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From Port Elizabeth to Canada: Davy Jacobs' tryst with WCL via IPL

Davy Jacobs goes through a warm-up sprint in a Canada training session Peter Della Penna

The World Cricket League, besides being a celebrated bastion for aspiring Associate players looking to climb up the global ladder, has served as a pathway for career rebirths for players who have already had a taste of the big time and are giving the game one more go at their adopted home.

Davy Jacobs falls into the latter category. This week, in Namibia, the former Champions League T20 winner with Mumbai Indians who used to open the batting alongside Sachin Tendulkar is hoping that he can be a difference-maker while giving back to Canada, a country that gave him a renewed sense of freedom, not to mention a new lease on cricket in somewhat serendipitous fashion.

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"The honest answer is I really wanted to get my kids out of South Africa," Jacobs says when asked how he ended up in Mississauga, a western suburb of greater Toronto. "I was looking for a better future. My wife and I would be literally googling on our phones while lying in bed, 'education, healthcare and safety'.

"She was keen on Australia. I wanted to move to Northern Ireland, Belfast. I played a few years of club cricket. This is where I wanted to moveā€¦ I sent a few emails around because we knew we had to look at all options and my wife said, 'Check out Canada because we've never been there.'"

And so the wheels were set in motion for a whirlwind experience. Just months after officially retiring from playing first-class cricket in South Africa for the Warriors franchise, Jacobs was on a plane on June 17, 2015 to meet with Derek Perera of the Ontario Cricket Academy (OCA). He was only supposed to do a few coaching camps and had no intention of staying in Mississauga beyond a few weeks before proceeding with resettlement from Port Elizabeth to Belfast. That all changed when he rocked up with OCA director Perera, a former Canada player, to see who he'd be coaching.

"Derek took me to Mavis, the cricket ground there where the academy trains," Jacobs says. "As I walked up wearing jeans and was tired from the flight, Nikhil Dutta was bowling and Abraash Khan was batting. I just stood there for 5-10 minutes just watching these guys play. I don't know what I was expecting when I came to Canada. But Derek told me about this Narine-type guy bowling, a Kuwait-born Canadian Narine and I watched Abraash batting, an 18-year-old kid who wants to be a doctor, watching him chuck Nik over extra.

"I said to Derek, 'What is going on here?!' They were in the WCL Division Three, but I was like, 'How is this possible?!' It blew my mind how many good cricketers there are in the world. It took me about a week and I called my wife and said to her, 'We have to move here. It's done!'"

It wasn't a case of simply snapping his fingers, though. Jacobs had initially come to Canada on a holiday visa but was determined not to leave. While continuing to do a bit of coaching at the OCA, he became a five-month houseguest in the Perera home while waiting for immigration paperwork to be sorted that allowed his wife and two young daughters, ages six and two at the time, to finally leave Port Elizabeth and come to Canada. That wasn't the only bumpy part of the family's transition.

"The first night my kids got there, I took them for a walk through the neighborhood and my oldest daughter, who was about six, kept pulling my pants," Jacobs says. "It was like 10 at night. She started crying and said, 'We have to go inside! It's dark!'"

"I just realised she knows South Africa is dangerous. I couldn't believe that she knew that we can't be outside because it's dark because that's how she grew up. The next day we go grocery shopping and she starts grabbing candles, 'For the blackouts'. Same thing, there're no blackouts in Canada. Electricity works."

While trying to get his day-to-day life in order, Jacobs began an apprenticeship with a construction contractor specialising in commercial and home renovations as a way to pay the bills beyond the limited opportunities in cricket coaching.

"I couldn't even put a screw into a wall," he recounts of an experience that would help him gain a greater appreciation for life in the Associate world, where players and coaches generally have day jobs to make ends meet beyond pursuing their cricket dreams.

Through his first year in Canada, he was only seriously thinking about coaching and not playing. He was appointed Canada head coach on a temporary basis for the 2016 Auty Cup tour of Los Angeles, helping oversee a 2-1 one-day series win over the USA. Playing again was the furthest thing from his mind after a career that went through a sharp ascent during a three-year stretch from 2010-2012 before a series of frustrating lows.

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A former South Africa Under-19 representative at the 2002 Under-19 World Cup, Jacobs was entrenched in a solid first-class career in South Africa, but rarely on the radar for senior national team selection. However, the advent of the franchise T20 boom, propelled by the formation of the IPL, changed the course of his career.

"I was watching one of the first IPL's and [Sanath] Jayasuriya was walking down the Wankhede to bat with Sachin Tendulkar," Jacobs recounts.

The Champions League came into existence subsequently.

