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The beginner's guide to the greatest pastimes: Cricket

How to get started in Canada’s fastest-growing sport.

How to get started in Canada’s fastest-growing sport

Hamza Tariq of Canadian during the 2015 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier between Canada and Kenya on July 10th. (Credit: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Cricket is the second most popular spectator sport in the world and the fastest growing sport in Canada. Faraz Saleem, president of the Brampton Cricket League, told us that new infrastructure in Ontario cannot keep up with the booming demand. What's cricket's appeal? For Saleem, it's the diversity of activities involved: bowling, batting, running, and teamwork. It's an active game that, with teams of 11 players each, builds community. Here's more on how and why to get into Canada's first ever national sport. 

History

Cricket is a bat and ball game, like baseball, but is much older. The sport originated in England in the 16th century. It began as a children's game, but adults soon got involved. The first historical mention we have of adult play is in 1611 when two men were brought to court for skipping church and spending their Sunday playing "creckett" instead. The game gradually grew in popularity, getting a particular boost from its association with gambling. Rich patrons would set up high-stakes games against their rivals and started recruiting professionals to play on their team to improve their odds.

Cricket spread around the world along with British imperial rule, and became a major sport in former colonies such as Australia, New Zealand, India, and Pakistan. Canada is somewhat exceptional in the commonwealth in the sense of having cricket only as a minor sport. This is not to say that Canadian cricket doesn't have a long history. It's been played in Montreal from at least the 1780's and the British Columbia Mainland Cricket League (founded 1914) is now the second-largest league in North American. The first international cricket match was played between the US and Canada in 1844, after which John A. MacDonald declared cricket to be Canada's first official sport. The fixture is called the Auty Cup, and the last competition in 2017 was won by Canada.

Long a niche sport, Canadian cricket is booming. Saleem believes this growth is due to the greater availability of cricket both in person and in the media. Live professional cricket has arrived in Canada, and the internet has given access to the international matches to fans in this country. In 2019, Brampton, ON hosted to the international T20 tournament. Cities all over the country are also building more cricket grounds, which give greater opportunity for play.

Muhammad Naveed of the Toronto Nationals bowls during the Nationals' Global T20 match against the Vancouver Knights on June 28, 2018. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

What you need to know to get started

The most important thing you have to know to play cricket, said Saleem, is other people who play cricket. Teams have 11 players each, so 22 people are required for a full game. Also, like most sports, cricket is a practical activity that is best learned from others. Saleem recommended calling around local clubs first to inquire when is the best time for beginners to come. Not all cricket clubs have training programs for new players and some welcome beginners on specific days. For younger players there are also cricket academies and school teams that can offer a welcoming cricket community.

Saleem advised that other players at the club can teach you everything you need to know, but that it is still worth learning the differences between the main variations of cricket that are played:

First-class cricket: The highest level of cricket. First-class matches take three to five days (or longer) to play and teams have two innings each. "Test matches" are played between national teams that have been granted "test status". There are currently only twelve teams with test status.

Limited overs cricket: Each team gets one inning, and is allowed a maximum number of overs (six consecutive legal pitches) per inning. Usually this is played with 40-60 overs per team and games last one day.

Twenty20 cricket: This is a popular a faster-paced form of limited overs cricket. It was devised in England in 2003 and can be played in less than four hours. It has rapidly become one of the most popular forms of cricket. The 2019 global T20 tournament was held in Brampton, ON.

There are plenty of online explainers of the game. Here is one that provides clear and relatively comprehensive videos explaining the rules and skills of cricket, as well as some fun games and drills. All that said, Saleem told us that while the rules may be complicated to read, an experienced player can explain everything you need to know in 15 minutes.

What you need to have to get started

For batting you need: pads, gloves, helmet, and a bat. For beginners, Saleem recommends borrowing equipment. This is especially true of bats which often cost $200-$300 and can cost as much as $800 for a professional one. A UBC forestry professor is working on a cricket bat design — the "Algobat" — that would offer professional-level quality for a price any aspiring player can afford. 

For bowling and fielding all you need is a comfortable pair of running shoes. Saleem said you don't actually need the white sweater which is worn only for test matches between the top national teams.

What you need to do?

Look up a local cricket club and ask when you can come by or ask your friends if they play. Once you get started, also look for opportunities to practice your skills. You don't need twenty-two people to practice batting and bowling. Saleem told us you can have a pretty good little game with just a couple of people and an open space. During winter, indoor practice grounds exist, as do cricket cages which work similarly to baseball batting cages.

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Top tips

These are Saleem's top tips for beginning cricketers.

  • Watch the ball: When you're batting, watch the ball from the moment it leaves the bowler's hand to the second it hits your bat.
  • Bowling: Keep your head steady and eyes on the stumps or the batter.
  • Fielding: Stay alert and assume that every ball is coming to you.  
  • Rest: Make sure you're well-rested before the game. Especially if you're a newbie. Games are long and can be gruelling.
  • Be present: Pay attention and be a team player.
  • Watch more cricket: You learn a lot by watching and listening to commentary.

Clifton Mark writes about philosophy, psychology, politics, and other life-related topics. Find him @Clifton_Mark on Twitter.

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