The joy of cricket played with pace in the perfect city to grow the game
Photos by Rick Drennan/Courtesy of GT20 Canada

The joy of cricket played with pace in the perfect city to grow the game

In our hyperkinetic world, stopwatches can measure times right down to the hundredths of a second, pro basketball is driven to play at a breakneck pace by a 24-second clock, and a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the pre-draft combine is what is now needed to be a star running back in pro football.

This need for speed covers both playing and spectating a sport, and runs up against games that are interminably slow, like cricket, which often moves at a languid lope. It was created in a bygone era when sports events were festive, and day-long pursuits. Cricket was so s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d out, spectators had time to enjoy a cuppa tea with a light lunch, knit a sweater, read half a Henry James novel, and still not miss much of the action. In 1939, the longest match ever played (England versus South Africa) took 10 days, in which time 1,981 runs were scored, and the game ended in a draw only because England had to catch a boat back home – as the war drums were beating away in Nazi Germany!

The opening day crowd at the GT20 tournament in Brampton

Yes, cricket tends to go on, like the old six-day bike races, The 24 hours of Le Mans, or the once popular cross-country golf matches.

But not anymore. Cricket has picked up the pace and assigned the slowest parts of the game to the cutting room floor. The new-look edition is called Twenty20 cricket, a form of limited overs in which games last about the same time as a regulation baseball outing, and frequently produce combined run totals of 300 or more, with the all-time record being 489.

For cricket, this is a stark, almost revolutionary move, and perhaps the game’s answer to 7-aside rugby, golf’s brand new rules for quicker play or 3-on-3 hockey. It’s faster, with non-stop action, and according to one senior executive of the sport, a much more gratifying experience for the fans.

“To them, this is now the most popular format, you watch the action for 3-and-a-half hours, then you go home. It’s a thrill-a-minute. It’s the future of the game.”

Karan Singh is chief executive officer of Bombay Sports, organizers of the 2019 Global T20 Canada cricket tournament taking place at the CAA Centre on Kennedy Road in Brampton. The event began July 25 and ends Sunday, August 11, and features a tasty mix of some of the most legendary players in the game, present-day stars, fresh off appearances in the recent World Cup of Cricket held in England, and Canadian players who are hoping to lead a surge of the sport in this country.

While the event has drawn thousands of local supporters, and upwards of 100,000 fans are expected by the tournament’s conclusion, it’s still only its second year in existence, and there’s a whole lot of growing to do.

The six-team tournament features last year’s champions, the Vancouver Knights, and the newest team, the Brampton Wolves.

It has also drawn some of the most famous and aging superstars of the game to our city, including Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi, Chris Gayle of Jamaica and Indian superstar Yuvraj Singh. They have reached the height of sports celebrity back home.

A cut-out of Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh

The Brampton event is so popular, fans had to park at the International Convention Centre in Mississauga and were shuttled over to the cricket venue at the CAA Centre by bus.

The tournament’s board of advisors is a virtual who’s who of sports in Canada, and includes its chair, Chris Lang, a 50-year veteran of business sponsorships, with an early involvement in the federal government’s ‘Task Force on Sport for Canadians,’ and was one of the founders of Hockey Canada, and Paul Williams, a broadcasting icon who brought Sirius XM Radio to this country.

But the real draws are the players, and pre-tournament marketing revolved around Afridi, Gayle and Singh.

Afridi is popularly known as Boom Boom, the legendary former captain of the Pakistan national team. He has joined Brampton Wolves for the event and got the team off to a great start with three straight wins, including an Afridi-led 27-run victory over Edmonton Royals in the team’s first match. Among his many accomplishments, he holds a record of taking the most wickets (98) and most player-of-the-match awards in Twenty20 International cricket.

Singh, a former Indian cricketer, is an “all-rounder” who bats left-handed in the middle order and bowls slow left-arm orthodox. He’s the son of former Indian fast bowler and Punjabi actor Yograj Singh, and one of the most popular performers at the Brampton event. Gayle is a Jamaican superstar who captained the West Indies Test side from 2007 to 2010 and who many consider one of the greatest batsmen in Twenty20 cricket. All three players have set numerous records across all three formats of cricket: Test (and other first-class matches), One Day International (which last 50 overs per inning) and Twenty20 matches (which last 20 overs per inning).

Jamaican Batsman Chris Gayle

Jason Harper, tournament director, said Brampton’s demographics makes it a natural home to hold the tournament, with its large South Asian-Canadian and Caribbean-Canadian population. But the fact it is cricket-central for 2-and-a-half weeks, and comes right after the World Cup, adds even more luster. The giant concentration of world talent for fans of the game to get up close with, is also a huge draw.

