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Cricketers say the lack of Calgary pitch could limit the sport’s growth locally

Cricket league says they've seen 20-to-30 per cent growth annually over the past few years.

Calgary’s biggest cricket league said that they’re beyond hoping for a new field – they need one or they won’t be able to continue supporting the sport’s massive growth in the city.

The matter was raised earlier this week by Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal during question period at Tuesday’s regular meeting of council.

Dhaliwal said he’s been told there are more than 7,000 registered players among a handful of leagues throughout the city. Those leagues are competing for playing time at city-operated, competitive-appropriate cricket pitches in Calgary.

“That’s why I wanted to bring it up, that some of them feel that they don’t have equitable access,” Dhaliwal said.

According to City of Calgary’s open data set, there are nine cricket grounds. Online, the city website shows six available pitches. All of the pitches are D-Class fields, according to the city’s website, with no staff and no amenities.

“Calgary’s Cricket pitches are D-class fields. They are maintained by Calgary Parks. Mowing is sporadic. For maintenance requests, call 311,” the website reads.

Dhaliwal asked admin, with the upcoming season, what the plan was to expand grounds bookings.  The season is set to start at the end of April. It runs to the end of September.

“As we are all aware right now, cricket has had exponential growth in our city for the last five years, but we haven’t been able to keep up providing pitches and grounds to accommodate that growth,” he said.

Heather Johnson, director of recreation and social programs with the City of Calgary, said they’re going to restrict games to the Twenty20 (T20) format. In that format, games are roughly three hours, versus the 50-over matches that take eight hours.

“What that will do is increase the capacity on the fields by about 15 per cent,” Johnson said.

Leagues are splitting a limited number of fields

Five years ago, the Calgary & District Cricket League (C&DCL) had nearly 70 teams. This year, they have 100.

At roughly 15 players per squad, they’ve added almost 500 more players. There are other cricket leagues in the city, too.  While C&DCL is the biggest league, they only have access to three pitches, due to historical rights on those fields.  The other leagues primarily have to split bookings on the other three fields.

Hozaifa Cheema, secretary for the C&DCL, said there’s a real need for more cricket grounds in Calgary. Cheema has been playing in Calgary for the past seven years, since he was 15. In the past few years, they've seen between 20 to 30 per cent growth annually.

“We were comfortably in a spot where all our games were on the weekend,” Cheema told LiveWire Calgary.

“Now we're getting to a situation where probably 25 to 30 per cent of our season is played on the weekdays and that's really not preferable for our members.”

When they play during the week, the games are confined to 6 to 9 p.m. as none of the D-class fields have lights for evening play. 

“That's like two or three months where we’re actually maximizing those resources,” said Cheema.

The pitches aren’t really interchangeable with baseball diamonds either. First, it’s a 50-metre radius around the bowling crease as players can bat in any direction. Further, that bowling crease needs a cement base (for durability) and an astroturf cover.

Cheema said because of the influx of new players and teams and the limited field supply, they’ve had to reduce the length of the season. Five years ago, they used to play 23 games, plus playoffs. Today, it’s 19, plus playoffs.

Further, they try to accommodate women’s and junior tournaments, plus an event with international players. That takes time away from league play.

Further cricket - and other sports - strategy coming

Dhaliwal said that the City has converted a few baseball diamonds into batting cages in Ward 5. That’s where the conversions help.

But it’s not a replacement for full fields.

When he came to Calgary in 1994, there were only a few cricket teams and they played out of North Glenmore Park. Now, with thousands of players and a growing desire for field equity, there’s a need for more facilities.

Especially with more leagues moving to the T20 format (shorter).

Director Johnson said that the city parks unit has hired a summer student to review field usage this summer to ensure that field utilization is high.  

“Bigger picture, we know that the demand is high,” said Johnson.

They’ve approved upgrades at three facilities (Red Carpet, Martha Haven and Inland Smalls). She said once that work is complete it will result in an additional cricket pitch added to the inventory.

From there, the city is planning an emerging sports study. They want to identify sports that are experiencing significant growth and change.

“It'll ensure administration has the opportunity to optimize use of amenities currently being underutilized and it'll establish a transparent process for how the city engages with emerging and growing sports to make sure everyone has the opportunity to establish themselves in Calgary,” Johnson said.

The C&DCL is celebrating its 115th year in Calgary. On Friday night, they were holding their league banquet to honour last year’s players.

(Editor's note, the initial story said, in the above sentence, that C&DCL was celebrating its 125th year. It's the 115th. (1908) Because, #mathishard. We regret the error.)