April 12, 2014

Uncertain times as Canada looks to move on

Reeling after the loss of ODI status, and with no prospect of big-stage international cricket to come, Canada is looking to get its administrative house in order

Canadian cricket has entered a post-apocalyptic phase. After participating in four World Cups, including the last three, there is no berth for the team in the next edition. ODI status has been meekly surrendered, reducing Canada to the ranks of the also-rans. A place in the World T20 remains as elusive as ever. Canada's cricket team is now not only beaten and bruised but broken.

While some in the board who presided over the decline are now gone, others have gone on to bigger and better things at Cricket Canada. A new board rises, as a president and CEO leave. And nobody seems to know what the next Canadian team that takes the field will look like, and which players are gone for good. (Translation: who the board has had enough of, and more worryingly, who has had enough of Cricket Canada.)

Raza-ur-Rehman, one of the few players in the mix with a definite Canadian cricket career ahead of him, reckons that the coming season will see a depletion in cricketers seriously challenging for a national spot, given that a trip to the World Cup is not on offer. Rehman makes no bones about the fact that those who play for Canada now are the ones who will have to earn the team's place in the cricketing world back, rather than coasting on the hard work of an earlier generation of cricketers.

Ravin Moorthy did not have the votes to retain the presidency and exits while he was still growing in his role. "I regret that we didn't have more time, that we couldn't finish all of what we started," he said. "To not conclude commercial deals that are still under negotiation is disappointing."

Moorthy says he was slowed down by having to do repair work on Cricket Canada's reputation with the ICC, Sport Canada, and existing and potential sponsors. "Our history was of over-promising and under-delivering. Nobody took us seriously and it was hard work to get people to give us a second chance."

Moorthy cites governance reform as his greatest accomplishment. He tackled the thorny issue of Canada's poor team selection practices (long a bugbear for the ICC), revamping the qualifications for being on the selection panel, and making experience of having played first-class or international cricket a central criterion.

Quite literally the most visible of Moorthy's accomplishments was to get Canadian domestic cricket, as well as home series against USA and UAE on local television, raising the profile of the sport substantially during the season.

Moorthy, who hails from the smaller cricketing province of Alberta, opened the door wider for administrators from other provinces to have more of a stake in Canadian cricket. "We got Cricket Canada away from being Toronto-centric. But at the same time you need a strong team in Toronto to manage cricket affairs, and we maintained that."

"The two most important things for me will be to leave the organisation in healthy financial shape and to have programmes that are well-guided and self-ruling"
Vimal Hardat, Cricket Canada's new president

The inclusiveness that Moorthy sought to bring to Canadian cricket was laudable in terms of its intent, but it ultimately proved to be a double-edged sword. Cricket Canada's voting structure means that Ontario, where an estimated 80% of the country's cricket is played, has the same number of votes as the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. It is a system that naturally breeds deal-making among the smaller players in the boardroom, and there has been a steady marginalisation of Ontario, which was already reeling from having two rival administrative bodies that can be played off against each other. The new board's president, vice-president and head of selection are all from outside Ontario, and it was little different under Moorthy.

"We're very disappointed," Mohammad Sheikh, president of the Toronto and District Cricket Association (TDCA), the largest league in the country, says. "All the cricket is played here and the best players come from here. There is no prominent person from Ontario in Cricket Canada, and the one that they do have did not go through the protocol of being nominated by his provincial body".

That person is the former coach of the Indian domestic side Baroda, Mukesh Narula, whose involvement with Canadian cricket is relatively recent, but who is already carving out a worthy resume on the local scene. He is spoken of as being a contender for the post of the national team coach.

Sheikh is of the view that Ontario has been knocked out of cricket administration through backroom deals. "They [the members of the board] don't really understand the magnitude of cricket in Ontario, where we have a number of leagues and divisions, and a credible juniors programme and women's cricket."

Another issue is of Cricket Canada seeming to assume that they can play at the Maple Leaf Cricket Club (MLCC). "We're being approached about the use of the ground for the coming season," Sheikh says, "and our response is, 'Pay us for use of the facility from last year', whereas in the past we took a different tone. TDCA members are the ones funding it and with the ICC complaining about the ground, what can we do to improve it if Cricket Canada doesn't pay?"

Enter new Cricket Canada president Vimal Hardat. His tasks are monumental and include overseeing the rejuvenation of Canada's cricket team, and showing leadership by helping to forge a meaningful role for Canada's most important - and some might argue only - cricket province.

For all of that, Hardat cites restoring the financial health of Cricket Canada as his first priority: "We're in the red. We're not generating funds. Somehow we need to get out of that, and the first step is to reduce expenditures."

Less than a week into his presidency, Hardat has no specific plans for rebuilding the team, but he does say that regaining ODI status and qualifying for the next World T20 are ultimate goals for the board.

"I'll leave it to the high performance committee to sort out how to get the team back on track", he says. With that, there is already a sense that Hardat will take the macro view as Cricket Canada president, and to that end, he does not see being away from Ontario's cricket scene as a bad thing. "As a leader it's my job to appoint experts to do business in their areas of expertise. I do not need to physically be there. There is no point in micro-managing."

It is early days and Hardat is cautious about saying what he hopes he can accomplish in his term as president. "The two most important things for me will be to leave the organisation in healthy financial shape and to have programmes that are well-guided and self-ruling."

What about the World Cup, World T20, ODI status, the Intercontinental Cup?

"Of course", says Hardat. "The goal is to get ODI status back and qualify for World Cups, but there is no quick fix. I don't want to promise something I can't deliver."

At least some lessons seem to have been learned.

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

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