Monday, January 15, 2018

Putting the Spotlight on Cricket

By Harjan Padda, 22 May, 2017
  • Putting the Spotlight on Cricket

The engagement of the sport has been growing as more and more people are playing this “gentleman’s game.”

Being a popular game especially among Indians, the interest in cricket has been increasing in British Columbia. The engagement of the sport has been growing as more and more people are playing this “gentleman's game”. 
Cricket has the second largest following in the world. This love for the game has been in BC for over 100 years and has been developing rapidly in recent history. Surrey has become a hotbed for cricket-lovers and while the sport is blooming, there is still work to be done with respect to increasing youth engagement.
A major contributor and promoter of this sport is the British Columbia Mainland Cricket League (BCMCL) which was founded in 1914 and has been operating for over 100 years now. There are many other teams playing across the Lower Mainland including juniors and women’s teams totalling close to a 100. According to Inamul Desai, president of the BCMCL, there are currently over 1,800 active members associated with the organization, with many more players that are not registered with BCMCL but playing in the local communities. 
Games are played all over the Lower Mainland stretching from West Vancouver to Kamloops and Chilliwack to Surrey. Cricket is an immigrant sport with heavy followings in countries like India, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Australia, and South Africa. Due to the large Indian immigrant population in Surrey, a majority of players originate from the city. Desai agrees, “Cricket is growing very rapidly, especially in Surrey. It has grown so much that cities throughout the Lower Mainland are struggling to keep up with the amount of fields made available. There are teams from Surrey who have to go to Chilliwack to play games. This is not a perfect situation but the passion for the game from our players is truly outstanding.”
To many Canadians not familiar with cricket, it can be a confusing game to learn. The Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket has undergone a huge growth trend over just the past few years. The total value of the IPL grew by 19 per cent from 2015 to 2016 at a value of $4.2 billion (US). IPL also had the largest growth in online engagement with Twitter specifically experiencing the highest growth of any major sports league with a 300 per cent jump.
A new development in the sport of cricket has been the introduction of T-20 games. These games have one inning with a maximum capacity at 20 overs. The duration of these matches are typically two to three hours which makes it a lot easier to watch as compared to first-class matches that span over five days. This new method was created to increase the engagement of casual fans and considering the IPL numbers I shared, it seems to be working. 
This has generated a higher interest on the IPL overseas and that interest has carried over here to Canada as well. “Now with T-20 games taking a maximum of three hours to complete, it is much easier to watch and stay engaged with the game as opposed to matches that span over multiple days. By allowing for more casual fans to enjoy these games, you can create a pathway for larger and larger quantities of fans to become fans of the entire sport,” noted Desai.
Canadian cricketer Jimmy Hansra, who currently plays for the Abbotsford Cricket Club of the BCMCL, has been part of the game for many years and has contributed greatly to its growth in BC. In 2011, he represented Canada in the World Cup. “It was a great experience to be there and compete against the best players in the world,” he shares.  Hansra and I also discussed the intricacies of the game itself as an outsider to the sport. He mentioned that “there is a lot of strategy involved. One needs to have a high level of mental acumen.” When people are watching the game, they may not see much movement from all the players at a frantic pace like in sports such as hockey and basketball. But don’t let that fool you. Everybody on the field is thinking about positioning and reactions and game situations. It is a complex mental game and highlights the importance of having a good head on your shoulders to compete.
Hansra also shared his experiences growing up and playing the sport he loved. From a young age, the talented sportsman was determined to make an impact playing cricket and play at the highest level. “You just have to set your mind to it and you can achieve it,” he asserts.
Coming back to the BCMCL, the next step for the league is to grow the game in the minds of regular people and kids across BC. Desai states that the BCMCL “needs more volunteers who can go to schools and raise awareness of the game there.” There are strides being currently taken already as several schools within the Surrey School District organize and play cricket games against each other. 
Manu Singh is the cricket co-ordinator for schools in Surrey, similarly there are many programs run by various co-ordinators throughout the Lower Mainland. His take on the growth of cricket in BC is that “a lot of younger kids are getting involved in the sport right now. We will see the highest growth among second generation of kids born here from immigrant parents who will pick up the sport.” One obstacle in the way of cricket prospering in BC is the ability for schools to teach the game. Manu explained that “cricket is a niche sport which requires some knowledge about it. So while there are kids who are interested in playing, not many teachers can coach them.”
As cricket expands globally, steadily there will be more people knowledgeable about the sport who can pass this on to the younger generations for it to truly flourish. For those of you who are interested in watching local cricket, this summer the BCMCL is hosting their Big Bash with teams from all over Canada competing in an action-packed tournament in Surrey. Also, cricket-lovers are in for another treat as Telus is bringing the sport closer to you with a new additional service. Existing Telus customers can now watch the entire season of VIVO IPL 2017 in high definition on Optik TV.


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