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Canada’s cold shoulder

Tony Best

Canada’s cold shoulder

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For a country that has been playing cricket in one form or another for more than 225 years, probably longer than Barbados, Canada has left sports historians perplexed.
They are dumbfounded because they have not been able to come up with a clear answer that explains why Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe, all Test-playing nations, have a firm cricket culture that has made the game a national pastime but Canada hasn’t. 
Many historians and devoted cricket fans, including Dr Keith Sandiford, a Barbadian and professor emeritus of history at the University of Manitoba, have cited a plethora of reasons, ranging from the vastness of the country and the relatively short summer season to the long deathly cold winters for the absence of enthusiasm for a sport that had its first recorded cricket club in 1785 at St Helen’s Island in Montreal.
Sandiford, author of several cricket books, traces part of the problem to the 1870s when “Canadians were searching for a national identity less reliant on British models and were becoming increasingly influenced by American culture”.
Cricket Canada, the sport’s organizing body, has at least 13 000 players from Barbados, Jamaica, England, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Guyana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago competing in its annual competition.
Still, it came as something of a surprise to many readers of the Ottawa Citizen, the leading paper in the nation’s capital, that about 40 cricketers from Afghanistan were playing alongside Bajans, Indians, Pakistanis and other cricket-loving immigrants in the Ottawa Valley Cricket Council. The ten-team league’s season is restricted to the few months of the year when the weather is warm enough to play the game.
Among the teams are Capital United Cricket Club and Christ Church Cathedral Cricket Club.
As the paper saw it, there has been a marked increase in cricketers in the city in recent years, making it “a lot easier to find cricketers in Ottawa now than it was a decade ago.”
Interestingly, the Citizen routinely mentions Barbados in its sports pages but not for cricket. The references usually focus on Eugene Melnyk, the Canadian owner of the Ottawa Senators team in the National Hockey League.
Apart from being on the list of Canada’s 100 wealthiest citizens, he is among its leading race horse owners, lives in Barbados and owns a sports restaurant and bar here.
The Afghans and others who play for Capital Cricket United practise on Tuesdays on a field on Lynda Lane, close to the Ottawa Hospital. The grass there is taller than anything Bajans would find acceptable in Belleplaine, Ellerton or Maple. The cricketers also don’t have a pavilion. But what they lose in amenities, they make up in love of the game.
Another consolation is that the Afghans aren’t dodging bullets or bombs back home. Just as important, when the practice is over they don’t go to refugee camps in India or Pakistan but to affordable and decent housing in the capital.
“When we moved to Ottawa, many of us, including me, we were surprised when we actually saw cricket being so professional and so advanced here,” said an Afghan who lived in a refugee camp in India until 2001.
Shawn Manhas, president of the Ottawa Valley Cricket Council, doesn’t consider the presence of the Afghans so surprising because of the international flavour of the club memberships.
“We have two things going for us,” Manhas told the Citizen. “One is the international students. They’re going to Carleton University. Carleton is the hub for these players.
“They come from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and West Indies. They have a great cricket background. In the summer they love to play cricket.
“Secondly, the (Indian Premier League) and others have created some interest in terms of people who used to play, but stopped playing. They’re coming back and playing some cricket.  . . . I remember when we didn’t have TV coverage. Now I can watch any game.”
Like Afghanistan and the United States, Canada is a member of the International Cricket Council, the world governing body.
Canada has appeared in the Cricket World Cup in 1979 in England, South Africa in 2003 and in 2007 in the West Indies.
Andy Cummins, a former Barbados and West Indies cricketer was in Canada’s team in 2007, competing at the age of 40 years. He became only the second player in cricket history to represent two different countries in World Cup Cricket.
The other was Kepler Wessels, who played for Australia and South Africa.