April 8, 2013

Canada looks to come in from the cold

The national team is in tatters right now and the board still isn't efficiently run, but the new president is hoping things are going to change

Winters are long in Canada, but the country's cricket has been in the grip of a particularly cruel deep freeze. It has been one year since Ravin Moorthy became president of Cricket Canada with the aim of digging the country's cricket affairs out of their mess. Yet in the past year Canada did not host any international cricket and the national team has not only been beaten everywhere, it has also slipped to the bottom of both the Intercontinental Cup and World Cricket League rankings.

Anyone expecting to find a dejected cricket board president will be surprised to see that Moorthy is confident that things are turning around. Spring is in the air. Moorthy strongly believes progress has been made, but in areas not in public view. "We've now had four tours in a row where we weren't struggling to line up kits for the players, or having players late to join tours because visa issues were not sorted out." The bar is indeed that low.

Given the board has been dogged by inept management for years, Moorthy's first year in office has been spent rebuilding Cricket Canada's relationship with the ICC and trying to create an organisation that can have credible engagement with stakeholders, where expectations are realistic.

Cricket Canada has always been a volunteer-driven organisation, with office-bearers having little accountability, and the policy and operations arms being indistinguishable. Moorthy has slowly been trying to professionalise the board and bring in people suited to tasks rather than whoever raises their hand from among the volunteers. "Last year in March, we had one person on staff. Now we have six. Hiring professionals to be part of the organisation and giving them the freedom to work allows for fostering relationships with the ICC, Sport Canada and the players themselves," says Moorthy.

Be that as it may, the performance of the team remains dismal. There is no way to positively spin Canada's poor post-World Cup results, but Moorthy gives it a whirl: "It's not acceptable that we're in last place [in the Intercontinental Cup and World Cricket League], but we are seeing improvements in the younger players. We have an exciting young nucleus now, and if we surround them with some experienced players, we'll be in good shape."

Canada committed a strategic blunder before the World Cup by rushing teenagers into the team before they were ready, at the expense of more seasoned cricketers, some of whom are too disgruntled to return. The core that has now emerged, of Ruvindu Gunasekera, Hiral Patel, Nitish Kumar and Usman Limbada, is talented but brittle-looking when all play in the same XI.

So who are the experienced players who can come in to save the day? It has been two years since Ashish Bagai last played for Canada, although a comeback is expected in May. Zubin Surkari, Harvir Baidwan and Umar Bhatti are also rumoured to be back in contention for spots soon, but others seem lost forever. If they are in shape and available, could the likes of Geoff Barnett ever play for Canada again? "Of course," says Moorthy. "It's been made clear to the selectors that anybody who is eligible to play for Canada can be considered. We're not discounting anyone."

But there's a catch. "We want players to earn their place by performances in the [domestic] National Cricket League this summer," Moorthy says. It seems unlikely that players based overseas will come to play for - or those on the margins will be invited into - one of the NCL teams.

A region-based five-team 50-overs tournament, the NCL is meant to level the playing field in a country where this quite literally needs to happen - grounds vary vastly in terms of size and quality of the outfields.

Ontario remains the heartland of Canadian cricket, yet the national team has a healthy contingent of players from other provinces, where the standard of cricket is generally not comparable. It can be a millstone around the necks of national players from Alberta or British Columbia that their performances leading to selection for the national team came in leagues inferior to the ones in Ontario. Selection based on performances in the NCL is meant to end any such criticism. It would be dangerous to put all the eggs in the NCL basket, but there have been worse selection practices in Canada.

"We are still the leading Associate country in terms of the number of people playing cricket, the number of grounds, the number of umpires"
Ravin Moorthy, Cricket Canada president

No selector has ever resigned after a poor showing by the team, and the chairman of selectors, Chris James, has hitherto been unmoveable, even when the policy of picking young players proved wrong, when facing scathing criticism from former players, and given he had a physical altercation with a former captain.

Such are the wheelings and dealings of Cricket Canada elections that no board president has ever criticised James, and Moorthy, who, like James, hails from Alberta, is no different. But a key agenda for Moorthy remains the overhaul of the selection panel.

"We are moving towards having a selection panel that is not elected but appointed. We want to have selectors who have at least played first-class cricket," he said.

Moorthy also wants the team coach to be part of the selection panel. It is a sensible move in an environment where genuine talent evaluation has been sorely lacking, and if successfully implemented, will be a coup.

Among the issues still to be sorted out is the impasse between Cricket Canada and the Ontario Cricket Association (OCA), a dispute that has its genesis in a powerplay to oust former Cricket Canada president Ben Sennik. The issue mutated and ended in Cricket Canada expelling the OCA as a member, and recognising a new body, the Cricket Council of Ontario (CCO), as representing the province. While the OCA had the moral high ground, the practical reality was that the country's best league, the Toronto and District Cricket Association (TDCA) became a part of the CCO.

All sides claim to be acting in the best interests of cricket, but underneath the veneer lies nothing more than personality conflicts and petty politics. Lawsuits and counter-lawsuits were filed, but after a period of failed arbitration, the latest development is that all parties have agreed to take the matter out of the courts.

Mike Kendall, the president of the OCA, believes the matter can be settled amicably and wants his association to be part of the Cricket Canada fold again. The provincial body's continued exclusion only hurts the game in the country, according to Kendall. "We have a few players playing in our leagues who could make a real difference in the Canadian team, but unfortunately they aren't considered for selection because they are part of the OCA."

