Published in Cricinfo on Feb 20, 2011
Russell Peters is a funny guy. So funny that these days his stand-up shtick sells out 15,000-seat arenas. In one of his classic rants, the Canadian jokester with Indian roots explains his beef against soccer: “I hate it because they have this thing called the World Cup. But the two countries I represent – Canada and India – are never in it.”
Russell, you had better be giddy right now. You are so covered in this one, brother!
But I’m beginning to think that other than Peters and me, no one else in Canada is going to partake in this giddiness. Pretty much everyone I know in Toronto is utterly oblivious to the fact that Canada will be duking it out this February and March in the cricket World Cup. Eyeballs-wise the most watched sporting tournament in the world, barring the FIFA one that Peters hates.
Shouldn’t the fact that this is the fourth time Canada have qualified for the World Cup (out of 10) warrant a wee bit of acknowledgement from my fellow Canadians? Surely I am not being unreasonable here? Do I really need to resort to the lame trick of grabbing their attention by revealing that Canadian Bryan Adams (groan) performed at the opening ceremony in Dhaka?
Oh yes, we are very capable of solemnly discussing a glaring glitch in the buttock-sliding technique of some pothead luger from Winnipeg in the Winter Olympics, of vigorously debating the hurdling style of that steeple-chasing cocktail waitress from Vancouver in the summer Olympics. Why not our cricket team at the World Cup? The Olympics are a scam, people! An exercise in faux patriotism every four years, when you guilt yourself into fretting over how Sierra Leone is ahead of Canada in the medals tally by winning at some weird sport no sane person would indulge in in their lives. I am stumped about what it is going to take to get people around me even a tiny bit interested in the Canadian team at the World Cup, playing a sport that millions of normal people (including Canadians) play round the year.
Toronto is a city teeming with cricket and cricketers. More cricketers than there have been lugers and steeple-chasers combined in history. For we have the biggest and best-organised cricket leagues in North America. Just the Toronto and District Association (est. 1920) with its four divisions has more than a thousand active club cricketers, and this is only one of many leagues in town. Lush cricket grounds dot the city and I have played on at least 20 of them myself. Some of them have top-quality turf wickets, mainly in clubs that have been around for more than a century now.
This is a city steeped in cricket history, signs of which are everywhere. The Hospital for Sick Children is a world-renowned paediatric care hospital, but I know it for its founder John Ross Robertson, whose name adorns one of the oldest sporting trophies in Canada – the Canadian Cricket Championship. Prestigious Upper Canada College, a hoity-toity school, has a 150-year-old association with the Toronto Cricket Club (est. 1827) and fields a cricket team even now. I am surrounded by graduates of the University of Toronto, all of them ignorant that their alma mater has a rich history of the game. Their Varsity Blues cricket team was the pride of the university even in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Canadians’ utter ignorance about their cricketing history is perplexing. All my mates would score a duck on the old trivia question about the oldest international sporting rivalry in history: the Canada v USA cricket match first played in New York in 1844. Two countries which until the late the 19th century ranked behind only England and Australia in cricket development. Even as of the 1930s (when Don Bradman’s team toured Canada, thumped all opponents, and flew to New York at Babe Ruth’s personal invitation), the amount of cricket coverage in the Globe and Mail – our respected national newspaper – was neck and neck with that of its cousin baseball. Yes, the sport died in both countries for all sorts of reasons. (No, Sherlock, it was not the weather. The Toronto cricket season is longer, warmer and less wet than that of England.) The deaths have been subjects of innumerable academic studies, including at Harvard, especially in the field of sociology: “cross-cultural diffusion” they call it. Look it up.
Speaking of the United States, there is another reason why Canadians should be perking up. Now, many Canadians are a tad obsessed with the US of A. Exasperatingly so, sometimes. Maybe it is just an elephant-and-mouse thing? Whatever it is, we do love to get digs in at our neighbours whenever possible – like saying no to George Bush over Iraq or by packing Celine Dion off to Las Vegas. Shouldn’t we be taunting our American cousins about the cricket World Cup: “Na na na na… naa naa… we qualified, you didn’t”? Shouldn’t we be getting our knocks in now before the next football World Cup? Don’t we know that Canada will be coming up donuts then?
I live in the heart of Toronto, but our suburbs will fare better. There is Mississauga, which is half Indian and Pakistani and half Chinese. One half are lining up to buy cracked satellite TV motherboards in strip malls and the other half will waltz through the World Cup, clueless about Javed Miandad’s mission to make China a cricketing superpower. Scarborough is where Sri Lankans and Tamils have been living peacefully, but that peace is under threat, now that Murali is retiring. Then you have Brampton – 100% Punjabi for all purposes (they even have an MP who looks like Preity Zinta). We also have a massive Caribbean population, but they will lie low given the state their cricket team is in – though they will surface in hordes at barbecues, swigging Red Stripe, if Chris Gayle wakes up.
I have no clue where the English, Aussie, Kiwi and South African supporters hide. My guess is they all live in the vicinity of the Toronto Cricket, Skating & Curling Club. Remember that? Yes, the Sahara Cup. That was where Inzi went ape and tried to bludgeon the moron with the megaphone into potato mash. That made the front pages and it was one time when even the office security guard seemed cricket savvy. But then, he was Pakistani. Till 2010 we had a mayor who was a rugby nut and quite knowledgeable about cricket, but he is gone, and in his place we have a boof who digs tractor pulls and monster truck rallies. Bad times.
As for the rest of the world, remember: Bryan Adams is not the marquee Canadian at this World Cup. It is not the veteran enforcer John Davison (a failed wannabe Owen Hargreaves of cricket) either. It is captain Ashish Bagai and the youngest-ever squad to represent Canada in cricket.
Me? I skipped Adams and the opening ceremony and will tune in today, when Canada take on the 1996 world champions Sri Lanka in Hambantota. And have my eyes glued on Balaji Rao, the rotund Canadian spinning ace.
Just you wait, Sangakkara!