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'A dream come true': Canada will play its first T20 Cricket World Cup

'A dream come true': Canada will play its first T20 Cricket World Cup

For two decades, Saad bin Zafar worked a full-time job and spent his nights playing cricket in unpaid local leagues. There weren't many opportunities to play professionally for Bramptonians.

He started playing for the Canadian national team in 2015, but that was one year after the team lost its international (ODI) status, and he says there weren't any contracts for cricketers in the country.

That changed last year, when the Canadian team won a World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe and regained its ODI status.

Now, for the first time, the Canadian team is heading to the Men's T20 World Cup, which is being held in cities across the United States and the West Indies from June 1-29. Zafar is the captain of Canada.

“It was my dream to play in the World Cup, and it has finally come true,” Zafar said. “Being a captain and a leader, it's a special position to be in.”

He is one of 15 players on the team, five of whom are from Canada's cricket capital, Brampton. Canada will play its opening match against the United States on June 1.

“What an honor for Canada,” said Mayor Patrick Brown. “We will have our players playing with the best in the world. It is exceptional.”

Brampton invests in cricket stadiums

Aaron Johnson, who also plays in T20, knows what it means to have the passion and skill but only a few full-sized cricket pitches to practice on.

Johnson, who has played professional cricket in Jamaica and England since the age of 15, says he moved to British Columbia in 2019 and was told there was no future in the sport.

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“People said to me, 'You're not going to be treated like you were treated in England because we don't have any money, and this is just entertainment,'” Johnson said.

After seeing the successful Canadian cricket league, the Global T20, in Brampton last year, he decided to move to the city. He will be Canada's opening batsman in next month's international tournament.

“I don't think I can put it into words,” Johnson said. “It's a dream come true.”

Aaron Johnson says he decided to move to Brampton last October to play cricket. He's Canada's opening batsman at the World Cup and says it's a “dream come true.” (Photo by Panda Man/Takumi Images)

Brampton currently has 19 cricket sites and plans to open five new sites this year – part of its plans to upgrade its cricket facilities through its annual entertainment spending to meet growing demand in the community.

The city is spending $8 million on park playgrounds, including youth playgrounds, according to city staff.

“It starts with the kids,” Brown said. Brampton will start its first youth league in July, according to a city news release.

Brown says the city plans to build a domed stadium on Ernest Cliff.

The city also partnered with several private companies to build a city-owned stadium, which city documents estimate will cost at least $100 million. Brown says a modern stadium could actually cost $200 million.

“You'll see a lot of cities that have 150 baseball diamonds, a lot of which go unused, and yet no cricket facilities. This is not Canada in 1950,” he said.

In Brampton, he says those who want to use cricket facilities face a longer wait than all the entertainment programs in the city due to the growing popularity of the sport.

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Inspiring youth

Players like Zafar and Johnson have taken it upon themselves to inspire young people by volunteering at summer training camps and schools to tutor children.

“I know the sacrifices people have to make in order to afford it [play] Cricket on the side. I'm glad to see that the next generation won't have to see it [do] Zafar said so.

Johnson says he will continue to advocate for improved cricket infrastructure and funding in Canada even after he stops playing the sport.

“I want to help change the system,” Johnson said. “I feel very proud that I am one of the few players who believe we can return all real estate to Canada. We have made such a big change in Canadian history.”

Cricket fans will be able to see the T20 World Cup trophy during the T20 Trophy Tour at Ken Whillans Field in Brampton on May 11.

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