Cool innings: The revival of cricket in N.L.

Our cricket correspondent Liam Herringshaw gives us his personal look back on the summer revival of cricket in this province, plus some schooling on our history with it AND current scores from the winter league

The year, 2007. The scene, a taxi leaving St. John’s airport, heading downtown. Inside, a newly arrived British ex-pat asks the taxi driver for information on the provincial health of his most-beloved sport.

“Is there any cricket in St. John’s?” he enquires.

The taxi driver contemplates this for a moment, then, to the surprise of his passenger, responds with, “The closest thing to cricket in St. John’s is the cockroach.” He then chuckles to himself for a number of seconds.

Cricket is not ‘that sport on horses’. That’s polo. Neither is it ‘that sport with hoops and mallets’. That’s croquet.

The ex-pat wasn’t me, but I’ve had some similarly interesting experiences over the last year as I and a group of like-minded souls have tried to revive the world’s most popular bat-and-ball game here in the province.

I cause enough confusion when I tell people I’m a palaeontologist, and adding ‘cricketer’ to the mix is a recipe for total bafflement. So let’s clear a few common misconceptions up.

Cricket is not ‘that sport on horses’. That’s polo. Neither is it ‘that sport with hoops and mallets’. That’s croquet. I don’t know anyone who plays either, and you’re unlikely to meet an Englishman who does, whatever Hollywood might have you believe.

No, cricket is the quintessential summer sport, involving two teams of eleven players, each bedecked in cream-coloured attire, who wish to throw small, hard, red leather balls extremely fast at their opponents, who, in turn, want to smack those balls to kingdom come. And if all that sounds a bit too energetic for a hot summer’s afternoon, don’t worry, as most players spend much of their time standing in the field, or sitting on the edge of it, watching other people throw or hit the ball, at the culmination of which, they all retire to the pub.

A perfect fit for this place, again

With pub-retiring already a popular local pastime, we decided last summer to try adding the first part and reintroduce cricket to Newfoundland. When I say reintroduce, I refer to the fact that it was once a well-loved feature of the provincial sports scene. A well-played one too: three Newfoundlanders became first-class cricketers, and the finest — J. S. Munn — once dismissed two of England’s star batsmen in the same game. Cricket died out here in the early decades of the 20th century though, and, despite a few attempts to bring it back to life, it has remained in a comatose state ever since.

Three Newfoundlanders became first-class cricketers, and the finest — J. S. Munn — once dismissed two of England’s star batsmen in the same game.

However, elsewhere in the Commonwealth, cricket has flourished. There are now hundreds of millions of fans in India alone, and the cricket World Cup — taking place in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as I type — is the third most-watched sporting event globally, after the soccer World Cup and the summer Olympic Games. Big audiences translate into big money, and the top-paid cricketers can earn millions of dollars a year in salaries and endorsements.

That isn’t true if you’re one of the 40,000 Canadian players, but cricket was this country’s first national sport, and is apparently its fastest-growing, so that could change. Indeed, prior to 2010, Newfoundland and Labrador was the only province without its own cricket association. Which is where we came in.

How the revival began

It began with a website, which stirred up a bit of interest, but the (cricket) ball didn’t really get rolling ’til I wandered into Kelly’s Brook Park on the first sunny Sunday in June. I suddenly found myself in the midst of two student teams playing the first ‘India v. Bangladesh’ game of the season. OK, the venue was a basketball court rather than a grassy wicket, and the cricket ball was actually a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape, but it was a great start.

The momentum has built dramatically since then, and we now have almost 100 registered players and a government-incorporated organization, the Cricket Association of Newfoundland & Labrador. As the word has spread, I’ve found myself playing cricket in campsites in the Burin Peninsula, searching for cricket-themed music on Duckworth Street, and even unearthing a long-lost cricket ground in Twillingate.

The culmination of our summer came at the end of August, when a team (including four Newfoundlanders) represented the province at the Maritimes Twenty20 tournament in Fredericton, NB. Though we lost all three games, it was a great experience and we picked up Cricket NL’s first-ever trophy, as Rakesh Negi (pictured) was awarded man-of-the-match for his all-round performance against New Brunswick.

Current winter happenings & scores

With weather conditions currently less than optimal for outdoor cricket, however, attention has turned indoors towards the 2011 Cricket NL Winter League. Eight teams entered this brand-new tournament, bringing together players from Canada, India, Bangladesh, England and Pakistan in two groups of four teams, with matches being played in the ‘old gym’ (PE-2000) at Memorial University in St. John’s.

“Both teams had their moments,” said winning captain Rakesh Negi. “It was intense!”

The semi-finals saw the Pakistan Students Association take on the NL Stormers, and the St. John’s Barracudas challenge the Indian Warriors. Victories for the Stormers and the Warriors took them to the final, played on Monday night, Feb. 28. The Warriors chose to bat first, but were soon in trouble thanks to excellent bowling from Kaivallya and Chitran of the Stormers. It took a swashbuckling partnership from Gurman and Abbas to get things going and enable the Warriors to score 78.

Chasing 79 runs to win, the Stormers began well thanks to some fine batting from Rajendar, but when he was well-caught by Gurman off the bowling of Rakesh, the pressure mounted and wickets began to fall. In the end, the Stormers were all out for 45 runs, giving Warriors the inaugural title. “Both teams had their moments,” said winning captain Rakesh Negi. “It was intense!”

It’s still early days, but the cricketing revival has begun.

For much of its history, Newfoundland swapped salted codfish for Jamaican rum. And if the residents of that fine island managed to enter a bobsleigh team in the winter Olympics, the occupants of this one can cobble together a cricket team. Cool Runnings has been and gone. It’s time for Cool Innings.

Liam Herringshaw is a founding member of the Cricket Association of Newfoundland & Labrador and writes about the sport for ESPN Cricinfo.

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