International XI v Asia XI, Toronto May 15, 2012

Fans' enthusiasm shields Canada T20 farce

A T20 friendly between an International XI and Asia XI in Toronto's Rogers Centre was hit by poor organisation. The saving grace, though, was that the loyal fans were just happy to be there

For what may be the first time ever in a Twenty20 match, international cricketers actually got to sit in a genuine, bona fide, baseball dugout. Toronto's impressive Rogers Centre (formerly Skydome), home of Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, on Saturday hosted what was to be a match between an International XI and an Asia XI. Both teams looked good on paper, with the Asia XI apart from having Sanath Jayasuriya, Tamim Iqbal and Nasir Hossain, also slated to have the bulk of the Pakistan team: Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal, Umar Akmal and Hammad Azam, not to mention the inventor of the doosra himself - Saqlain Mushtaq.

Lining up against them was to be a Brian Lara led team that included the likes of Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Stuart MacGill and a trio of wicketkeepers: Mark Boucher, Brendan Taylor and Canada's own Ashish Bagai.

Word had been out for a few days prior to the match, that there were issues surrounding the participation of Pakistan's players, but it was only on the eve of the match that organisers formally announced that the Pakistanis would not be coming because of NOC issues. Tamim was also quietly removed from the players' roster without official explanation. The press conference went on with the organisers putting on a brave face despite the setback, while players practiced behind them looking tired but enjoying being in the Rogers Centre. After spending countless hours flying Auckland-Sydney-Abu Dhabi-Toronto, New Zealand's Tim Southee was irritated to learn that there was a direct flight from Auckland to Vancouver, and then a short one to Toronto. MacGill and Grant Flower expressed disappointment at not having the Pakistanis playing and with the roof of the Rogers Centre closed on a warm and sunny day, the mood seemed sombre.

Match Day and with the news of the Pakistan stars' absence more widely known, many in the crowd seemed subdued going into the great stadium. Toronto is one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities and fans showed up wearing jerseys of players from West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa you name it - even Canada. When Canada's Rizwan Cheema was told there were a few fans wearing jerseys with his name, he said "there were more than a few - there were like, ten or twelve" prompting Cricket Canada president Ravin Moorthy to kid Cheema about how he knew that.

Once into the stadium anticipation grew, but it was hard not to feel for the fans wearing Afridi jerseys and clutching Pakistani flags. The mood during the match was going to depend a lot on them.

With the Pakistanis out, the Canadian duo of Bagai and Cheema were shifted to the Asia XI and were joined by Canadian team-mates, Jimmy Hansra, Ruvindu Gunasekera and Hiral Patel, whose aggressive World Cup half-century against Australia would not have escaped the notice of the bigger names in the International XI.

Toss time, and Jayasuriya came out with Boucher instead of Lara. Lara was said to have arrived in Toronto the previous evening but nobody seemed to know where he was. Boucher won the toss for him, and decided to bat when word came down that Lara was being replaced in the line-up with yet another Canadian player, Cecil Parvez. At this point, no one would have blamed the crowd if they expressed their displeasure with a chorus of boos, but instead a remarkable thing happened - when the umpire standing at what would be 2nd base called play, the crowd enthusiastically cheered the first ball and groaned when Devon Smith patted it back to the bowler Chanaka Welegedara. This crowd was here to enjoy a Twenty20 match and it didn't matter too much who was playing.

A few overs in, Lara was finally spotted in the players' dugout in his street clothes. Misplaced chants of "Pakistan Zindabad" were now replaced with "Lara, Lara". The great man appeared unmoved.

Meanwhile, the game continued and every boundary, every stop, every catch, every quick ball (those courtesy of Tino Best) were vociferously cheered. The boo-birds only came out once, when Hossain let a catch drop a couple of feet in front of him. The loudest and most sustained cheer of the match came when Saqlain, the only Pakistan player on show, was given the ball. Jacob Oram who had struck two big sixes off Jayasuriya in the previous over, attempted a third off Saqlain that went high but was expertly caught by Hossain within an inch of the boundary rope - the crowd went wild, for Saqlain's wicket, Hossain's redemptive catch and Oram's whirlwind innings.

With the Asia XI now dominated by Canadian players, Cheema found himself in a partnership with Patel and both struck powerful shots off MacGill, Oram, Mills and Best. A half-tracker from Oram was duly smashed by Cheema for the biggest six of the game.

The Asia XI, unfancied in this match and chasing a target of 165, won the game with an over to spare, in no small part because of the efforts of the Canadian players and a vintage assault from Jayasuriya who hit a six and seven fours in his innings of 41.

An estimated crowd of 12,000 looked small in the massive Rogers Centre, but they had a great time and once again this match showed the potential of cricket in Canada - as a destination for foreign teams, but also for more games involving Canada itself. Fans do appreciate the game here and are starting to learn who the players are on the Canadian team, something that can only further fuel the growth of cricket in Canada and get a few more people wearing Cheema jerseys.

Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2012, 12:40 GMT

    me and my five of my friend was there with the bangladeshi jersey there was lot more bangladeshi supporter was wearing bangladeshi jersey how come they didnt mention bangladesh name ...stop bieng R....s !!!!

  • Mark on May 16, 2012, 9:32 GMT

    With the amount of money pro cricketers make these days, surely they should be prepared to play a match for no fee, as long as their travel and accommodation is taken care of- for the good of the game. Especially if it will help a struggling cricket nation like Canada. Those who earn millions, should be prepared to give back sometimes.

  • niyas on May 16, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    I didn knw that this game was there .... None of the sports websites or news paper, including espn cricinfo reported this ...... Such a shame....then hw the game will grow in associate countries ??? proper advertisement should b given .....

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2012, 1:40 GMT

    I just saw it on Sportsnet while browsing channels. I live in Vancouver and had no idea this was taking place, neither the espncricinfo site nor the channels had any type of info about this event - thats sad ;(

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2012, 0:44 GMT

    cricket will never be successful in north america unless the actual people from mainstream start playing, and not just the expats. They can try all they want, it will be a fiasco, see what happened, a lot of players who actually signed up for this and came and played in this so called match haven't been paid yet. Unless Canadians, and when I say Canadians I mean people who have no cricketing background start playing and involved in cricket, nothing will change. I've spoken to several of my friends at university and tried teaching them cricket, and they just find it boring, complex and too sophisticated, I tried showing them the t20 version and even that they didn't fancy. A game cannot progress if all it depends upon the expat community in a country where you can only play cricket for 5 months of the year

  • sabbir on May 15, 2012, 20:35 GMT

    whats wrong with ICC??? they didnt even show it on their site about this game taking place! really wanted to go.

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2012, 20:23 GMT

    Apparently Jayasuriya and the other foreign cricketes were not payed .... What a shame for Canada !

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    this game was so fun to watch i wish we get to see more games in the future and hopefully they will do a better job organizing it

  • Nesar on May 15, 2012, 15:41 GMT

    I live in Ottawa and follow international cricket ........ did not see much marketing about this game even in the potential community domain!

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2012, 13:54 GMT

    Really? i live just a few kms away from Skydome and Shame that I did not even know about this.

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