Sports: Pitch perfect: Cricket N.L. wants local players to help restore the province's connection to the game

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If you closed your eyes and just listened to the crack of the bat and the cheers from the field, it could have been senior baseball at St. Pat's ballpark or softball at Bannerman Park.

But this was cricket. An old sport that's new again — and looking to grow in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"It's the game that we picked up but it belongs to Newfoundland. Cricket is a part of Newfoundland," said Rubin Deol, president of Cricket N.L., in a recent interview.

The volunteer organization he heads was founded in 2010 but according to Deol the history of the sport in this province goes back to the 1820s, when the St. John's Cricket Club was established.

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He said the sport expanded to Harbour Grace, Twillingate and Trinity, with the heyday of the game running from about 1880 to 1910. The sport then began to decline before the First World War, when soccer and baseball began to grow in popularity.

However, on a windy but sunny Saturday in the summer of 2022, at an old provincial training field in Torbay, a new group of cricketers proves its revival is very real; Cricket N.L. boasts a membership of about 250 people.

"It brings them home," said Deol. "It gives a sense of community to all the young people who come here … from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Africa — we have representation from almost every part of the world here on the cricket field."

Tendai Mundunge of Zimbabwe arrived in St. John's in 2014 to go to school.

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It was a chance encounter while out on a walk that got him involved again in the sport he grew up playing.

"I saw people playing cricket in a park with a tennis ball," he said.

"For five years I thought there was no cricket here but after I saw them playing in the parking lot, that's how I got involved and started playing with the clubs."

Don't know how to play cricket? Here's a brief rundown of the rules:

Each teams has 11 players.

Teams take turns batting and bowling/fielding.

The goal is to hit the ball and run to the wicket, which counts as one run.

- Hitting a ball to the boundary line is four runs.

- Hitting it over the boundary is six runs.

A batter is out when:

- the bowler hits the wicket behind them.

- the ball is caught after it's hit.

- the ball hits the batter's leg in front of the wicket

- the ball hits the wicket before the batter touches it.

The fielding team needs to get 10 batters out before changing over.

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The aim of the game is to score as many runs as possible before the fielding team takes 10 wickets.

His home is a long way from the cricket pitch in Torbay but playing the game takes him back.

"It actually gives you a sense of belonging because we all come here as immigrants and we get to start careers," Mudunge said.

"But you need that balance between work and outside work, so cricket is part of us enjoying the experience of Newfoundland."

Cricket N.L. president Rubin Deol says the sport has grown a lot in the past few years. © Jeremy Eaton/CBC Cricket N.L. president Rubin Deol says the sport has grown a lot in the past few years.

The only thing that dampens the cheers of the players and fans are the airplanes flying overhead as they land at the nearby St. John's International Airport.

Regardless of where they players are from, on the pitch the only thing that matters is cricket.

Looking for locals

Newfoundland's winters can hard on those who come from warmer climates, so when the snow goes it hasn't been hard to attract those familiar with the game to come out to Flyer's Field in Torbay for the Saturday matches.

"Even before coming here to Newfoundland, when they are filling out the forms for Memorial University or College of the North Atlantic, they message us on Facebook: 'Can I play cricket here?'" said Deol.

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But it's a lack of local players Cricket N.L. is looking to rectify. Deol encourages anyone with an interest in the sport to come out and play.

"It's very easy. It's not very difficult," he said

"It's just like baseball. You see the ball, you hit the ball — that's the philosophy."

Deol knows that games tend to last between three and four hours but they are trying to come up with a shortened version of the game for newbies.

A Team Newfoundland and Labrador player watches from the sidelines. © Jeremy Eaton/CBC A Team Newfoundland and Labrador player watches from the sidelines.

While getting more local batters and bowlers is a goal, the priority for Cricket Canada is growing the women's game.

Right now Cricket N.L. has one women's team.

"We want more women to come out and participate," he said.

Recent Holy Heart high school gradate Diya Trivedi is one who already is.

With her father and grandfather former cricket players, she got involved in the sport with a juniors program when she was around 10 years old — and she loves it.

"Just the adrenaline rush when you get to play," she said. "It's a fun sport."

Trivedi has travelled to Toronto and Calgary to play at the national level but she'd like to see a team from Newfoundland and Labrador hit the road for more exposure to different places.

"As more girls start to play we can form a team to travel."

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Diya Trivedi is a member of the province's lone women's cricket team. © Jeremy Eaton/CBC Diya Trivedi is a member of the province's lone women's cricket team.

Cricket N.L. has seven men's clubs and one women's. all sporting spiffy uniforms with financial help provided by local sponsorships.

But you can't buy a lot of cricket gear locally, so it's ordered in, and the field costs money to rent and maintain. The total cost is about $7,000 a season, a lot of money for a group of players who are mainly students.

Deol said the group wants to get the word out that they need more help to upgrade the field at Wishingwell and add a second playing field.

"We would like to have somebody come and work for us and help us improve the infrastructure for cricket here," he said.

The hope being, if you build it, they will come.

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