"That winter our trainer at Warriors, we just studied like baseball-hitters. I copied a program like that, a cricket one but focusing a lot on hitting. I thought, 'How are you gonna get into these leagues? You've got to hit sixes, bowl 150 or chuck without getting caught! I can't bowl; I'm a keeper, I bat in the middle-order. So I'm a finisher, I get in and try to hit at the end.

"That whole winter, I was superb with discipline, and became really strong. We qualified for the Champions League. Jacques Kallis pulled out. He had to play for RCB in the Champions League. We needed an opener. Russell Domingo was our coach and was like, 'Why don't you go open?' I was the captain at the time and was so comfortable in the middle order, but knew this was my one chance and I have to take this."

At home, during the 2010 Champions League T20 in South Africa, Jacobs and Ashwell Prince opened the batting followed by Colin Ingram at No. 3. The powerful top order clubbed with a bowling unit of Makhaya Ntini, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Rusty Theron and Johan Botha propelled Warriors all the way to the final before falling short against Chennai Super Kings. Jacobs made a massive impression striking three fifties in six innings to end with 286 runs, just eight short of CSK's M Vijay at the top of the aggregate.

The consequence was commanding a US $190,000 bid from Mumbai Indians.

But after just 92 runs in six innings with a best of 35, Jacobs found himself on the bench. In 2012, he played only one match for Mumbai and did not come back for 2013. Carrying out a fanatical fitness regime in the pursuit of franchise T20 cricket's pinnacle competition came at a price far different than the auction bid.

"It's difficult to retire because it's a nice life, it's easy," Jacobs says. "So it took me three years to build up the courage to retire. After the IPL, I was done. My body had nothing left because I trained too much. I was training like a triathlete. I felt like I had to be the strongest and fastest. I was dumb like that.

"When the Canada guys want to overtrain, I stop people from training and doing too much weights because I know what happens. My body couldn't take it. I had a massive hip surgery. I had to learn to walk again, took me 9-10 months. I had surgery on my shoulder, ankle, wrist, thumb."

The final breaking point came on February 25, 2015, when looking at himself in the mirror wearing his Warriors training shirt, something clicked in his mind. He called his manager and Warriors officials to say he was retiring. He texted his wife and his dad while sitting at a traffic light on the way to a hastily arranged press conference to say farewell to the franchise where he was the first captain since Kepler Wessels to lead to a domestic title. That was meant to be it for playing cricket.

But a year after he had coached Canada in Los Angeles in October 2016, he began playing some casual club matches with OCA. Before long, he was scoring heavy runs again as Perera and others started to point at the calendar to see when he would become eligible for Canada under the ICC's residency guidelines.

"The first time I thought I might take this seriously again was in a night festival in August 2017, the Mississauga Night Festival," Jacobs says. "Nitish Kumar was in the team, [Ruvindu] Gunasekera, Srimantha Wijeyeratne... In the final we played an all-star team, all the imports who come to Toronto for the summer, mostly West Indian guys. In the final, we had about 100 after 14 overs, and I came in the last six overs and got 90 not out. Afterwards we were sitting having a beer and Derek said to me, 'Mate, you've got to think about this.'"

Discussions soon began in earnest with Cricket Canada. Then the ICC trimmed down the residency qualification period in late 2017 from four to three years, opening the door for him to be eligible in October 2018. Not only did he come immediately into the squad, but was also named captain.

On his first tour, he finished as the side's second-highest run-getter in Trinidad & Tobago at the CWI Super50 tournament with 175 at 35.00. Now he's got his sights set on leading Canada past the heartbreak they experienced last year at WCL Division Two when he was a bystander following the team from afar as they lost off the final ball to Nepal, courtesy an epic 51-run 10th-wicket stand. "It was devastating," Jacobs says. "I was sitting on my balcony outside with a beer for that final over. I just saw dot, dot, dot, dot. Obviously it happened for a reason. Things they learn from there they'll take."

One player in particular he feels has come out of the experience better is the bowler of that final over, Cecil Pervez. Jacobs points to the evidence of Pervez defending 14 to beat USA in a Super Over in North Carolina during a 2020 T20 World Cup Qualifier in September last year and says it won't be the last time Pervez comes through for Canada at the death.

"We're gonna need him to bowl that over again," Jacobs says. "I don't know where or when but he will."

Much of the last 14 months has been spent not so much stewing but fuelled with motivation from that devastating loss.

"I think that hunger is just there," Jacobs says. "What happened to Afghanistan and Ireland, I think all the Associate nations now are a little more motivated because we know what might happen. We're just trying to get Canada to where we used to be. That definitely is a motivation. Losing those games [to Nepal] makes you better for the next one."