Ontario (Canada), May 27 : Cricket has become a booming passion in Canada's Toronto District.
School cricket is big in the area, as about 150 schools in the Greater Toronto Area offer it.
So great is the passion for the sport, that there are now plans to make it a sanctioned school sport this year in the York region. The Royal Bank of Canada is also sponsoring a program to introduce cricket to elementary schools, reports the Globe and Mail.
But, according to the paper, the sport still lacks serious funding, and is crying out for facilities. There is also the lack of an internal structure to produce players who can compete internationally.
"People just think it's something foreign. I think that's why indigenous Canadians haven't stepped up to join. It's the same thing with soccer - they don't realize how big it is elsewhere," says Paul Hillman, the convenor of the Toronto District Cricket Council
"Our team qualified for the World Cup the last two years, but something is not clicking well in Canada," said Ranil Mendis, who organizes the CIMA Mayor's Trophy tournament, Toronto's highest-profile cricket competition.
"There is no big corporate support or big media support for games. How far can [the sport] go without proper support? That is the problem," he adds.
But the booming success that soccer has experienced here is now on the horizon for cricket. Cricket is part of Toronto's life," claims the city's mayor David Miller.
Indeed, cricket's worldwide governing body, the International Cricket Council, has set its sights on the city as one of the sport's next hot spots, and Cricket Canada has been restructured to take players, and the sport's profile, to the next level.
In a bid to make cricket more appealing to modern sporting palates, the game better known for tea breaks, politeness and five-day matches is getting a makeover. A new, shorter form of cricket brings the game down to about three hours. Called Twenty20, the format gives each team 20 overs (akin to baseball innings), and includes show-time pizzazz, continuous play, and cheerleaders.
The irony is that Toronto already has a deep cricketing history: The Toronto Cricket Club was founded in 1827, and its members made up most of the winning Canadian team in the first ever international cricket match - Canada beat the United States by 23 runs in 1844.
Yet the passion, obsession and devotion that cricket inspires in almost every Commonwealth nation somehow bypassed the Great White North. Instead, someone arrived one summer with a baseball bat, and cricket fell by the wayside.
Cricket's resurgence is seen as a win-win for the sport and its players, many of whom come from cricket-mad countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Bermuda.