A paleontologist on cricket in Newfoundland

A plan of green fables

In their quest to find a new cricket venue, Newfoundland could learn a few lessons from Prince Edward Island, which got community support to develop their ground and now hope to use it to promote the region's heritage and cross-cultural integration

Liam Herringshaw

August 14, 2011

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The Tea Hill Cricket Grounds in Prince Edward Island, Canada
The Tea Hill cricket ground will help bring cricket to new audiences on Prince Edward Island © Sarath Chandrasekere
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One of the loveliest aspects of Newfoundland is its relaxed pace of life. Much like Inzamam-ul-Haq between the wickets, things rarely move in a hurry. For worse as well as better, though, it can sometimes feel like you're living a couple of decades out of sync with the rest of the world. City-wide recycling only came to St John's last year, while there aren't cycle lanes yet. And as cyclists and recyclists are much more numerous than cricketers, it seems risky to expect the local authorities to jump on our bandwagon with wild abandon.

That's not to say the Cricket Association of Newfoundland & Labrador has no local support, though. Thanks to some hard work, we now have somewhere to play hard-ball cricket: the Feildian Grounds, which, after a hiatus of more than 60 years, have returned to their original use. Just a couple of weeks ago, on a donated plastic wicket laid on top of the main soccer pitch, they hosted the launch of a brand new three-team summer league.

As exciting as this is (and any match where the fine-leg fielder literally becomes a goalkeeper, taking position between the sticks and trying to stop the ball ending up in the back of the net, is certainly so), it might only be for this summer. The Grounds are earmarked for footballing development over the next few months. So where will we find a permanent base? And how will we get it built?

Conveniently, as the last Canadian province to set up a provincial association, we can study the approaches other regions have taken. And when it comes to creating a cricket ground from scratch, we need only direct our gaze a short way across the Gulf of St Lawrence, to where, in 2007, another island province of Atlantic Canada began a very similar mission.

That place is Prince Edward Island, or PEI, Canada's smallest province. Its most famous export is Anne of Green Gables, a phenomenon that sees skeins of tourists tumble into the district of Cavendish each summer to don swishing school skirts and fake auburn pigtails. And that's just the men.

If gender-bending rural literary pursuits aren't your thing, then there are always the potatoes, which grow in abundance in the rich red soil. So important are they that they have their own museum, in the western village of O'Leary. If for nothing else, it's worth visiting to see their 14-feet-tall fibreglass spud.

Rather more importantly, from a cricketing viewpoint at least, the flat pastoral terrain of PEI provides a fabulous substrate for pitches. And as the members of the PEI Cricket Association are showing, once you plant the seeds, you can grow a very fertile cricketing crop.

The driving force behind the project is Sarath Chandrasekere, president of PEI Cricket Association. As the provincial co-ordinator for Health Canada, Dr Chandrasekere knows the importance of providing high-quality sporting and recreational facilities, and his association's new ground certainly fulfills those criteria.

Perched on a beautiful spot overlooking Hillsborough Bay, the Northumberland Strait, and the Atlantic Ocean, Tea Hill Park started being developed in 2007. "With the enthusiastic support of the Town of Stratford," Chandrasekere says, "and with generous infrastructure and community grants, we began a project that is transforming the park into the premier cricketing facility east of Quebec."

The venue opened in 2009, hosting the Maritimes Twenty20 Cup, and the pavilion was finished this summer, enabling the renamed Tea Hill Cricket Grounds to serve up a full selection of facilities. "It will offer instruction and coaching for players of all ages and levels of experience, host play between Island youth and high schools, and help facilitate cross-cultural exchange between traditional and new Islanders," Chandrasekere says.


The Prince Edward Island cricket team, Canada
Sarath Chandrasekere (in cap and glasses) with the rest of the Prince Edward Island cricket team © Sarath Chandrasekere
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The hope is that the Tea Hill Grounds will become a hub for cricket in Atlantic Canada, but to Chandrasekere and his PEI-CA team, the broader social and cultural aspects are integral too. "Cricket is a way to meet new people, to form strong social bonds, and to put down roots. As many new Canadians look to establish homes and businesses across the Maritimes, cricket represents an important and unique way to gain exposure with this affluent but non-traditional demographic," Chandrasekere says. "The opening of the Tea Hill Grounds marks not just the revival of an important piece of Island heritage, but the beginning of a new chapter in Island cricketing - a chapter that will see the game reach a new audience."

It's also a means of tapping into local history, for cricket in PEI used to be big news. There were once a number of cricket grounds, and they could attract some notable players: in 1884, the future King George V played cricket for the British Navy against a team from the capital, Charlottetown.

When you view the ground, and see the hard work that has gone into it - the wicket, the grounds, the pavilion - you really can't help but feel it will be a success. To paraphrase a well-known baseball film, they've built it and they will come.

So where in Newfoundland will we find such a fabulous field, in such a sumptuous spot? Around St John's, all the good plots of land have long since been claimed. Look further afield, however, and the answer is actually quite straightforward: the whale-watched, berg-cruised idyll of Twillingate. All we require to turn it into New World of Cricket Island is about a quarter of a million dollars. Where's a Newfie Allen Stanford when you need one?

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowling

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