October 23, 2011

It's all coming up roses

The first full Newfoundland summer of hardball cricket in decades has just finished, and the successes on and off the field have been impressive

A year ago, shortly after the revival had begun, I predicted a bright new future for cricket in Newfoundland. I have to confess that I didn't fully believe my own predictions. This was the land of bogs and fog and moose and hockey; what chance did cricket really have of taking off?

That enthusiasm for the game existed wasn't in question. Tape-ball cricket was already in full swing, and India played Bangladesh on a basketball court pretty much every weekend. Enthusiasm is one thing, however, and organised cricket quite another. I moved back to the UK wondering quietly to myself what would happen next.

I'm delighted to say, therefore, that 2011 has been an annus mirabilis. The first full Newfoundland summer of hardball cricket in decades has just finished, and the successes on and off the field were impressive. Not quite wildest-dream-exceeding, perhaps, but close. And anyway, it's best to have a few wild dreams left over for next season.

Almost inevitably, the rain came down biblically the sole summer weekend I was in St John's, so my hopes of attending a real live Newfoundland Twenty20 match were dashed. Fortunately, however, I was able to grill my men on the ground - Cricket NL vice-president Dave Liverman, and secretary Ashwin Gupta - and get their thoughts on how the season had gone.

Gupta was effusive in his praise. "It has been nothing short of spectacular," he said. "It all started with our preparation for the 2011 Atlantic tournament, where the addition of two senior players - Senthil Selvamani and Kathir Chenthilnathan - really made a difference."

Compared with last season it certainly did. Third place was not just a fantastic performance but a benchmark for the future. "Our goal now," says Gupta, "is to win the 2012 tournament, and bring the 2013 tournament to St John's."

Such gun-toting talk might sound over-ambitious, but the transformation this year means it's not completely insane. "There are some talented cricketers here," says Liverman. "I really enjoyed watching the improvement in the quality of play, and the enthusiasm and pleasure the teams got out of the game."

It undoubtedly helped to have a decent facility at which to play matches. The romantic notion of games at the Feildian Grounds became unfeasible, sadly, but the Airport Field is a more than adequate replacement. The only problem at present is that it is a temporary base.

"We need a place to permanently install a pitch, says Liverman. "The artificial wicket really needs to be put in place and left there to settle in."

Practice facilities are also required, and then there's the broader question of diversifying the playing pool. Getting expats to take part is great, but imperative to the long-term success of cricket in Newfoundland is getting local players on board. Our cricketing colleagues in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec have led the way; we just need to follow.

With an indoor league, two outdoor leagues, three clubs and more than 50 players, though, the future is looking rosy. "We could do with an injection of cash for equipment," says Liverman, whilst Gupta is more blunt. "We need a big pile of money!" The acorns are already turning into trees, however, even if the garden needs more attention.

All being well, full membership with Cricket Canada will be achieved shortly, providing the opportunity to tap into their expertise. Selvamani has already been invited to a winter training course, too, enabling the association to develop a focused coaching programme. The portents for next year look promising.

Perhaps inspired by his international namesake, meanwhile, Gupta wants to put his own spin on 2012. "Next year my goal is to unleash the carrom ball," he laughs. "I have been practising it this season, although I still haven't used it in a match situation. I am banking on it to strengthen my role as a bowler and hopefully overcome the strong batting line-ups of Quebec and Nova Scotia next year. Above all, I can't wait to be the first Atlantic bowler to bowl one!"

Whether Newfoundland cricket is ready for it remains to be seen, but on the existing evidence, anything is possible. And this time I really mean it.

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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