A Cricket Club Grows in Shelburne

We live in the land of hockey and lacrosse, but cricket is the world’s second most popular sport after soccer – and it’s taking hold in Dufferin County.

June 16, 2023 | | Community

It was an idyllic summer day a few years ago when Shelburne’s Ahsen Siddiqui, a lifelong cricket enthusiast, was watching two of his three boys playing the game in the street with the neighbour’s kids, using just a cricket bat and a tennis ball. The scene brought up nostalgic feelings of growing up with his Pakistani family in Saudi Arabia and doing the same for hours – a common sight in cricket-loving nations.

Ahsen remembered the excitement and pride of playing competitively after joining the ranks of the Jeddah Cricket League (now the Jeddah Cricket Association) and the National Cricket League. And as he watched his boys mimic his own fast-bowling style and run back and forth between two folding chairs that functioned as makeshift wickets, he knew they needed a safe place to play away from the traffic. But where?

He had heard that other nearby cities, such as Mississauga, Brampton and Barrie, were investing heavily in the game, and began to wonder if he could find a sports field in his town that would be suitable. His imagination and enthusiasm took flight; if enough people were interested in playing and there was a good turnout, they could perhaps gather a team or two with uniforms, equipment, matches and even community events – in other words, form a real cricket club.

A member of the Shelburne Cricket Club Gladiators team protects his wicket in summer 2022. Photography by Rosemary Hasner.

“Cricket is a special game that’s played all over the world, second only to soccer,” Ahsen explains, bubbling with excitement. “It’s a game with a rich history that spans so many countries. And we are a growing community here in Shelburne with people from England, India, Pakistan, South Africa and so on. We could see something was missing, and that we had a unique opportunity to bring the game here.”

So the group of cricket-loving neighbours and friends got to work, and it turned out there were indeed enough people interested. One of those people was Creg Parker, who grew up attending school opposite Sabina Park, Jamaica’s National Cricket Stadium, but whose sport was soccer. He didn’t try cricket until a few years ago when one of his Shelburne neighbours invited him to a friendly match and he was introduced to Ahsen.

At the time, Steve Anderson was running to be the town’s deputy mayor and the cricket crew got to chatting with him about the possibility of a proper cricket pitch in town. When elected in 2018, Steve proposed the idea to town council, and it granted the group a temporary home – one of the baseball diamonds in KTH Park on the south end of town.

Securing the diamond was a great start, but it takes some preparation to get the field ready. Cricket is played on a large oval field with a 22-yard-long flat strip of ground in the centre known as the pitch. The pitch has to be hard, so before each game the ground needs to be wetted, stamped and rolled.

“It takes us about an hour just to get the pitch ready,” laughs Creg. “But we aren’t complaining.” Whatever they are lacking in a facility, Ahsen says, they are determined to make up for with good old-fashioned hard work and discipline.

Shelburne Cricket Club president Ahsen Siddiqui, left, and vice-president Creg Parker in front of a club scoreboard before a game begins.

Each game day, a different team comes out to help set up. After the ground is readied, they set up the wickets at each end of the pitch: three vertical “stumps” (sticks) with two wooden “bails” (small sticks) lying horizontally on top.

In the style of the game played in Shelburne, there are two innings and a game can run anywhere from two to five hours. Each “innings” (the word is spelled with an ‘s’ whether singular or plural) sees one team at bat and one “bowling” (pitching), with the goal being to get as many runs as possible. That sounds simple, but to the uninitiated the game can often appear as though it’s being played from multiple angles.

The club held its first few local matches in the summer of 2019, even though they didn’t quite have enough players on either side. But as word got out their numbers grew to 17 within a year, giving them more than enough for a full team of 11, which they dubbed the Shelburne Gladiators. In addition to local games, the Gladiators started playing exhibition matches against the Mississauga Ramblers in 2020, sometimes at KTH Park and sometimes at the Ramblers’ home field. “When we went to play in Mississauga, we walked out into this pristine field and were just in awe,” muses Creg. “That’s what we aim to have in Shelburne one day.”

The club’s 2023 equipment includes regulation pink leather balls used in T25 competition. The colour of the ball changes depending on the style of play. In T20 games, players use a white ball. The women’s teams play with a yellow ball.

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, they still managed to organize socially distanced games, giving people a much-needed outlet for socializing and physical exercise. “Then, when things got more back to normal in 2021, it just exploded and we knew it was time to make it official,” explains Ahsen.

They registered the Shelburne Cricket Club as a nonprofit organization with Ahsen as president and Creg as vice-president. (All fees and donations received go back to the club for equipment and uniforms or for community outreach events.) They also now had enough players to add a second team, the Shelburne Knights. The SCC was officially up and running.

