Global T20 Canada tournament shines rare cricket spotlight on Canada


TORONTO — Cricket Canada has high hopes for the Global T20 Canada tournament.

“I believe this is a beginning of building Canada as a cricket nation,” said Canada Cricket president Ranjit Saini.

The Mercuri Group, an India-based media and talent management company that is the driving force behind the Canadian event, is looking to find a profitable window in the crowded cricket calendar.

The inaugural six-team tournament opens Thursday and runs through July 15 with 96 cricketers drawn from around the globe and across Canada. With broadcast partners only announced Tuesday, it feels like organizers have arrived at the starting line huffing and puffing.

“We’re down the rabbit-hole now,” said tournament director Jason Harper.

“For us there’s a market,” he added. “There’s interest by the international cricket community, there’s interest by the players and there’s interest by the fans here. Why not? It’s a fact-finding mission. We’ll see how it goes. It will develop.”

A diplomatic Saini said he was “generally satisfied” by the arrangements to date, saying they would improve in time.

The Toronto Nationals, Montreal Tigers, Winnipeg Hawks, Edmonton Royals and Vancouver Knights join a Cricket West Indies B team at the tournament, which will take place at the Maple Leaf Cricket Club north of Toronto in King City.

West Indies’ Darren Sammy (Toronto), Chris Gayle (Vancouver) and Dwayne Bravo (Winnipeg), Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga (Montreal) and Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi (Edmonton) offer star power as team captains.

Disgraced former Australia captain Steve Smith (Toronto) and vice-captain David Warner (Winnipeg) offer some sizzle as they return to action after a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that earned them one-year bans from Cricket Australia — although they are allowed to play club cricket overseas.

Each of the five domestic teams features four Canadians. The number of Canadians is expected to rise in future years with Mercuri helping with the training and development of local talent.

Canadians who want to watch will have to sign up for CBN, one of Asian Television Network’s 55 channels here, or watch online via Hotstar. There are also broadcast partners in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Middle East, Caribbean, Australia and United Kingdom.

A normal T20 match lasts between three and 3 1/2 hours — “about the same time as a baseball game but there’s a lot more happening during the T20 game,” Harper notes.

“It’s vibrant, it’s loud, it’s colourful, it’s consistent action,” he said. “There could be a six, a four, a wicket at any moment. Because in those 120 balls the batting team is trying to get as many runs as possible and in those 120 balls the bowling team is trying to get as many wickets as possible … That adds an element of theatre to the game — that big finish.”

Tickets start at $30 and go all the way up to $22,124 for an air conditioned box that seats 20. A season pass for one will cost you from $475 to $1,555 depending on what package you pick.

Saini said the Canadian governing body had been looking for this kind of project the last 10 years.

Cricket Canada met with Mercuri officials during the 2011 Cricket World Cup in India with Mercuri coming back to them last year. A November meeting in New York produced a memorandum of understanding that turned into a 25-year licensing agreement.

Cricket Canada gets a lump payment each year in addition to Mercuri’s player development help.

The five Canadian teams each have a salary budget of US$550,000 with individual pay ranging from $100,000 to $3,000 depending on where the player was drafted. Cricket West Indies is taking care of its own squad.

Nikhil Dutta is the highest-drafted Canadian player in the league at $25,000.

Compare those figures to the elite Indian Premier League, whose teams have a $17-million salary cap.

Asked why Mercuri choose Canada, Harper said: “Look at the demographics.

Add to that the popularity of T20, “proven to be tailored for television, the most exciting version of the game,” according to Harper.

“We sat with Cricket Canada and they were confident, they convinced us that we have enough fans here, we have enough people here who we can build a tournament around. Because you can’t start a business without a market.”

Bumping heads with soccer’s World Cup isn’t ideal but Harper said organizers had no choice if they wanted to find a window.

“International cricket and the T20 game has grown so fast. We’re competing with Australia, India, the Caribbean — which is right after us — and all the other leagues around the world … We needed to see where we could fit in. And then in Canada, weather plays a factor.

“This is the only slot we could find ourselves in for Canada. If we had waited, we’d probably have to play in September, October and there’s too much risk there with the elements. We fought to get ourselves into this window, we’ll see if it pays dividends for us.”

Harper, who has soccer experience with CONCACAF, previously was operations manager and CEO of the Barbados Tridents cricket team in the Caribbean Premier League. Married to a Canadian, he moved to Toronto in December 2015 from the Cayman Islands.

The Canadian teams are coached by Jamaica’s Donovan Miller (Vancouver), Trinidad’s Phil Simmons (Toronto), Pakistan’s Waqar Younis (Winnipeg), Australia’s Tom Moody (Montreal) and Pakistan’s Mohammad Akram (Edmonton).

Harper said the King City facility drew some 12,000 people for the 2008 final of a tournament with Canada, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sir Lanka.

“We aren’t going in that direction yet, we’re starting small,” Harper said. “Although this is a blockbuster strategy, this is a blockbuster small movie. We’re starting with 7,000 seats.”

Most will be uncovered bleachers although they hope to expand in years to come with approval from local authorities.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press


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