Canada December 19, 2011

Learning the game ... just a little late

Around the world, cricket is learned in the street, on the savannah, in schools, at clubs, on the beach

Around the world, cricket is learned in the street, on the savannah, in schools, at clubs, on the beach. But regardless of the backdrop, the common denominator is youth. The first exposure to cricket is usually the province of the young, the pre-teens and teens.

As ever, things can be a little different in the New World.

Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club has a long history of cricket stretching back well over a century. But a different angle now emerges. As the name implies, TCSCC is more than just cricket (some would say far more), and the multi-sport backdrop has led to the “late-learning”.

For years, squash players, curlers, tennis players and rugby players have watched - often with varying degrees of bemusement - as cricket was played. There was always a passing interest. Little by little, the dormant interest was awakened. And, driven by a small group of committed organizers, an “Associates League” (read: non-cricketers) formed itself.

30-year-old nationally ranked squash players, 40 (50?) year old curlers. Golfers and rugby players. Ex-baseballers who know a thing or two about hitting ball with bat. All were welcomed. All welcomed the challenge. And all took to it, helped by one or two with accent strange enough to self-qualify as experts as well as ex-pats.

To the more trained eye, there’s often a baseball slant to things. But never mind the niceties, the ball still disappears with regularity through - and over - legside fields which were claimed to have been astutely set. Anyway, there’s always the ongoing encouragement to use all 360 degrees now available.

Running between the wickets? Judging semi-quick singles can present problems, but we all know it’s not only the inexperienced who have that particular problem. Backing up by the non-striker? “Got it. It’s like taking a lead-off at first base. Right!”

Field placing? It only takes a few games to understand one of the big differences with baseball: you’re not necessarily always in one position – the equivalent of left field, right field or shortstop. Fluidity replaces almost-static. Wicket keeping? Those with baseball catching experience adjust quickly – even if unfairly challenged by what some would consider to be too many wides. And the fitness addicts from the squash world can get their fix out on the boundary. Who ever heard of people actually wanting to run around in the outfield? And where did all that sliding stuff come from?

Keenness shows in attendance at nets – and heaven forbid that the “coaches” instill too much correctness into those with excellent eye/hand from other sporting fields. Experience at a high level in other sports means that many learn very quickly what’s needed. They readily absorb and adapt - especially after grasping what it feels like to sit for 19.2 overs watching everybody else bat!

Everything is all very social and the after-the-match scene is suitably well lubricated. Social, that is, until the play-offs come around when discussions abound about the numbers of fielders inside and outside the circle and about whether Person A’s arm is straight enough at delivery to be allowed in the cricketing context. But always the greater good wins out.

Toronto probably isn’t alone on the late-learning front. But there can’t be many other places where you can see 30, 40, 50 year-olds learning the game, generally having a ball and (yes!) improving.

And rumour has the next stop on the journey is a UK tour! Should be interesting. Steve Ferley