Unbeknownst to Ahsen and Creg, however, this wasn’t the first Shelburne Cricket Club. Not long after they started the club, they were contacted by the Elsdon family. Peter and Rosemarie Elsdon were a British couple who arrived in the area in 1965. Peter brought with him a love of England’s national sport and was one of the founders of the Orangeville Cricket Club in 1974 with Rosemarie chipping in as scorekeeper.

Peter had seen in the news that a “new” cricket club had been formed in Shelburne. However, he had a book by Shelburne historian John Rose that showed the original Shelburne Cricket Club was inaugurated way back in 1893, but had sadly faded away. Peter passed away in May 2021, and before Rosemarie died in October that same year she offered Peter’s collection of cricket memorabilia – including old posters, game scorecards, mascots and medals – to Ahsen and Creg, who say they were humbled to receive them. They in turn donated many of the artifacts to the Museum of Dufferin.

Striker Samir Patel, in his Shelburne Stars uniform, connects with the ball at the opening of this year’s season in KTH Park in May.

Now, 130 years after its first iteration, Creg and Ahsen are confident the club will survive and thrive. In 2022 the men’s league expanded from two to four teams with the addition of the Samurai and Warriors – and the Warriors won the league championship in 2022. (This year Ahsen plays for the Warriors and Creg plays for the Gladiators.) The club also started two women’s teams, the Angels and the Valkyrie in 2022 – and the club has launched a soccer league to boot. For its 2023 season the roster is 160 men and women.

“Being there from day one and seeing that growth has been very satisfying,” says Creg. “I want to see the club continue to grow. We’ve met a lot of people along the way, and built up a community where we can have fun and enjoy playing because cricket is a game that’s for everybody.”

The season kicks off every year with an opening ceremony in May, followed by weekly practices held on Wednesdays and matches every weekend until the season closes in October.

This year the club’s social-media-friendly theme is all about taking cricket to the “#NextLevel” with three main areas of focus: mental health, women’s inclusion, and multiculturalism and diversity. Anyone attending a game will see the teams do indeed represent a United Nations of players, many of whom hail from cricket-loving nations such as Sri Lanka, South Africa, India, Pakistan and the West Indies, all of which were first introduced to “the gentleman’s game” while under British colonial rule and went on to dominate cricket on the world stage.

“In our club we have at least 10 different nationalities playing under the flag of Canada,” says Ahsen. “Everyone is welcome here. We sometimes get people coming out who are from countries where cricket isn’t popular, but that is not a problem. Even if you have never played before, we will support you, coach you, and make sure you learn how to play and have a great time.”

Knights player Dhruv Ramavat preps for a game.

And having a great time is part of the mental health push. Creg touched on how one of the members of their management team, Zaid Baig, told them he had been going through some tough times and being part of the club gave him a feeling of being accepted and valued (his poignant story was related on a CBC segment, available online). There are also several senior citizens who wanted to play, but were no longer able to. They were invited to participate as umpires, commentators, scorers and mentors.

And the SCC is working hard to ensure it is welcoming to women too. “Cricket is not just an old boy’s club; we know that lots of women are interested in playing instead of just watching from the sidelines,” says Ahsen, whose wife, Maira Quraishi, plays. In 2022 the club held its first women’s exhibition game, sponsored by the Dufferin Muslim Centre and Trillium Ford. “It got competitive real fast!” Creg quips, adding that his wife, Simone McCalla-Parker, participates too.

Alethia O’Hara-Stephenson, founder of the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association (also the cricket club’s very first sponsor), joined in 2022 and now, as the captain of the Valkyrie, she says she’s thrilled to see her peers challenge themselves by learning a new sport usually dominated by men.

“There aren’t many women’s cricket teams, so this is a valuable opportunity to develop leadership skills and self-confidence. We even have some new junior players, like Olivia and Abby, both of whom are in elementary school and will be playing with us for the first time. I’m proud to be part of the game’s growth in Shelburne.” To help attract younger players, one of the SCC’s rules is every men’s team must have two juniors under the age of 16, a requirement they hope to extend to the women’s league as well.

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  • The club’s fundraising activities include Biryani & BBQ days, and their most popular event, a classic British-style afternoon tea, mimics the intermission festivities at high-level “test” matches. “At every test match there is a 20-minute tea break for players between innings. It has a nice touch of class and we wanted to bring that tradition here to attract families to come, watch a game and enjoy,” says Ahsen. Everyone gathers under white tents – dressed up, including fascinator hats and fedoras – for afternoon tea with biscuits, cookies and sandwiches. (Watch for 2023 dates at shelburne cricketclub.com)

    As the house league season winds down, an SCC selection committee chooses 25 of their best players for a town team, the Shelburne Stars, who compete against other nearby towns and cities, including Orillia, Mississauga, Alliston, Hamilton and Brampton. The next step in the development of the SCC is this year’s inaugural Dufferin County Cup Premium T20 Cricket Tournament. Teams will be invited to play against the Shelburne Stars in September and October. “But this has opened up a whole Pandora’s box,” laughs Ahsen, “because in order to host more of these matches, ultimately we will need a proper cricket field.” The SCC is now working with the Town of Shelburne to create an official cricket field, which the club hopes will be ready for the 2024 season.

