Return to the rock
Almost exactly a year ago, I began documenting the story of an attempted revival of organised cricket in the easterly Canadian province of Newfoundland. The sport had once been popular there, but the rugged terrain, inclement weather and competition from other pastimes had led to its apparently terminal decline.
Thanks, however, to the enthusiasm of various expatriated Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Brits, not to mention a fair few locals, cricket came bouncing back to life in 2010. Exhibition matches were played, a provincial association was established, and a team even took part in a Twenty20 competition against other Canadian provinces. So how did things fare in the winter, and how are things looking at the start of the 2011 season?
Well, to start with a national perspective, I think it's safe to say that Canada's performance at the World Cup was a mixed bag. In fact, since the phrase derives from big-game hunting, it was less a mixed bag, and more "a lumpen sack containing one rather decrepit lion, a decent amount of markhor hair, and a few ruffled emu feathers". The subsequent resignation of captain Ashish Bagai hasn't helped matters.
But rather than dwell on disappointments, I prefer to take a positive outlook. The growth of the game's grassroots can only bode well for Canadian cricket, and Cricket Newfoundland & Labrador has kept up its momentum. This winter saw eight teams compete in an indoor league in the provincial capital, St John's, with the India Warriors claiming the inaugural title after defeating the NL Stormers in the final.
For many of the players, the celebrations continued a few days later, as they gathered in a lecture theatre at the Memorial University of Newfoundland to watch the World Cup final. Heavy snowfall and an early morning start didn't deter scores of supporters from turning out to watch India's famous victory. If the province had any doubt of cricket's popularity before, they surely didn't now.
And, as if to prove this, the local authorities are now showing an interest in promoting the game. A spokesperson for the Department of Recreation for the City of St John's declared recently that "we have been keeping an eye on cricket knowing that it will be growing in popularity in our area".
There is still the problem of where to play, with the council helping the association to uncover possible locations. The last surviving cricket venue in the city - the Feildian Grounds - is pencilled in for an overhaul that will turn it into a dedicated soccer facility, which doesn't bode well. There is, however, the possibility of using it as a stop-gap this summer. Cricket NL vice-president Dave Liverman says that the owners "are considering the proposal of allowing us to play there, and it looks promising".
The association has also received a very kind offer of a plastic wicket that can be moved and removed according to field availability. It is a donation worth many thousands of dollars, and just the sort of gesture that a fledgling cricket club needs. The only downside is that the first journey will have to be one of over 2000km, since the pitch is currently in Toronto.
Before any of that happens, though, there is a new and rather more urgent task. The success of the 2010 Maritimes Twenty20 Cup means it has been renamed the Atlantic Twenty20 Cup, with last year's four provinces being joined by Quebec. Now a three-day tournament, this is the showcase for cricket in eastern Canada, and its expansion is a great development. Unfortunately - for the little-practised nomads of Cricket NL, at least - it has moved to a different slot in the calendar: this weekend!
As a consequence, the team taking part is somewhat altered from last year's: a New-Newfoundland, if you will. Only two players - Rakesh Negi and Ashwin Gupta - have survived the cut, though the new squad's balance of nationalities - seven Indians, three Bangladeshis, one Pakistani and one Canadian - is undoubtedly more reflective of the association than it was in 2010. That they will give a fine account of the province is also without question.
So if you're in eastern Canada and want to see some top-notch Twenty20 action, head over to Nova Scotia this weekend. The tournament is being played on the Commons in Halifax, Canada's oldest city park, and runs from 10am on Friday till 6pm on Sunday. And do let me know if you go along, as I shall be trapped in the vicinity of the other Halifax, the Yorkshire one, on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowling