Ajit Parab is just one of a growing number of people in Ajax who want to play cricket close to home. But right now, he and his friends are frustrated because they have very few places to play.
That's because the one facility that's suitable is booked solid under an agreement that's been in place for 40 years between the town and the Ajax Cricket Club. The cricket pitch at 615 Monarch Ave. was built by the club in 1980, and under the deal it gets priority use of the facility, provided club members look after the pitch and clubhouse.
"All the slots are booked, the town says there are no slots available," a frustrated Parab told CBC News.
But all that is about to change, according to the town. The deal with the club ends this year and Ajax will spend $895,000, combined with $2.4 million from the federal and provincial governments, to upgrade and renovate the cricket facility.
The Cricket Council of Ontario says the sport is growing in popularity in Ajax, and indeed in much of the GTA, as Canadians from diverse backgrounds continue to promote and play it. But Parab says he and his friends haven't been able to get a permit from the town to play on the pitch in four years.
"We'd like to play, but we unfortunately have to play on [baseball] diamonds or travel to other cities like Scarborough or even Brampton," he said.
Parab says it's unsafe to play in a park or a diamond that's not a designated cricket pitch because the ball could strike a passerby.
Parab wants equal access to pitch for all residents
"It's very frustrating," he said. "I just want to make sure people in Ajax have some facility to play cricket."
Parab is hopeful that the Ajax Cricket Club will no longer get priority access now that all three levels of government are pouring a combined $3.1 million into renovating and upgrading the pitch and clubhouse, as well as the Ajax Community Centre's basketball court.
He says all that taxpayer money should persuade the town to grant residents equal access.
Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier says that's exactly what the town intends to do now that the deal with the Ajax Cricket Club is ending.
"It will no longer just be the cricket club," Collier told the CBC. "It will be a number of others now that we've basically taken over ownership of the area again."
Collier says he will have a better idea of what the project will look like in September. That's when the town is expected to have a detailed design for the proposed upgrades. The renovations are expected to include a redone parking lot and new lighting, but other issues like mould in the clubhouse building, need to be addressed.
"Depending on what comes back, the [clubhouse] may be demolished and built from the ground up or heavily renovated," Collier said. Construction on the Monarch Avenue facility is expected to begin in 2022, the mayor added.
"I expect this to be a very extensive upgrade to the facility," he said.
More cricket pitches could be coming, mayor says
Collier says the growth of cricket in Ajax means the town is "absolutely" looking at more potential pitches in the future.
Sheik Hoosain, the Ajax Cricket Club captain, is excited his sport is growing in popularity. The club currently has five cricket teams and 70 to 100 members.
The club's teams practise every week day, while league matches are held on the grounds on weekends. The teams play league matches with the Scarborough Cricket Association.
"Since we took ownership of the ground ... all of that [maintenance] was done by members and families," he said. But with the end of the agreement and upcoming renovation, the town will be taking over responsibility for the facility.
Shiv Persaud, the president of the Scarborough Cricket Association, lauds the membership of the Ajax Cricket Club for putting their own time and money into the pitch, calling it "very untypical."
Persaud says it's a sign that Ajax, and the Greater Toronto Area, need more cricket pitches.
"They've dedicated a lot of time and effort and personal resources to get it to where it is today," he added.
"Hats off to them for their hard work and effort that they put into it."