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Not just a game: Cricket brings together diverse community in Minoru Park

Richmond Cricket Club has called Minoru Park home for more than half a century.

Not far from the Minoru tracks, just past the slides, is a field local cricket players have called home for more than half of a century.

Richmond Cricket Club started at Minoru Park in 1966, and its first home game took place in May 1967.

Since then, athletes have gathered at the field for day-long games every summer from March to September.

And although cricket games can come in different formats, they’re never brief.

“But I think that’s what brings a uniqueness to it… After playing in a club for 20-plus years, you spend a whole day together, sometimes two days together, you develop relationships, friendships. They’re like family to me,” said Richmond Cricket Club president, Dean Jamal.

Members of the club from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and the West Indies. It also has a diverse group of players at different levels, from 13-year-olds to 65-year-olds.

Game days are often family affairs, with picnics and barbecues set up on the outskirts, with picnickers sharing comfort food from different parts of the world.

“This little belly of mine didn’t happen by accident,” said Jamal.

The camaraderie doesn’t end with the seasons either, as members stay in touch during the off-season and celebrate holidays together.

“And that is one of the biggest things about this club that’s made it special for a lot of people,” said Jamal.

Game rooted in colonial past

The multicultural aspect of the game can be attributed to its colonial roots, explained club secretary Vaibhav Syal.

The 11-player bat-and-ball sport hailed from England as early as the 13th century, and is popular in many former British colonies. In fact, it is the second most-watched team sport after soccer with a league quickly gaining popularity in India.

“Some countries thought, for example, the Caribbean countries or for that matter, India (and) Australia thought that we wanted to beat the colonial masters at their own game,” explained Syal.

The sport did not receive the same warm welcome in North America at first, although the first international cricket match was played between Canada and the U.S. in 1844.

But with the arrival of South Asians, Australians and South Africans to North America, its popularity started growing, Syal said.

Around 80 to 85 per cent of cricket players in the entire Lower Mainland league are of Indian origin, he added.

One reason for cricket’s popularity is nostalgia.

“When you play some game from childhood, you have a special liking for it, just like soccer in South America,” said Syal, who added he’s attracted to the intellectual aspect of the sport as well.

With games lasting as long as five days, the sport requires a lot of stamina, gamesmanship and strategy, Syan explained.

But the condition of the grass field is a factor as well. Long and wet grass means the ball would cover less distance when it rolls across the field, as opposed to dry and freshly-trimmed grass.

The cost to play cricket varies, as technically one can just play in a small lane with a tennis ball and a piece of wood, but playing with a full kit of equipment on a proper field can cost several thousand dollars.

“So it’s for the poorest to the richest. Everybody can play this game,” he said.

Cricket’s growing popularity in Richmond

Since its inception, the club has grown from four to six teams and is now having to turn away a growing number of interested players due to the lack of field space.

“There’s just not enough room,” said Jamal.

“Traditionally, a field is only supposed to support four teams, but we have six.”

Games are only held on Saturdays and Sundays, and the club has had to host fewer home games to keep things fair for all six teams.

The increasing demand for the club can be attributed to its reputation as one of the oldest clubs in the British Columbia Mainland Cricket League. Some of its alumni have gone on to represent Canada or B.C. and subsequently return to the league again after retirement.

Having a pristine field at Minoru Park also helps.

“The scenery is great, it’s quiet, there’s ample parking,” said Jamal.

“In July and August, you get some of the highest-scoring matches in the league at this field because it gets so fast.”

The club is hoping the City of Richmond will provide them with a secondary field, but as of now, it has other expansion plans in mind.

“Our next goal is to get our junior program started,” said Jamal.

Like many others in the club, Jamal got his start in cricket in one of Richmond Cricket Club’s previous youth programs two decades ago.

The youth program, however, started petering out around 10 years ago, and its demise was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that paused the sport for two and a half seasons.

The club also introduced the sport at the school level at Cambie secondary a decade ago, but interest died down after two or three years.

“Now that COVID seems to be out of the way, we’re going to be working that back into our objectives and goals for the upcoming seasons.”

Funding for Richmond Cricket Club is mainly provided by sponsors, who often play as well. The club also offers support for young players experiencing financial difficulties with help from KidSport.

“The whole community in Richmond has been fantastic for us over the 20 to 30 years, and I’m pretty sure it will continue for the next 20 years,” said Jamal.