December 10, 2002

Ian Billcliff - cricketing nomad finds a home in Canada

Jamie Troughton

Ian Billcliff has been something of a cricketing nomad in the last decade, but the last place he thought his journeys would take him was the World Cup in South Africa. But thanks to a set of parents with a similar wandering tendency, Billcliff will be buckling up his pads and wandering out to face Shane Bond and the rest of the Black Caps bowling attack in early March.

Holding up the other end will be blokes with names like Joe Harris, Asish Bagai Austin Codrington and Davis Joseph - and if that doesn't give it away, they're all members of the Canadian cricket squad.

Billcliff - a former Otago, Wellington and Auckland middle-order batsman - qualifies through having been born in the little town of Williams Lake, just outside of Vancouver, when his parents were on a five-year teaching OE in the 1970's.

The 30-year-old has already played almost 20 one-dayers for Canada in the past year, and his recent form in Auckland club cricket for Cornwall helped win him a place in the final squad announced this week.

"To go to the World Cup is a great opportunity, and a great experience." Billcliff said. "A lot of the guys I've spoken to back here think the same, and wish they were in the same position."

Billcliff recently returned from London with his wife Debbie - he'd been there since his last season with Auckland in 1999, and it was after playing in the Surrey League that the prospects of a belated international cricket call-up eventuated.

Looking to play a season in Canada, Billcliff got hold of ICC Development Manager - former Suburbs-New Lynn player Andrew Eade - who in turn contacted the Canadian cricket president. After discovering Billcliff's place of birth, things quickly progressed, and six weeks later Billcliff was winging his way to Toronto to take part in the ICC Trophy.

"It was pretty hectic- it all seemed to happen so fast. We were in the middle of winter in England, and I hadn't played any sort of cricket for about a year.

"I had a broken thumb when I arrived in Canada so they weren't very happy with that, but I got a couple of 80's in the tournament and have been in the team ever since."

The hosts finished third in the ICC Trophy, and in beating Scotland in the last game managed to qualify for their first World Cup.

It was as much a surprise to the locals as it was to the international cricketing fraternity. "You tend to find with the Canadians that they're completely surprised they've actually got a cricket team, and even more surprised they've qualified for the World Cup." "We've got a hell of a lot of natural ability, and when the guys are on song, they could do well against anyone. But because we don't play consistently at a high standard, we really lack the consistency."

One of Canada's top players is Australian off-spinner John Davison, who's been starring for South Australia in the Pura Cup domestic competition. But as the majority of his teammates are expatriate West Indians, Sri Lankans and Indians now living in Toronto, Billcliff struggles to see himself as a Canadian.

"It is very difficult in a way, but you probably wouldn't find a more multicultural team in the world. The guys are great, they're all amateur, and they all play because they genuinely love the game. It's quite refreshing."

Billcliff's cricketing adventures have been wide and varied - he was fielding at point when Mark Richardson made his infamous "Zoe" sledge to star West Indian Brian Lara, at Carisbrook in 1995.

He got to face the left-handed wizard again this year when Canada took part in the West Indian Red Stripe domestic tournament - Billcliff wisely decided against reminding Trinidad's Lara of their previous encounter.

"I thought better of it," Billcliff laughed. "I was in a bit of a minority down there - I think myself and John Davison were the first white guys to play in the tournament, so I was keeping things very much to myself!"

Billcliff is determined to enjoy himself at the World Cup, especially in the last pool match, against the Black Caps at Willowmoore Park, Benoni on March 3.

"We've got nothing to lose. We'll go out there and enjoy our cricket, and the fact that it's New Zealand won't really make much of a difference to me. "What we're looking to get out of the World Cup will be completely different to a lot of other teams. We've got Bangladesh and Kenya in our pool which we'll obviously target to win, but then a good performance against any one of the four big teams could be worth just as much if not more than a win against the lower teams."