Northern uproar

How Newfoundland and Labrador is shaking up the national cricket scene

We are the best in the world! We are the best in the world! We have beaten Quebec in cricket by 8 wickets! It is completely unbelievable!

We have beaten Quebec, Quebec, birthplace of Canadian cricket! Sir Wilfrid Laurier! Pierre Trudeau! Jean Chrétien! Brian Mulroney! Lord Conrad Black! Georges St-Pierre! Celine Dion! We have beaten them all! We have beaten them all!

Pauline Marois, can you hear me? Pauline Marois, I have a message for you at the end of your election campaign: we have knocked Quebec out of the Atlantic Twenty20 Cup! Pauline Marois, as they say in your language in the hockey bars around the Montreal Forum, vos garçons ont un enfer d’un battement! Vos garçons ont un enfer d’un battement!

I apologize to the late, great Bjørge Lillelien, but exceptional times call for exceptional plagiarism. I’m sure the sports fans of Norway would understand.

You see, Quebec’s population is almost eight million people, whilst Newfoundland and Labrador’s is one-sixteenth of that. Quebec has been a member of Cricket Canada for well over a century; Newfoundland for less than one year. Cricket Quebec has more than 30 clubs; Cricket NL has one club, and half a pitch.

Even after an excellent showing in last year’s competition, Cricket NL went to the 2012 Atlantic Twenty20 Cup in PEI as serious outsiders. Quebec were the reigning champions, Nova Scotia their expected challengers. Chances of beating either were slim.

It transpired, however, that the Newfoundland team hadn’t been listening to this malnourished betting talk. After comprehensive defeats of the hosts and New Brunswick in their opening matches, they took on Quebec with a manic hunger, and Quebec didn’t know what hit them.

Cricket NL dismiss a PEI batsman in their opening victory

Cricket NL not only won, but they meted out a thrashing. Quebec were bowled out for just 91 runs, and Newfoundland knocked off the target for the loss of only two wickets. Spin king Ashwin Gupta took the wickets (4 for 15), captain Rakesh Negi scored the runs (47 not out), and the cup-holders were dethroned.

It was the Oilers beating the Red Wings, James ‘Buster’ Douglas beating Mike Tyson. It was underdogs becoming top dogs. Suddenly, Cricket NL was on the verge of an extraordinary tournament victory.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising, though. 2012 has been a far-from-ordinary year for cricket on The Rock. Just two years since its resurrection, the sport has gone from strength to strength. The last twelve months have seen the association acquire a major sponsorship deal, become full members of Cricket Canada, get their own provincial uniform, see a player selected to play in the new National Cricket League, and appoint a new president who is also a qualified coach.

That man is Senthil Selvamani, and even he is amazed by the progress Cricket NL has made.

“It’s been a great year,” Selvamani tells me, “and it’s not only exciting for us, but good for the development of cricket in the province. The sponsorship enabled us to support the players taking part in the Atlantic T-20, but membership of Cricket Canada will allow us to take the sport into local schools.”

This will follow the approach New Brunswick has used successfully. Selvamani also hopes to set up a recreational league to get new people playing, whether school kids, curious adults, or rusty cricketers looking for a way back into the game.

The association is trying to break down local perceptions.

“People seem to think ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of immigrants playing cricket, and half of them are students!’,” laughs Selvamani. “We need a key new demographic to convince the City of St John’s to support us.”

“Getting locals playing will be extremely challenging, but it has to be one of our mandates. We need to have junior members, a mission statement, and key data points to take to the authorities.”

Cricket in Newfoundland has a long history, but what about its future?

Perhaps the main challenge is getting a permanent place to play the game. “Our current ground is fine,” Selvamani says, “but it’s used by lots of other sports, and putting the mat on and off each time is time-consuming. The grass can’t be cut to a proper level, either.”

The ground has also just been hit by Tropical Storm Leslie, with the hand-built practice nets taking a battering. Thoughts of hosting the 2013 Atlantic Twenty20 Cup have been put on hold.

As for the 2012 edition, in the end, Selvamani and his NL team-mates couldn’t quite pull off the heist. In a thrilling title decider, chasing down Nova Scotia’s total of 169, they fell 8 runs short, and had to settle for the runners-up spot. It was still an amazing achievement for such a novice team, and when next year’s tournament takes place in Quebec, no-one will be taking Cricket NL lightly.

The Cricket NL team from the 2012 Atlantic Twenty20 Cup. Back row (L to R): Asim Kamran, Kathir Chenthilnathan, Senthil Selvamani, Rakesh Negi (capt), Ashwin Gupta, Saad Jahangir, Shaifan Ahmed, Golam Moula. Front row (L to R): Gurman Khurana, Nick Baxter, Abbas Haider, Alex Dias (wkt). Supporter: Nikunj Saxena.

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