October 25, 2014

The Singhs of Inverhaugh

Justin Robertson
The journey of Bart and Jan Singh's 19-year labour of love in rural Canada - the alluring Inverhaugh Cricket Club - which they built from scratch

Bart Singh: accountant by day, groundsman and cricket tragic by night © Justin Robertson

After an hour of driving along the concrete-slabbed 401 and through a series of interconnecting highways, you come to a leafy rural Line 8 Road. Either side are turkey farms, corn crop fields and harness racing racks. Tucked underneath the armpit of a hill is a hamlet called Inverhaugh, 113km west of Toronto, where a small county-looking cricket ground exists, home to the Inverhaugh Cricket Club.

I recognised Bart Singh from 50 metres away. He was busy organising a collection of sprinklers on the ground in the distance, wearing a dark blue cricket vest with a lighter blue collared shirt underneath. His wife, Jan, calls for him and waves him in. He was in post-cricket season mode: making repairs before the long Canadian winter set in.

There is a whiteboard next to his shed and on it are miscellaneous to-do lists written in green sharpie: "TRIM the patio, tennis court, laneway fence, tree stumps and CUT the tennis court, the field, the pitch." Then there are notes on rolling the pitch, regular clean-ups for match days, setting up chairs, pumping the toilets, setting up the boundary markers. On average, he says, he spends 40 hours a week to maintain and prepare the ground to an above-normal state of affairs.

The 7.4-acre property he bought at an auction almost 20 years ago is up for sale for $1.89m because the Singhs can no longer maintain it on their own. They have had some support from Bart's brother Roy and a rotating cast of volunteer players over the years but the cricket ground, the ten-wicket square and training nets were largely cultivated by Bart and Jan.

For Bart, it is hard to imagine life without cricket and life without the Inverhaugh Cricket Club. He started the team in 1995, when he was 43, during the time Canada were inching up the international cricket ladder. He has never missed a game in 19 seasons. When the property was purchased in the mid-'90s, Bart decided to appoint his cricket club with the motto "Propter Ludi Amorem", which is simply defined as "For the Love of the Game": a constant reminder of how cricket should be played.

"If you are going to do something, you do it right. Guys that play with me have to share that vision. Otherwise they won't fit in here. And most of them do. They probably think I'm nuts, driving for such perfection"

Inverhaugh is an alluring ground. The surface is relatively flat and is surrounded by a ring of elm trees. It has a pavilion and an old silo used for changing rooms. There are two sightscreens, and a tree sits on the field, which, if hit, gets you four runs, just like at Canterbury's St Lawrence ground. A lawn tennis court is pitted between the house and the cricket ground, and a six-hole golf course is hidden at the back of the property, which runs along side the flowing Grand River, full of brown trout.

To keep the acreage in good shape, Bart relies heavily on a community of players and friends, arborists and mechanics, to prune the elms and tend to mowers on the blink a few hours a week. On game days, players will park their cars on the property and roll up their sleeves to remove the covers, prepare and paint the lines on the pitch.

"This evolved. This was going to be a weekend getaway for us. It was just a log cabin when we bought it. Then we saw the potential," Bart says. "I was not a curator. I did a lot of research, talked to professionals, sat through tutorials [on YouTube] and now after doing it for so long it is all second nature to me. Apart from being a professional accountant, I'm an unpaid groundsman."

It was that constant striving for perfection that drove the accountant and former tax auditor to dedicate a quarter of his life to managing a cricket ground in his backyard. "If you are going to do something, you do it right. Guys that play with me have to share that vision. Otherwise they won't fit in here. And most of them do," Bart says. "They probably think I'm nuts, driving for such perfection. Does the grass need cutting before the game? Yes, it does. People only play here once a year. They need to see it the way it should be seen."

In their first year at Inverhaugh, Bart and his wife chalked up more than 3000 hours of labour to clear away ratty trees, overhanging grapevines, and boulders buried underground. It was so thick you couldn't see Grand River from the house. But to him, the grunt work was all for cricket, a sport he has played all his life.

The Inverhaugh Cricket Club, with its laidback county-ground appeal, was created nearly 20 years ago © Justin Robertson

He played with his school's 1st XI at the age of 14, made the Ontario cricket team as an allrounder at 19, tried out for Canada's World Cup squad in the late-'70s, and then played in the Hamilton District League for 22 years before he founded his arcadia in Inverhaugh.

Almost two decades on, Inverhaugh Cricket Club has been the intersection between international cricketers and visiting amateur teams. In August, former West Indies Test batsman Alvin Kallicharran brought a team to take on Bart's mob and made a first-ball duck trying to hook a short ball bowled by raking left-armer Ian Singh - Bart's son. Larry Gomes has also taken centre at Inverhaugh, along with Leslie Wight, who played one Test for West Indies.

Roy Singh will most likely go down as the club's most decorated player, having topped the batting averages for every season but two, scoring the most hundreds (four), scoring 3544 runs in 110 innings at 47.25. Roy says it is the visiting teams that will stick in his mind perpetually: the Quebec team that called themselves The Pirates, a mixed team of men and women who all held hands after one match and danced off the field; the British Officers from Philadelphia whose roots go back to the 1800s; and there are the baffling team names such as Colonials Behaving Badly, The Leg Trappers and Curry Goat Match, which will always make Roy smile.

"I remember one game where Ian [Singh] took three wickets in four balls bowling leg-side wides - all of them leg-side stumpings," Roy says. "Then there was the time where one of our players, Harold Nairu, put together a team that included five national Guyanese players. They were very, very good and slaughtered us. From that day on his nickname became 'Harold Can't Lose'. Just a lot of good cricket moments."

Inverhaugh has accumulated 124 games in 19 seasons, with a record of 91 wins, 32 losses and one draw - against Heritage Cricket Club in 2007. This also includes two undefeated seasons of 12-0 in 2006 and 2014. Monish Walia is the only club man to take a hat-trick, in 2013 against the Pirates of St Lawrence, taking figures of 6 for 15 from 5.5 overs, claiming the last six wickets and bowling the Pirates out for 85 some 59 runs shy of victory.

Vince Correira recalls his very first match in 1995, when the wicket was playing low and slow. He drove 140km from Pickering to Grand River only to be adjudged lbw first ball. In the last match of 2013, when players knew the Singhs were selling the property, Correira took 5 for 18 and scored 70 not out. "I wanted to do something special," he said. "I thought that would be my last game of cricket for Inverhaugh. So Bart gave me the ball and moved me up the order."

On Saturday August 23, the 2014 season came to an end. Inverhaugh played their final match of the summer against Hector Duncan's XI. Bart captained the side as usual, spread the batting around, but was expecting to roll his arm over. Inverhaugh batted first and made a very competitive 225 from 35 overs. What Bart didn't expect was for his opening pair to bowl them out for 20 in less than nine overs to give them a 205-run victory in what could be their last win as the Inverhaugh Cricket Club.

Bart knows that at 62, his time playing cricket is almost up. He said he might watch the World Cup early next year but admits Test matches are too long. Life after cricket will mean more time to golf, tennis and rest for his body.

"We'll miss everything. We created everything from scratch," Bart says. "The sad part would be if we can't sell it and end up subdividing it into seven or eight lots on the land - it would be a shame to just destroy everything we've built in the last 19 years."