The idea, Karan Singh says, is to spread the sport into the cities represented at the tournament, and grow the grassroots game so one day Canada can also compete on an international level. He says cricket is actually the number two sport in the world, outside of North America.  

Jimmy Neesham was one of the stars for New Zealand at the July 14th World Cup final that went to a controversial tiebreaker and awarded the trophy to England. He is playing for the Edmonton Royals here and told Canadian Press he has put the disappointment of losing a world championship behind him. “I’m excited to be in a new tournament and play cricket again,” he said.

So were a smart group of dedicated Kiwi supporters in the CAA grandstand cheering his every move. Mikey Bahen of King City, a graduate of the cricket program at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, and now attending Dalhousie University, was regaled in Kiwi gear as he talked to The Pointer, along with his cricket partner at St. Andrew’s, Ben Van Eeden, who has moved on to Queen’s University. They were gobstruck to be in the presence of their heroes and only a few feet from the action. Bahen was at the World Cup and watched the action at both Lord’s in London, and at Old Trafford, the legendary grounds in Manchester. He said attending it was an “unbelievable experience.”

Mikey Bahen, left, and Ben Van Eeden

He said the attendance was phenomenal, and the heightened awareness he felt for the sport and the talents of the players rose as the fans seemed to be “going crazy at every game.” In the semi-finals, he’ll always remember the Indian fans beating their drums, and the electricity that was surging throughout the stadium. While it wasn’t quite as intense at CAA on Friday afternoon, just being amongst the best players in the game left him in a state of euphoria. While he is a huge fan of Kiwi star, Kane Williamson, his highlight of the week was talking with NZ World Cupper Colin Monro who is playing here in Brampton. “It was one of the coolest moments ever,” he said.

The up-close access between players and fans is one of cricket’s delights, and the T20 event was serving it up in heaping helpings.

The tournament features a mixed bag of high-profile international stars and local cricketers. The five teams include the defending champs, the Vancouver Knights, Montreal Tigers, Toronto Nationals, Winnipeg Hawks, Edmonton Royals, plus the Brampton Wolves, the newest team. It replaced a development team from the West Indies.  Like the CFL, there’s a Canadian-content rule in the tournament, and five homebrews have to play on each team, which offers Cricket Canada the chance to put players in the developmental stage, into the crucible of competition where they get to play side-by-side with some of the best cricketeers on the planet.

Tournament director Ameem Haq told CP he is optimistic about the impact Global T20 Canada will have on the game in this country. He also knows that work has to be done to raise the awareness of cricket here, but said inroads made by the NBA into China is proof that sports can close cultural divides and attach themselves to new markets. This global village marketing approach has seen sports like hockey spread right into the sunbelt region of the U.S. and produce stars like Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs.

Brampton’s own Faisal Jamkhandi is one of the most promising players on Team Canada’s under 19 cricket squad. He’s playing with the Brampton Wolves, and the 19-year-old has 10 caps for his Canadian team.

Three young volunteers

The giant grandstand was near capacity with 4,000 fans out for opening day, and this long weekend promises bigger crowds, under perfect weather conditions.

The CAA Centre grandstand is one of the best in the country and is located behind the 5,000-seat hockey arena that houses the Eastern Professional Hockey League’s (EPHL) Brampton Beast. The Centre annually hosts the Canadian International Kabaddi tournament, called the Canada Kabaddi World Cup.

While T20 has sped up the game, it has admittedly irked some of the sport’s purists. At least one spectator at the event here says the new model has managed to “retain all the elegance and technicalities of the old game, and it is being well accepted. The wind is behind us now, and this is what the fans want to see.”

He said the composite drawing (about 70 percent) of spectators are locals, while a big chunk are here from places like New York and New Jersey – and as far away as New Zealand.

Local fans had plenty to cheer about as the Wolves won their first four games as of Saturday.

The event took about eight or nine months of planning, says Karan Singh, and the physical set up of the pitch and stands and corporate boxes (including a media centre) began about 40 days before the first match. He calls the facility one of the best in Canada, and up to international standards. Telus, Coca-Cola (located in Brampton) and Turkish Airlines are three of the major sponsors, and the league hopes to expand from six to eight teams next year, with possible expansion to Calgary and Ottawa.

The biggest winner during the tournament will be Sick Children’s Hospital, which will receive 50 cents for each ticket purchased. Singh estimates that will total out to between $35,000 and $40,000.

He calls the two-week tournament “the crown jewel of the league” and it will be broadcast into 76 countries, with a total TV audience upwards of 175 million. That’s a huge bump from 55 million last year, and he expects 3.5 million Canadians to watch some of the action on TSN. This is the first year the league has affiliated with the sports channel, and it’s also connected to ATN (Asian Television Network).

