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The cricket world’s attention will soon focus on the Maple Leaf Cricket Club in King City, north of Toronto.
On June 28, Steve Smith — the fallen former Australian captain of ball-tampering infamy, and still one of the sport’s best — is coming to town.
Oh, and Canada is getting its very own professional cricket league, which kicks off that day.
The 29-year-old Smith was at the peak of his powers, drawing comparisons with the very best cricketers in history, when his career came to a screeching halt in March of this year, after it emerged that he knew about and sanctioned the tampering of the ball in a Test match against South Africa. Smith, Australian vice-captain David Warner and up-and-comer Cameron Bancroft have all been banned from playing for the national side for various lengths of time.
The infraction itself is relatively minor, but the captain’s role is held to such a high standard that the axe fell particularly hard on Smith. A tearful press conference from the Sydney airport after arriving back from South Africa on March 29 was beamed around the planet, and the cricket world wondered if and when he would play again. Now we know.
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Smith will play for Toronto’s team, and his participation in the league is intriguing.
He certainly doesn’t need the money — in fact, Smith has announced that he’ll be donating his fees to grassroots cricket initiatives in Australia and Canada. He will face decent competition in the league, away from the level of media attention he might encounter elsewhere.
Smith will find it hard to avoid questions about the past, though, with Warner — reportedly the mastermind of the ball-tampering saga — also playing. They will square off whenever Toronto plays Winnipeg — Warner’s side, in an improbable cricket scenario. The presence of the Australian duo generates instant attention for the competition, and distinguishes it from other T20 tournaments.
The Global T20 Canada Cricket League will run from June 28 to July 15, with all matches at the Maple Leaf Cricket Club.
There are six teams: the Toronto Nationals, Montreal Tigers, Vancouver Knights, Edmonton Royals, Winnipeg Hawks and Cricket West Indies, born out of the partnership between the Canadian and West Indies federations in getting the league off the ground. Organizers said that despite the fact some national team cricketers call Ottawa and Calgary home, those cities showed less interest than the others in joining.
Smith and Warner aren’t the only cricket notables on board. The Maple Leaf club might not be big enough for West Indies great Chris Gayle — the self-proclaimed Universe Boss — who last played here 10 years ago, in a one-day international series against Canada where he smashed 110 not out off 77 balls with 14 fours and 6 sixes.
Then there’s Shahid Afridi. Few players in the world have a fan following as passionate as that of the former Pakistan captain, nicknamed Boom Boom for his explosive batting. Afridi retired from international cricket, but is a living legend and still has enough in the tank to be worth watching.
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The tournament will offer an odd mix of world-class stars mingling with part-time Canadian club players. To maintain the standard of play while giving much needed experience to Canadian players, the league has decided that while each squad of 16 must carry four Canadians, none of those homegrown players has to be included in the 11-man match lineup. Nonetheless, some Canadians — power-hitting Rizwan Cheema, spin-bowling all-rounder Nikhil Dutta, wicket-keeper batsman Hamza Tariq and Scarborough-born national team captain Nitish Kumar — should see plenty of action.
Canadian cricketers aren’t well known worldwide, which could have made Sunday’s player draft difficult for the coaches. Tournament director Jason Harper conceded it would have been better for coaches to put players through the “eye test” and see them in action. Instead, Cricket Canada put together detailed information packages on each Canadian player to help with the selection process.
There are big-name coaches involved, including Australian Tom Moody, former Pakistan captain and coach Waqar Younis, and Phil Simmons, who put Irelenad on course to achieve full-member status with the International Cricket Council.
Global T20 Canada, which didn’t even have a name five months ago, now has teams, players, coaches and a place to play. The tournament has defied expectations so far, but challenges remain. Not the least of which is attracting fans to King City every day for three weeks. Smith, Gayle and Afridi are world famous. Seeing them play in the flesh, in Canada, will be a dream come true for many fans.
Toronto Nationals: Steve Smith, Darren Sammy, Kieron Pollard
Coach: Phil Simmons
Vancouver Knights: Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Tim Southee
Coach: Donovan Miller
Winnipeg Hawks: Dwayne Bravo, David Warner, David Miller
Coach: Waqar Younis
Montreal Tigers: Lasith Malinga, Sunil Narine, Mohammad Hafeez
Coach: Tom Moody
Edmonton Royals: Shahid Afridi, Chris Lynn, Mohammad Irfan
Coach: Mohammad Akram