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Despite low attendance, Global T20 Canada cricket organizers pleased with inaugural tournament

Organizers of the Global T20 Canada cricket tournament seem satisfied with the event’s inaugural edition as it nears its conclusion.

League owner Gurmeet Singh of Mercuri Canada feels it has been a successful run at the Maple Leaf Cricket Club, despite the fact the 7,000-seat venue has never been even half full.

After acquiring the license for the tournament in April, Singh said he had to think hard about whether to hold the event this year or wait until next year. In the end, the desire to attract the best talent won out.

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“We know South Africa and Sri Lanka are interested in getting professional leagues off the ground, and I thought we better do it now, because if even one of those leagues start, we’ll be set back because the player pool will be divided,” Singh said.

Sunday’s final will pit a West Indies team against the winner of Saturday’s match between the Winnipeg Hawks, led by Australian star David Warner, and the Vancouver Knights, featuring West Indies legend Chris Gayle.

The league attracted two of the sport’s biggest names in the Australian duo of Steve Smith and Warner.

Ashit Patel, director of Mercuri-Canada, says North America needed a professional cricket league, given the size of the potential market.

However, unlike others who have been dazzled by the untapped North American cricket market and sought to make a quick buck, Singh and Patel say they are committed for the long haul, and will sustain losses for a few years if necessary.

Singh estimates they have put in $10.5-million to get the tournament going.

“If there are going to be profits, we know it will not happen for a few years and we’re willing to absorb that,” he said. “If you don’t have a vision for five or six years down the road, you shouldn’t be in business. If you look at the IPL [Indian Premier League] and other leagues, they only recover their investment after about six or seven years of operation. We’re hoping our league breaks even within two or three years maximum.”

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Patel said it will take three to five years to build the league into its desired shape.

Coming from India, Patel says he was aware that cricket infrastructure in Canada was limited, but was still surprised by what he found.

“Canada has played in only one soccer World Cup, but there are lots of soccer fields around,” he said. “It was surprising to us that the infrastructure was so limited, given that there is such a diaspora here from cricket playing countries and that Canada has played in four Cricket World Cups.”

International players and coaches have been measured in their criticism of playing conditions at the tournament’s sole venue, recognizing it is not quite world class.

Still, frustration has come out at times. Montreal coach Tom Moody, whose team finished fifth in the six-team league, said that top-level batsmen are not accustomed to balls exploding off the pitch in front of their face.

Speaking at the conclusion of his team’s match on Thursday, Pakistan legend Waqar Younis, Winnipeg’s coach, said, “People deserve a lot of credit for putting the tournament together in a short span of time – really, hats off to them, but for future editions, things do need to improve. There is a need to fix the ground and fix the pitches.”

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As for the attendance, organizers cite a number of factors, including low awareness of the tournament, the accessibility and distance of King City, Ont., from downtown Toronto (at least an hour away) and the simultaneity of the FIFA World Cup.

Tournament director Jason Harper says with more time to market the tournament next year, they can start shuttle services for fans from central points to King City.

Harper remains confident about what is to come.

“We want to continue to attract the best talent in the world, continue to prepare and present Canada as the best option for T20 cricket in this part of the world,” he said. “Canada is not a hard sell. It’s safe, it’s diverse and open. Players aren’t crowded every day by fans, they can go see the sights. It’s an easy sell as a global sports destination. Global T20 Canada comes in as the cheapest league and we still got world-class talent. This speaks to Canada being a desirable location to play cricket.”

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