Maple Leaf Cricket Club – Canada Dry Global T20 Tournament
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The Old, New Home of Canadian Cricket
As a Dominion of the former British Empire, Canada’s cricketing history is a long one, dating back to at least 1785, when players in Montréal played the first recorded game in the country. Canadian cricket really took off in the early nineteenth-century in Toronto, when the prestigious Upper Canada College cricket team played the Toronto Cricket Club. The series is still contested today. In 1844, the Canadians took on the United States in an international cricket series, decades before the famous Ashes tournament began, and historians suggest the Canada-USA cricket fixture is the world’s oldest international sporting series!
Cricket’s Canadian history is so engrained, indeed, that it was declared the national sport of Canada when the nation gained independence in 1867. By the mid-20th century, though, the growth of baseball in the United States spread to Canada, and supplanted cricket, at least as a spectator sport. Although occasional cricket events drew well (including a North American record crowd of over 40 000 at Toronto’s Skydome in 1989), baseball became the dominant bat-and-ball game in Canada. Historic tournaments and infrequent international spectacles maintained interest, but no national league existed to capture the nation’s attention.
Finally, in 2018, Canada became the focus of the international cricketing community with the launch of the GT20 Canada tournament. Held over June and July, the first annual GT20 tournament brought world-renowned cricketers to Toronto for a tournament in the fast-paced Twenty20 format. The tournament featured clubs from five Canadian cities, as well as one from the West Indies, with international stars and local prospects selected via a draft to their respective clubs.
The inaugural tournament was held at the historic Maple Leaf Cricket Club, in King City, Ontario. Located in an agricultural region north of Toronto, it is a pastoral, if not isolated, location for cricket. The historic ground was renovated for the tournament with bleachers, hospitality and fan zones, and all the infrastructure needed for a globally-televised tournament.
The tournament, backed by Indian transnational conglomerate Mercuri Group, is scheduled to be held for at least the next twenty-five years, if not far into the future. In coming years, there is the possibility of expanding the tournament to a traditional league format with venues in different Canadian cities. While the first tournament was definitely a learning process for the hosts, it was a definite success. Future editions of the tournament will be a highlight for cricket fans worldwide, and certainly for sporting enthusiasts in Canada.
Food & Beverage 4
Cricket’s global popularity is reflected in food at the GT20 tournament. A varied menu of international foods was highlighted on one particular day of the series by an East and West Indian menu. Jerk chicken, samosas, kebabs, tandoori chicken, and barbeque. The food is flavourful and very fresh, cooked before customers in the concession zone.
Beer tents have limited options, with only Heineken and Corona available, and each running a steep $10 for a can. Still, the concessions area is a lively gathering place after the match, with music and a festive atmosphere, in addition to the unique offerings.
Upon entering the cricket club for the GT20 tournament, a couple things are apparent. Firstly, it is obvious that the setup is temporary. This isn’t a large, permanent cricket stadium (at least not yet). There is chain link fence to cordon off parking areas, fan zones, and the stadium itself, which mostly consists of metal bleachers and lounge tents for the VIP areas. Media tents and platforms are erected down either end of the oval and production vehicles are nearby.
However, the flip side of this is the bucolic location of the ground. Located just north of the small town of King City, the Maple Leaf Cricket Club is located amidst rolling farmland. The views from the stands are of fields and stands of trees. The setting is more akin to a golf club than a major cricket tournament, but the atmosphere recalls the pastoral setting of historic cricket grounds in England and elsewhere. As the tournament grows in the future, more stands and tents will likely surround the oval, and this score is liable to increase.
Upon entering the ground, there is a parking area and ticketing tents. Inside is a fan area with concession tents, an apparel shop, and the bar. A player corral is nearby where fans can interact with their heroes outside the changing rooms. Approaching the oval itself, fans walk past the historic clubhouse and into the large metal bleachers on the east side . Along the west side, various VIP tents and enclosures share space with bars and air-conditioned spaces. Crisp and clear video boards are found in the north and east ends, while the sound system is perfect for the size of the facility.
The low-slung stadium is nestled amidst trees and old farmhouses and is, in all, an idyllic place to enjoy the sun and sport.
