Prairie View in the second T20 against the States in April was a strike rate of 184 with six sixes. Canada will need something special from him in real life.

Incoming president Amjad Bajwa focuses on growth. “Our qualification for the T20 World Cup has generated unprecedented excitement and support, increasing grassroots interest in cricket across Canada,” he said after his appointment. The green shoots are there to take good photos in June and well beyond.




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