With Canada's performances on the slide, it would only make sense for hatchets to be buried and nets to be cast wide for players. It would be a feather in Moorthy's cap to show leadership and bring a harmonious end to a soap opera that has gone on too long.

In spite of being left in the dust by the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan, Canada, Moorthy believes, is the best-placed Associate country. "We are still the leading Associate country in terms of the number of people playing cricket, the number of grounds, the number of umpires - our potential is greater than all of the other Associates [ranked above Canada]."

But Moorthy knows that Cricket Canada will truly be judged on the performance of the national team. After a false start with Michael Dighton as coach, Moorthy is of the opinion that with former West Indies batsman Gus Logie, who has had a previous stint as Canada's coach, and High Performance manager David Patterson at the helm, the team is in good hands.

With a decent coaching staff, a showcase event in the summer for spotting talent, a potential new band of selectors, and some experienced players once again set to be part of the team, the stage is ready for Canada's comeback. Those who care about Canadian cricket will truly hope that winter is finally over.

Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shipu on April 8, 2013, 23:05 GMT

    Interesting article! sadly Cricket is Canada has been going downhill but hopefully they will become a very strong associate side one-day.

  • Rakesh on April 8, 2013, 22:33 GMT

    Forget about Canada cricket. I had been in Canada for couple of months and amazed to see that cricket is played by only indian sub continent recent immigrants. Listen again, just recent ones. These recent immigrants live in ghettoes and get selected as there is noone else. No kids from White or native community plays here. Even immigrants from Australia or England shun the game here it seems as it is hijacked by sub continent immigrants. No coaching kids camps nowhere. Everywhere you see soccer,rugby,hockey baseball camps for tiny primary kids but nothing of cricket. I am convinced that if the game remains with indian subcontinent immigrants in Canada there is no hope there. MAinstream communities must be involved to promote the game .Otherwise it a waste and money used by new immigrants only.

  • Jimmy on April 8, 2013, 16:56 GMT

    Cricket in Canada really is a joke... I have played in the best league in North America the TDCA since 1989 and still do. What have I seen? You will never have world class players playing on Matting or astro turf. You could play the best cover drive in the world but the cow pasture outfield will not let that ball travel past the 30 yard circle. So what do players do? They play more agriculture and uppish shots to score runs which kills any class that would be required to play in International grounds. This is really the answer to improve Canadian Cricket Standards. You can bring in players from cricket playing nations with limited first class experience in their native country and their level will also drop to that of the local Canadian players. Cricket in Canada should only be played on turf wickets with fast outfields. PERIOD. That should be the standard in every league across the country. I Guarantee Canada will be the best associate nation in about 3 years. jimmysingh@rogers.com

  • Angus on April 8, 2013, 15:29 GMT

    To undo decades of neglect - we're talking 100+ years here - it will take decades of work, not just from CC, but the provinces and every club. The upside is that things have been so bad that rapid progress is achievable. There is a very large expat cricket loving population in Canada, only a fraction of whom play on dreadful - and I mean dreadful, like playing ice hockey in mud - facilities, but cricket has to open its doors to every Canadian, whether they be Chinese, Italian, Kyrgyz or 4th generation Nova Scotian if it wants to realise its potential. There have been major boons of late, due to the rapid growth of the south Asian population. The major banks are competing to sponsor cricket. Cricket is now easier to access on TV than in the UK - it's even broadcast in French. And Walmart are distributing kids' cricket sets. Any move to professionalise the administration is to be applauded. Way back in the beginning, Canada refused to professionalise the game and has suffered ever since.

  • Dummy4 on April 8, 2013, 13:50 GMT

    the best thing the new president can do is to increase the number of local participants in the game. canada cricket team is entirely composed of players from asian origin. at the moment even not a single player is born in canada . if really cricket canada wants to be leading associate they must focus on the roots rather than importing players from other countries,

  • Allan on April 8, 2013, 12:37 GMT

    The solution to fix Canadian Cricket like a couple of folks have already mentioned here is to convert it from being viewed as South East Asian and Carribbean sport to a sport that all Canadians can play. I believe the key to the success of the national team's fortunes is to focus purely on T20 cricket at the junior and high school levels. This format takes only 3 hours to play which is the duration of a baseball or hockey game. Working parents do not have 8 hours on a weekend to take their kids to a 50 over event. Having said that even working people do not have the time to watch a game that can last 8 hours or the 5 Day version. Canada has tons of immigrants from other cricket playing nations, however, none of the Australian, English, South African or Kiwi population that live here play cricket. Their kids are playing soccer, rugby, golf, tennsi and hockey. If we change this mindset and focus on the shortest format there is greater hope for success.

  • Mariam on April 8, 2013, 11:58 GMT

    Good article Faraz, I hope cricket starts to get stronger in Canada as there is some good talent there. Weather there doesn't lean towards cricket though except from June to August

  • michael on April 8, 2013, 8:31 GMT

    Pulkit10, I agree with your comments concerning Canadian cricket being dominated by South Asian and West Indian interests, as is the case with US Cricket. In both cases, if cricket is to be taken as a serious sport by the broader community, including the relevant provincial and national governments, the broader community quite rightly wants to see a more inclusively administered sport. In world tournaments, the Canadian and American teams appear very artificial. To any observer from the other test playing nations, neither team inspires confidence in their respective development programs.

    In my view, efforts should be made by both the American and Canadian cricket bodies, to include a minimum of 3/5 players in their junior representative teams that come from outside the above immigrant communities. These new players, given the right support from the respective cricket bodies, would become role models for attracting more players outside the traditional communities into our game.