A group of 12 young men are preparing for a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to represent the Greater Toronto Area in the 2017 Cricket Across the Pond matches in Trinidad and Tobago.

July’s 10th annual Cricket Across the Pond, all-expenses-paid tournament will allow them to learn the local culture and meet some of the world’s cricket stars.

All-rounder Hasan Khan, 20 – whose involvement in helping to umpire and organize other league teams and tournaments all over the GTA is part of the reason he was chosen for the team – hopes the opportunity will lead to a professional cricket career.

“I am honoured, you know. Going from Canada to the West Indies, where cricket is played internationally, it means a lot to me,” Mr. Khan said.

18-year-old all-rounder Saif Rizwan says he’s looking forward to his first game in Trinidad. “I couldn’t believe it first,” he said. “When I told my dad, he was like, ‘Is this a prank or something?’ And everyone, my cousins and my friends in high school, are all very excited,” he said.

At 15, bowling all-rounder Adrian Hackett is the youngest to make the 2017 team. “I am from the Caribbean and I have never been able to travel to the Caribbean to play cricket. So it’s a nice opportunity to go,” he said.

While Mr. Khan, Mr. Rizwan and Adrian are from Mississauga, the other nine players on the team – Jagrit Dewan, Jediah Navaratne, Nabil Farooqui, Nikhil Patel, Moazam Qureshi, Abdullah Khokhar, Matthew Seepersaud, Mamik Luthra and Wasiq Zia – represent Whitby, Milton, Markham, Brampton and Toronto.

While their skill in cricket helped them make the team, community involvement was another large part of the selection process.

The players all have helped organize cricket in their schools and communities and have done volunteer work with national and local charities or at mosques and long-term care facilities in their regions.

“Our criteria for the selection of the team is not only the best cricket players but also all of the community and school work they have demonstrated through their application process,” team manager and co-ordinator Vinod Sharma said.

Mr. Sharma, who has been involved with Cricket Across the Pond for nine years, says the program strives to develop the young team members, not just into stronger cricketers, but also into future leaders.

“Our objective is for them to represent Toronto and Canada as ambassadors,” he said. “They will go and play cricket on some of the best pitches in the world and learn from other coaches. But we have expectations from them as well for when they get back to [continue to] give back to the community.”

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them,” Mr. Sharma said.

This year’s coach is Toronto District School Board teacher Tim Stone. After helping to organize and run cricket programs for dozens of schools for more than 12 years, it’s his first time travelling with the Cricket Across the Pond team.

“When you run cricket tournaments, it’s a lot of early mornings, long days, dirt underneath the fingernails and stressing about the weather,” he said. “To go to a place like Trinidad, which is a pretty special place in the cricket world, it was actually on my list of things I wanted to do,” he said.

“I think for them, personally, it could be a life-changing experience,” Mr. Stone said.

“When we come back [the boys] will be standing a little taller,” Mr. Stone said.

The team arrives in Trinidad and Tobago on July 4. Before returning on July 11, the group has several cricket matches scheduled, including a game against the team for Canada’s high commissioner in Port of Spain – the country’s capital – on July 10 as part of Canada 150 celebrations. There will also be a reception, sightseeing and opportunities to meet locals to learn about the country’s culture. They will also meet international cricket star Brian Lara.

In the past 10 years, Cricket Across the Pond has allowed about 125 young players from the GTA to travel to and play in countries such as England, Sri Lanka and now Trinidad and Tobago.

Article by: KENNY SHARPE
The Globe and Mail

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