Singh says the first international game of cricket was played in 1844 between Canada and the U.S., the Mumbai native, a student of sports in this country, proudly declared. Canada has a “great sports culture,” he says, and the owners of the teams in his league “trust the path that we [the league] are on.”

It is determined to help grow the grassroots of the game, and plans are underway to build a GT20 Academy for next year. Could Brampton be the site?

Singh was non-committal, but says the success of this year’s event will go a long way to making Brampton cricket-central in this country.

L to R: Melinda, Uma and Amanada of Thornhill, here to see Vancouver play at the GT20 Canada tournament

The league’s founder and group CEO, Gurmeet Singh, said its goal is to help produce a world-class national team, one that might someday challenge the likes of England, India, New Zealand, and other world powers.

The Canadian league is organized and run out of Bombay Sport’s office in Mumbai, where Singh lives.

The fiscal benefits of holding the event in Brampton will be significant, he says, but specifics are as yet unknown, and having some of the world’s best players in our midst will pay big dividends here over the long haul.

Cricket was, of course, a spawning ground for major league baseball, whose popularity in its heyday (the early 20th century) made it America’s national pastime. It’s quickly been taken over by basketball and pro football because in part, both rely on time clocks. The games can only unspool to 0.00. Cricket was never in a hurry – until other sports passed it by, and so came the need to quicken the game.

A sport is often a reflection of our modern-day world, and the measure of its success is the size of its TV contract, the salary demands of its stars, the number of fans in the stands, and the media coverage on TV or in the papers or online platforms – plus (and most importantly) the participation level of kids.

By all those measurements, cricket in Canada is still a curiosity, and few outside the large pockets of countries that took up the game as England spread its economic and colonial cultural tentacles around the world, with cricket and rugby and football trailing behind. The game of English elites, played at the hallowed Lord’s Cricket Ground, never caught on big-time in Canada, but the ever-changing makeup of our cities, especially in Peel region, has created a major market for cricket here. The tournament is a culmination of forces that targeted Brampton for this year’s event.

The game still garners agate type in most of the major sports pages, and few highlight reels of the action at CAA park will ever be seen on TV during tournament play. But the spectator numbers are up significantly this year, and the incredible finish to this year’s World Cup put the game back into the limelight in many countries that have only given it nodding interest in the past.

Major sports outlets, such as ESPN, with an eye on expanding into global markets, have been experimenting with more cricket coverage on some platforms, a recognition that audiences in places like India, where the sport is more like religion for many of its 1.4 billion residents, represent a marketing bonanza.

The involvement of many in the local business community, glorious weather so far in Brampton during the two-week tournament, the quality of play and its quicker pace, have all contributed to a successful event – with another week to go.

To some, the scoring in cricket is still as complicated as solving a Mesopotamian board game. Critics say you’d need to be a member of the Pythagorean Brotherhood to figure it all out. These matches involve two elements – the number of runs scored and the number of wickets lost by each team. 

If a team scores 100 runs and lost three wickets, for example, its score would be 100 for three which would be written as 100 – 3.

Not so long ago, fans in Toronto didn’t know what a defensive three-second violation was or how many steps constituted travelling when the Toronto Raptors were perhaps the fourth most popular professional franchise in the city. With its increasingly rabid fan-base, they are now Canada’s team.

While the Test or One Day International might not be every fan’s cup of tea, the new game of cricket is making inroads and showing off its best attributes during its two-week stay in Brampton.

Fans can test their bowling and batting skills

Samuel Beckett, father of the minimalist movement, was also a life-long cricket fan. He was first a cricketer, then a writer.

He once wrote a playlet of 35 words, and another that lasted no longer than a minute in total. He often wrote about the brevity of life. But he also liked to play the long game, especially full-bore cricket.

He might, however, welcome its edited version.

Twenty20 matches align better with modern society, and the many Commonwealth nations that embraced the game and played and watched it with a religious fervor, have a new game to embrace as the growing subcontinental diaspora entrenches more deeply into Canada.

Patience is a virtue, but in the past, it’s also been a necessity when watching or playing the sport of cricket.

Beckett's That Time is a play that delves deep into the human psyche, exposing the audience to the potential effect and consequence of one continually living in the past. 

This is the conundrum that cricket faced as high-speed sports like basketball won over the interest of millions of new fans and was driven by the grassroots participation of kids.

Some of the best players the world has to offer have gathered in our backyard, an unprecedented display of athleticism in this city, which hopes to capitalize on the sport’s amazing potential.

Cricket has embraced speed and is finding a whole lot of new fans over this fortnight in Brampton.

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