What’s The Deal With Cricket?
The world’s second-most-popular sport is gaining traction in Brantford.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, March 23, 2023 // Brantford, Ontario Brantford Cricket Club practices. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
Locals have been playing cricket since the mid-1800’s, but the bat-and-ball sport, which involves two teams of 11 players, each competing to score the most runs, never managed to gain mass popularity here.
Now, over a hundred and fifty years later, Paris-resident Rajesh Prasad is working to change that. He’s one of the representatives of several local cricket clubs, working with Brantford Sports Council and local politicians, to introduce more locals to the joy of the sport.
Growing up in the northern region of India, Rajesh began playing cricket at a very young age. “I don't remember when, it was too early!” he says, but many childhood days were spent outdoors with his younger brother and sister, imitating the athletic moves of Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar, two legendary cricket players.
Although immensely popular in India, the sport is actually thought to have originated in Britain as early as the 1500’s (hence the “tea interval” in the longest of matches.) Colonists brought it to other nations with them, and it is now the second-most-popular sport worldwide, following soccer.
Common views during warm-up at winter practice session. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
Rajesh’s team, Panthers Cricket Club, is made up of players from multiple cities, who are so passionate about the sport, that they often travel up to several hours to attend practices and games. Technique, strategy, and athleticism are all part of the appeal of the game, which can last anywhere from a few hours, to several days in the case of a Test match, which is cricket at the highest, international level.
“It's not an easy game,” says Rajesh, who has broken several bones in his years of dedicated and “adventurous” playing. “If you're a batsman, they have different ways of batting well, or hitting the ball well. It's not about smacking, it's about how well you can roll the ball on the ground. And then when you're a bowler, you have different [techniques],” like using the seam or shine of the ball – which remains in play longer than a baseball game, resulting in one side becoming roughened through play, while the other retains shine – to guide the movement of it.
Rajesh and his teammates have played as a part of various leagues – last season in Niagara, and this year in Mississauga – and they are working to build a cricket league closer to home, though while nearby cities like Hamilton, Kitchener, and Woodstock all have proper playing grounds for cricket, Brantford does not.
“Which is surprising, as cricket is not new to Brantford,” says Rajesh, and with at least six present-day local cricket teams, made up of over 340 players between them, Rajesh believes the area is more than capable of supporting its own league – we just need the infrastructure.
The Panthers have played locally at the Waterworks Park, where they even hosted a tournament last year, welcoming 18 teams from nearby cities, bringing hundreds of visitors to Brantford. But some minor adjustments could make the space more optimal for the game.
Bowler v. Batsman. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
The ideal playing ground has a diameter ranging from 150 to 164 yards, with a netted perimeter protecting people and vehicles from rogue balls, similar to in baseball. The pitch itself is a 22-yard length, and should be on a controlled surface, because any inconsistencies affect how the ball plays. In a climate like Brantford’s, AstroTurf makes for an ideal, durable pitch surface. The direction the pitch runs is another important consideration, so the sun doesn’t interfere with players’ vision. Something like a dome is the ideal practice situation for winters.
“If we have something like that,” says Rajesh, “That's when our major vision of making the game viable from the root level starts.”
Ultimately, this vision, the Brant County Cricket League, includes making cricket more accessible to everyone, including young children – through offerings like summer camps – as well as women. While Rajesh grew up playing with his sister, and didn’t hold back, “I used to bowl my good fastballs to her, and she got hit a few times,” he says with a laugh, he recognizes that, “For various reasons, the patriarchy made it normal,” for women in India to stop playing beyond a certain age. “But now it's not normal,” says Rajesh, “And I really like that change happening.”
A variety of vital cricket equipment. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
Rajesh is already hosting another tournament here in May, and sees a lot of potential for continued growth of the sport here. “We are not looking at it as a profit-making enterprise, it's more of a community-building,” he says.
“A couple of years down the line, things are going to be very different. I would want us not to travel to Niagara, not to travel to Mississauga, but bring the sport [here], which we are doing with the tournaments," he says, "These are all small, major steps that we are taking and making people understand that this is very much possible. You have such a need here. Demand is extremely high. We need to have a bit of supply addressed.”
Rajesh is affable, charismatic, and quick to share credit – naming his parents, core members of the club – Sandeep, Vishnu, Sudeep, Vishak, Sachin, Puru, Benoy – as well as “all members in various capacities,” and their sponsor Arun Morris. And like the panther for which his team is named, an animal Rajesh says, “Is subtle, but has a lot of force in venturing into anything that it does,” it’s clear that if anyone can succeed in giving the sport a foothold here, it’s Rajesh.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professionally for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.