Childhood memories translate to cricket boom in Thunder Bay, Ont., that's attracting national interest

·3 min read
A batsman takes a swing at a ball during a cricket match at Chapples Park on Sunday in Thunder Bay, Ont. The games are played on a softball diamond that's been converted to a cricket field, with heavy tennis balls used instead of the hard cricket balls common in high-level competition. (Kris Ketonen/CBC - image credit)
A batsman takes a swing at a ball during a cricket match at Chapples Park on Sunday in Thunder Bay, Ont. The games are played on a softball diamond that's been converted to a cricket field, with heavy tennis balls used instead of the hard cricket balls common in high-level competition. (Kris Ketonen/CBC - image credit)

Weekends at Chapples Park in Thunder Bay, Ont., bring back a wave of good memories for cricket player Stefin Cyriac.

"I've been playing cricket since I was seven or eight," Cyriac said. "Where I grew up — it's called Kerala, it's in India — cricket is one of the main sports.

"I think cricket is the most popular game in India, so it's kind of bringing back my childhood memories. I've been missing this cricket for a long time."

Now, Cyriac is at the forefront of a surge in popularity of cricket in the northwestern Ontario city. He's one of the co-ordinators with Thunder Bay Cricket, helping run the organization's Friday leagues and tournaments.

Cricket Thunder Bay also runs leagues and tournaments on Sundays. All games are at Chapples Park, in a softball diamond that's been converted to a cricket field.

Kris Ketonen/CBC
Kris Ketonen/CBC

Thunder Bay Cricket's Abhiram Giri said the field still needs work. The city is set to complete and level the pitch later this summer.

Giri said the Thunder Bay field is smaller than the ones used in international competitions, and Thunder Bay Cricket has made some adjustments. For example, heavy tennis balls are used for play instead of the hard cricket balls common in high-level play.

That's not affecting the uptake, however. Giri told CBC last week about 250 players are taking part in games locally.

And Thunder Bay Cricket hopes to see that grow.

"There is only one place as a cricket field here in Thunder Bay," he said. "But eventually, in a couple of years, if we are able to get two more fields somewhere around, that would be great to accommodate that many players who are interested and who are having talent to play cricket."

He said more fields would also allow Thunder Bay Cricket to bring in new players who'd like to learn the sport, Giri said.

Aiden Pinto, a local player and student at Confederation College, said cricket is "like a religion in India." Pinto has been playing since he was a child, and appreciates how the game can bring people together.

Kris Ketonen/CBC
Kris Ketonen/CBC

"India is so far away and I miss my home," he said. "I'm more focused into my work and college, and this is something that's helping me mentally, not only physically.

"I have made a lot of friends," Pinto said. "I came to know a lot of people. It's helping with the contact building, with the jobs, with the recommendations."

Cyriac said out-of-town teams have shown an interest playing in Thunder Bay now that a field is available.

"We had said that we have a nice pitch here, with the help of [the] City of Thunder Bay. They said they are happy to have our tournament here in Thunder Bay, so we are really hoping to see them."

Thunder Bay players also plan to hit the road for some cricket this year, as well, with Winnipeg, and Sault Ste. Marie and London in Ontario on the agenda, along with some games in Alberta, he said.

Kris Ketonen/CBC
Kris Ketonen/CBC

"It is getting big in Canada," he said. "So we are getting offers from different provinces in Canada to play cricket there."

Cyriac said he's also happy to see some fans at Thunder Bay Cricket's Friday and Sunday games.

"We've been playing cricket in this ground for more than a month now, and we have had definitely more than 100 people just came here to just watch how good it is, understand what cricket is," he said. "I've talked to different people and they have shown interest to be a part of this cricketing community.

"So I think people in Thunder Bay, especially Canadians, have that interest to know what this new type of cricketing or new type of game is, because I think most people are really into sports."

LISTEN | Abhiram Giri speaks on the growing popularity of cricket in Thunder Bay:

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