September 15, 2012

Northern uproar

Cricket in Newfoundland & Labrador is coming along in leaps and bounds. Ask Quebec if you doubt it

We are the best in the world! We are the best in the world! We have beaten Quebec in cricket by eight wickets! It is completely unbelievable!

We have beaten Quebec, Quebec, birthplace of Canadian cricket! Sir Wilfrid Laurier! Pierre Trudeau! Jean Chretien! Brian Mulroney! Lord Conrad Black! Georges St Pierre! Celine Dion! We have beaten them all! We have beaten them all!

Pauline Marois, can you hear me? Pauline Marois, I have a message for you at the end of your election campaign! We have knocked Quebec out of the Atlantic Twenty20 Cup! Pauline Marois, as they say in your language in the hockey bars around the Montreal Forum, Vos garçons ont un enfer d'un battement! Vos garçons ont un enfer d'un battement!

I apologise to the late, great Bjørge Lillelien, but exceptional times call for exceptional plagiarism. I'm sure the sports fans of Norway would understand.

You see, Quebec's population is almost eight million people, whilst Newfoundland & Labrador's is 1/16th of that. Quebec has been a member of Cricket Canada for well over a century; Newfoundland for less than one year. Cricket Quebec has more than 30 clubs; Cricket NL has one club, and half a wicket.

Even after an excellent showing in last year's competition, Newfoundland went to the 2012 Atlantic Twenty20 Cup in Prince Edward Island as serious outsiders. Quebec were the reigning champions; Nova Scotia their expected challengers. Chances of beating either were slim.

It transpired, though, that Cricket NL had not been listening to this malnourished betting talk. After comprehensive defeats of the hosts, PEI, and New Brunswick in their opening two matches, they tore into Quebec with a manic hunger, and Quebec didn't know what hit them. Newfoundland not only won, they meted out a thrashing: Quebec were bowled out for just 91, before NL knocked off the runs for the loss of only two wickets. Spin king Ashwin Gupta took the wickets (4 for 15), captain Rakesh Negi scored the runs (47 not out), and the cup holders were dethroned.

It was Ireland beating England, Bangladesh beating Australia. It was underdogs becoming top dogs. Suddenly Cricket NL were on the verge of an extraordinary tournament victory.

Perhaps it shouldn't have been so surprising, as 2012 has been a far from ordinary year for cricket on The Rock. Just two years after its resurrection, the sport has gone from strength to strength in easternmost North America. The last 12 months have seen the association acquire a major sponsorship deal, become full members of Cricket Canada, get their own provincial uniform, see a player selected to play in the new National Cricket League, and appoint a new president who is also a qualified coach.

Quebec's population is almost eight million people, whilst Newfoundland & Labrador's is 1/16th of that. Quebec has been a member of Cricket Canada for well over a century; Newfoundland for less than one year. Cricket Quebec has more than 30 clubs; Cricket NL has one club, and half a wicket

That man is Senthil Selvamani, and even he is amazed by the progress that Cricket NL has made.

"It's been a great year," Selvamani tells me, "and it's not only exciting for us, but good for the development of cricket in the province. The sponsorship enabled us to support the players taking part in the Atlantic Twenty20, but membership of Cricket Canada will allow us to take the sport into local schools."

This will follow the approach New Brunswick have used successfully. Selvamani also hopes to set up a recreational league to get new people playing, whether school kids, curious adults, or rusty cricketers looking for a way back into the game.

The association is trying to break down local perceptions. "People seem to think, 'Oh, it's just a bunch of immigrants playing cricket, and half of them are students!'" laughs Selvamani. "We need a key new demographic to convince the City of St John's to support us. Getting locals playing will be extremely challenging, but it has to be one of our mandates. We need to have junior members, a mission statement, and key data points to take to the authorities."

Perhaps the main challenge is getting a permanent playing facility. "Our current ground is fine," Selvamani says, "but it's used by lots of other sports, and putting the mat on and off is time-consuming. The grass can't be cut to a proper level, either."

The ground has also just been hit by Tropical Storm Leslie, with the hand-built practice nets taking a battering. Thoughts of hosting the 2013 Atlantic Twenty20 Cup have been put on hold.

As for the 2012 edition, in the end, Selvamani and his NL team-mates couldn't quite pull off the heist. In a thrilling title decider, chasing down Nova Scotia's total of 169, they fell eight runs short and had to settle for the runners-up spot. It was still an amazing achievement for such a novice team, and when next year's tournament takes place in Quebec, no one will be taking Cricket NL lightly.

Now, if only there was a movie being made about cricket in Newfoundland that would feature Hollywood stars and raise the profile of the game in the province to a whole new level...

Next time: How a movie is being made about cricket in Newfoundland, featuring Hollywood stars, which will raise the profile of the game in the province to a whole new level.

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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