Nfld. & Labrador

How cricket in N.L. has brought people together and grown over the last decade

In 10 years, cricket in St. John’s has gone from a thrown-together match to a thriving year-round community keeping players in the province.

League 10 years and 250 members strong

Rahul Vashishtha, president of Cricket NL, says the local cricket community is a big part of the reason he stayed in St. John's after graduating from Memorial University. (Submitted by Cricket NL)

In 10 years, cricket in St. John's has gone from a thrown-together match to a thriving year-round community keeping players in the province. 

The sport was once the most popular in Newfoundland and Labrador, but that was nearly 200 years ago. Cricket had been all but forgotten in St. John's when two international students met at Memorial University.

They started playing pickup games around campus. They didn't have the proper equipment, or a pitch, but they'd take a tennis ball and find a spot around student residences or nearby, at Kelly's Brook Park. 

Eventually, they decided to make it more of an international showdown. 

"My friend Shaifan approached me with an idea that, you know, it would be great if we could have an India-Bangladesh match and I said, 'Yeah, that would be,'" said Rakesh Negi, one of the founding players. 

Rakesh Negi is the player facing the camera during this cricket match. (Submitted by Cricket NL)

He gathered his friends from India, Shaifan found teammates from Bangladesh, and that started a regular Sunday square-off. 

Negi said they didn't think about making their weekly match official, and organizing an association, until a student from England saw their scrimmage. 

It was 2010, and Negi said that student wanted to see if they could get enough people together to represent the province at the Atlantic cricket championships being held in New Brunswick.

They needed 11 to make a team, but only four players were able to fly out. The rest of the squad was outfitted by players from other provinces and a few unlikely rookies. 

"We met five or six Newfoundlanders who were studying in Fredericton who used to play baseball and softball so we were chatting with them and it's funny they said, you know, they would love to represent Newfoundland," said Negi. 

"We kind of showed them how to play cricket and next thing they were on the team."

'People don't live here for the weather'

Understandably, they lost every game that first year. But they've held tryouts, fielded a full team and have come second or third in the tournament — renamed the Eastern Canada T20 championships to include Quebec — ever since. 

Two of those four original Team Newfoundland and Labrador players, including Negi, still live in the province. 

Negi says the game, the league and the cricket community are a big part of the reason he stayed after graduating from Memorial. 

Current Cricket NL president Rahul Vashishtha said it's the same for him. 

"People don't live here for the weather," he joked. "There are plenty of other good things, but cricket is one of them."

Newfoundland and Labrador's 2019 cricket team poses for a team picture prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of its members came to the province as international students. (Submitted by Cricket NL)

He came to MUN after the association and provincial team were already established — a selling point, he said, for him and many others.

"Cricket is like ice hockey to me," he said. "I have played cricket all my life. So the first thing which I looked at while I was moving here is … if there is cricket in the province or not." 

Credit MUN with cricket's growth

Ten years in, Vashishtha says about 250 people play under Cricket NL. 

They organize fall and winter seasons indoors and run a six-team league outside in the summer. 

This year's winter league was cut short and the summer season is delayed due to COVID-19, but Vashishtha said players are eager to start practising again once restrictions lift. 

An official cricket pitch was built in St. John's in 2017 so the province could host the Eastern Canada T20 championships that year.

"I would say that's the best field in Atlantic Canada," Vashishtha said. 

He and one other player from the province have been invited to Team Canada tryouts in past years, he said. 

The association hopes more national contenders will be developed through its pro program in the future — a goal set in motion by two strangers meeting at Memorial a decade ago.

"If it wasn't for MUN, I don't think we would have Cricket Newfoundland right now," Negi said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Katie Breen

Reporter

Katie Breen works for CBC in St. John's.

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