SURREY — Despite no player from B.C. currently playing on the Canadian national cricket team, these emerging talents want to take the country forward in the international arena.
Harjit Sandhu, president of British Columbia Mainland Cricket League (BCMCL), said he was disappointed to learn that no players from this province were representing Canada in the ICC World Cricket League Division Two tournament.
The Canadian cricket team was recently in Namibia to earn a spot in the World Cup, but lost the tournament and its spot to Nepal.
The historic BCMCL is touted as a stepping stone for players to head into the national circuit, and three players are already playing with the adults, despite being under age 18.
Gurnek Johal, 14, has been playing cricket from six years and is currently representing the British Columbia Under-17 team, and also the Newton Surrey club in BCMCL. Gurnek first played for the U17 team when he was 12.
Speaking to the Now-Leader, Gurnek said that his dad used to play the sport, and followed his path.
“It is very challenging and fun,” said Gurnek on playing with adults in BCMCL. “I get more challenges and it’s hard to pick up wickets and make runs, so it’s fun. It’s better than playing with my own mates.”
Gurnek, who considers himself to be a “naturally aggressive” player, is a left-hand batsman and bowls right-arm medium pace, which makes him a unique prospect. Very few players in the international arena are cross-dominant.
In the U17 Canada cup, the province was fourth of the five teams and, according to Gurnek, it was just that the team had an off season in 2016.
The team is expected to undergo a revamp ahead of this year’s tournament, as most of the players have turned 18 and are playing in the U19 tournaments.
Gurnek said that his opponents in the BCMCL used to take him lightly in the first couple of seasons.
“If they didn’t take me properly, most of them would get out,” he said.
Udai Walia, 15, took part in Canada’s U19 training camp in June last year and currently plays for Newton Surrey club in the Premier division of the BCMCL. Udai started playing the sport after watching the 2011 ICC World Cup.
Udai said that he doesn’t let the thought of playing with the adults deflect him.
“I give my 100 per cent no matter who it is against,” he said. “I think it’s an advantage (to start playing early) as you’ll improve over time.”
Udai said that his idol is Indian cricketer Virat Kohli due to the hard work and effort he puts into his game.
Like Gurnek, Udai also played for BC U17 Team and was picked for the national U19 training camp. Cricket Canada shortlisted the team for the World Cup after this training camp.
“By the time I get to the age, I hope to improve on everything and practice on all the weakness and things to improve on,” Udai said. “I want to play for the next U19 World Cup.”
Udai said that he is hoping to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL), a professional Twenty20 league, the most watched and most attended cricket league of the world.
“I like how you can play all the different kinds of players from all the different countries, and you can play with them and against them,” Udai said. “It just creates a high level of competition.”
Both Gurnek and Udai have a batting net in their respective homes and practice every day depending on the weather conditions.
Harman Singh Dayal, 17, currently plays in Division 1 of the BCMCL and started playing the league when he was 13 years old.
There are nine divisions in BCMCL with the top tier being Elite, followed by Premier and Division 1 to Division 7.
Harman started in Division 5, which was the last division in 2013, and has made his way to the higher division. Harman said those team captains in the higher divisions would be watching players from other divisions and might want to pick a player to their team.
“Obviously, there are lots of experienced players and there’s a lot of things to learn from them,” Harman said. “The biggest thing is you try and absorb all the knowledge and advice that they give you.”
Harman said that being one of the young players, he relies on the senior players, who help him along the way.
“They put you in a position where you can succeed,” Harman said.
Harman said that he looked up to Sachin Tendulkar when he was growing up. Tendulkar is considered to be one of the greatest batsmen of the game, and has numerous records to his name.
“He was definitely my favourite player. The class he just had, you want to play like him, and it inspires you to train hard and want to be the best player you can be,” he said.
Harman is looking to play for Canada, but is taking it one step at a time.
“Who doesn’t really want to represent their country? But, it’s about taking it step by step and day by day,” he said. “Eventually, you might get there but right now you always try to focus on what you can do on everyday basis and sky’s the limit.”
Like Gurnek, Harman plays as a left-hand batsman and bowls right-arm medium pace.
Asad-Ur-Rehman, 20, was part of the Canada High Performance (HP) team, a team consisting of players from various provinces who are on the verge of getting picked into the national team. The HP team played three matches against Bermuda, and a scheduled fourth match was rained out.
Rehman, who started playing cricket when he was four years old, received the Best Bowler award in the Elite division of BCMCL.
Rehman currently plays for PakCan team in the BCMCL and is a fast bowler who bowls around 130 to135 kilometres per hour.
Rehman was also awarded the best junior award in the province for the year 2015 and at a point, he played for nine different clubs in a single season.
“It was pretty good to be selected for the best junior award,” Rehman said. “At the end of the day, it comes to how hard you work and (the) belief in yourself.”
Rehman was awarded the Man of the Series for his performances in the ‘HP’ team. Rehman is hopeful of getting picked into the main team in the near future.
“Looking forward to it,” Rehman said. “Let’s see what happens this season.”
Rehman said that his performance this season with PakCan is crucial for his national ambitions.
“If I perform well, they might call me for other tournaments that the Canadian team plays,” Rehman said.
Speaking earlier to the Now-Leader, Surrey councillor Bruce Hayne said that Surrey has the demographics and that youth will play a key role in the success of Canadian cricket.
“It is a developing sport in our community and we will do our best to keep up with the facilities and match the demand that we see coming to us,” Hayne said.