The Maple Leaf Cricket Club isn’t in much of a neighbourhood, at all. Surrounded by farmland and country estates, the club is technically located in the hamlet of Eversley. The hamlet has some stately homes backing onto a scenic lake, but nothing in the way of dining or services.
Though it may be out of range for a casual postgame stroll, the village of King City is a growing hub just minutes down the road. During the tournament, the local Wild Wing restaurant welcomed cricket fans with a large billboard on the corner, but there are many options. The historic village centre is home to a surprising array of dining options from fast food to fine dining. For a pint, a nice option is The Hunt, a historic pub on the main drag of Keele Street. It is a short walk away from the King City train station.
Seneca College’s King Campus is also very near the ground, though there is not much to draw cricket fans, save perhaps for some frugal dining hall options!
Immediate area aside, the ground is just north of Toronto, with its plethora of world-class cultural, sporting, entertainment, dining, and lodging options. A quick trip in from King City on the GO Train is the best direct link to the city centre.
The location, pricing, and scheduling, as well as other circumstances surrounding the first playing of the tournament meant sold out matches were not likely, and indeed not the reality. Save for the final, the bleachers were often half full at best, though VIP areas were generally much better attended. However, over the course of the long tournament, attendance was probably at the level of expectation and is sure to grow in the future.
The fans present were constantly boisterous and brought an air of excitement to the match. A healthy mix of locals and global fans, inspired to see their favourite stars up close, sung and chanted throughout, spurred on by lively music and cricket action. The mood throughout the tournament is energetic and even first-time fans are likely to be inspired to join in.
In spite of the location amidst farm fields, the Maple Leaf Cricket Club is actually accessible by public transportation, and it is quite easy to get to the ground from anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area without a car. The York Region Transit 22 bus links up with the nearby King City train station, the Maple train station further south, and the central transportation corridor of Yonge Street to the east. The bus stops just in front of the ground at the corner of Dufferin Street and 15th Sideroad.
Coming by car, the cricket club is located along Dufferin Street, about twenty minutes north of the Toronto urban fringe. Parking, however, is $15 inside the ground, with overflow at Seneca College nearby.
Inside the club, portable outhouses are more than plentiful and circulation is perfectly easy.
Return on Investment 4
Along the learning curve for the event hosts, the ideal pricing structure was not likely an easy equation to determine. The result is that the pricing is very fair for many, but not enough options for others. Match tickets started at $30 and increased dramatically for VIP areas, though next year’s pricing may differ.
For $30, the chance to see A-list cricket stars up close and personal is hard to pass up on, and represents incredible value. For more casual or new fans, though, the $30 is likely more than many would be willing to spend. In future, organisers may need to get creative to entice casual fans while also showcasing the talent on display.
As a cricket fan, though, GT20 Canada is probably the best and only chance to see global stars play at eye level, and for the chance to mingle with superstars, there is no better value anywhere.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: at least during the 2018 tournament, walk-up tickets were available for cash only. There are bank machines onsite, but it is unclear whether credit cards will be accepted at the gate next year.
An extra point for the risk-taking of the tournament, bringing in expensive global talent in a relatively unproven market.
An extra point for the historic and pastoral setting of the Maple Leaf Cricket Club, which makes for a lovely afternoon in the countryside, in addition to a day at the cricket tournament.
An extra point for the immense growth potential of this tournament. Fans coming now can envision themselves at ground level and imagine where the tournament will go, knowing they were there at the start.
Finally, an extra point must be awarded for the calibre of players at the tournament. Marquee global superstars included Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Lasith Malinga, Steve Smith, Sunil Narine, and David Miller, among others. As a result, global fans and media from cricketing nations converged on King City to cover the event.
The first edition of the GT20 Canada tournament was a learning curve for its organizers, but was a tremendous boon for cricket and for the sport in Canada. For fans, it was a terrific time to see global stars in an intimate environment. Going forward, the tournament will surely grow and could very conceivably become a fixture on the summer calendar for Canada. For any cricket fan, a trip to Toronto is an absolute must. It is an entrancing summer city and the cricket on offer is second-to-none. If this is the start of cricket’s renaissance in Canada, the future is very bright!
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