    Shelburne Cricket Club president Ahsen Siddiqui keeps his eye on the ball as he plays the striker position for the Gladiators last summer.

    Ahsen notes that across Ontario similar initiatives have been built or are in the works. Nearby King City is home to the Maple Leaf Cricket Club, which has one of only two cricket grounds in Canada approved to host One Day International matches, the official game format used for the Cricket World Cup. Last year the city of London opened its first full-size regulation cricket grounds, and Hamilton is building a second cricket field. And recently Brampton announced it is exploring proposals to build a multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art cricket stadium.

    “We are a small town, but if we can host cricket matches in Shelburne and bring players and spectators, it gives the town and Dufferin County the opportunity to boost its tourism, attract visitors, and bring much-needed revenue into the local economy,” says Ahsen.

    The Knights, in maroon, and Warriors, in purple, face off in a Shelburne Cricket Club match in summer 2022 in KTH Park. Knights runner Tabish Taufiq faces his teammate, Knights striker Abdul Rashid, and Warriors wicketkeeper Leeroy Foster across the pitch.

    The future certainly looks bright for the SCC, with a permanent field, more teams, competitions, fun events, and even a fall black-tie award ceremony at Hockley Valley Resort – all while Ahsen, Creg, and other members of the management team juggle family lives and busy day jobs. Ahsen is a senior manager in global IT at PepsiCo, and Creg has worked at UPS’ automotive parts department for 17 years.

    “I only get about three hours of sleep at night,” Ahsen admits. “But once everything is flying by itself, I’ll have time to rest. Now is the time to work hard. We are very proud to carry on the legacy that was started back in 1893. But this time, the Shelburne Cricket Club will not fade away. We are here to stay.”

    Cricket Terminology

    Here are some of the most common terms:

    • Innings: One team’s turn to bat or bowl; innings is spelled with an ‘s’ whether singular or plural
      overs games are divided into a certain number of overs where the bowler bowls six times to the batter
    • Striker: The batter facing the bowler
    • Fast Bowling: When bowlers sprint and throw the ball at high speed
    • Spin Bowling: When bowlers throw the ball in a spinning angle
    • Howzat! (how is that) cricket appeal: the act of a player or players on the fielding team appealing to an umpire for a decision regarding whether a batter is out or not. An umpire may not rule a batter out unless the fielding side asks for a decision.
    • Century: A score of 100 or more runs by a single batter in a game
    • Wicketkeeper: The player who stands behind the wicket to catch the ball
    • Death Rattle: The dreaded sound of the ball breaking the wicket when a batter is bowled out
    • Test Match: Played by the highest level teams in which competition can last five days

    Cricket for Newbies

    Feeling stumped about the rules of cricket? Here’s a quick intro to the basics of play.

    A cricket match involves two teams of 11 players each competing on an oval field with a rectangular pitch in the middle. A match has two innings where one team bats while the other bowls and fields. After the first innings they switch roles.

    The goal of every game is to get as many runs as possible.

    The SCC men’s league is playing T25 (as opposed to previous years’ T20 style), which means each innings has 25 overs in which a bowler throws the ball six times, for 150 balls bowled per innings. When one over is complete, another bowler comes in. The women’s league plays T15 (90 balls per innings).

    Two batters stand at either end of the pitch, one in front of each wicket. The bowler faces one batter (the striker) at one wicket in front of the wicketkeeper. A second batter (a nonstriker) is at the other end.

    The bowler throws the ball to try and knock down the opposing team’s wicket. If the ball hits the wicket, the batter is out – and a replacement batter comes out. (There are many other ways the batter can be called out while at bat, too.)

    If the batter hits the ball, the two batters run back and forth between the wickets to get in as many runs as they can while the fielders try to catch the ball. One run is counted when the two teammates successfully make it to their opposite wicket.

    If a fielder catches the ball before it hits the ground, the batter is out. Otherwise the fielder can throw to the wicketkeeper in the hope of beating the batters to inside the relevant crease markings at the wicket (much like baseball). Or they can throw to another fielder who is close to the other wicket to do the same (a bit risky as fielders aren’t equipped with the same catching glove the wicketkeeper has). An even riskier move? Throwing the ball directly at the wicket to topple it and put the batter out.

    Whichever batter (original striker, replacement or original nonstriker) ends up at the batting wicket becomes the striker.

    About the Author More by Emily Dickson

    Emily Dickson is a writer and editor living in Orangeville.

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