Global T20 Will Make Canada A Cricket Country Says Ranjit Saini

Cricket Canada’s President Ranjit Saini is a man with a vision and one who has armed himself and his Board with a concrete plan towards its realization. As outlined in Cricket Canada’s 2018-2020 Strategic Plan, the vision of Saini and his Board is for Canada “to be a leading cricket nation through growing popularity, building a sustainable organization, and achieving international success!”

Saini has declared that the Global T20 League, the inaugural season of which is scheduled for this coming July, will serve as a catalyst for the transformation of Canadian cricket into a mainstream sport. Saini’s proud boast was made during a recent one-on-one interview with Caribbean Graphic’s Publisher and noted cricket writer Tony McWatt.

According to Saini, the idea for a Canadian based annual international T20 League was first hatched as far back as 2009, during his initial term as President of what was then the Canadian Cricket Association. His relative lack of market knowledge and experience however, resulted in his adoption of a formula which proved itself to be unattractive to its financial sponsor, the support of which would have been mandatory for its survival.

Saini’s initial concept was for a five team League with a minimum of three foreign players per team. He’d received support for such a League from several international cricket Boards in the form of their commitment to provide the required players. The Title Sponsor that had been secured however expressed fundamental doubts as to the marquee value of a three international player based League in terms of its doubtful capacity to generate the spectator attendance and television audience attractiveness that would guarantee a worthy return on their required financial investment.

Canada’s less than stellar performance in the 2011 ICC World Cup didn’t help either. It served to underline the unfortunate reality that Canada hardly had eleven good players at the time, let alone the sixty that would have been required for the initially conceptualized five Team League.

Faced with this stark reality, Saini went back to the drawing Board to develop a new model which would have included six international players. By the time he’d done so however, the sponsor’s interests had changed and cricket funding was no longer a part of its marketing budget.

Following the 2011 World Cup debacle, Canadian cricket went into a virtual tailspin. There were no immediately available replacements for the country’s top players who had either retired or departed in pursuit of greener pastures elsewhere. International performance levels declined significantly, so much so that the sport’s global governing body: the International Cricket Council (ICC) eventually withdrew Canada’s status as an Official One Day International playing country. Administratively, Saini was ousted from the Presidency.

In his absence the new Board seemingly had no interest in hosting an international T20 League and as such the plans that Saini had formulated were discarded until his eventual return to the Board, initially as a Director then subsequently for his second term as President. Having been given a second chance and armed with the valuable experience of the impractical first attempt, he was determined to get it right this time around.

His confidence in his abilities to do so has been fueled by his direct involvement, as the developer and implementation activist, for most of the major cricket tournaments that have been held in Canada within the past ten to twelve years. These have included those that were developed under the Maple Leaf and the Toronto & District banners, as well as the four nations international tournament involving teams representing Afghanistan, Trinidad, the US and hosts Canada. The idea for Canada’s hosting of an international T20 League has therefore been for Saini an on and off project for much of his involvement a Canadian cricket administrator.

As Cricket Canada’s incumbent President, Saini’s vision for Canadian cricket is radically different from that held by many of his counterparts on other Boards around the global. Most other parties, including the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) have tended to see Canada as a one-franchise country; only capable of sustaining a single Toronto based franchised team. Saini’s perspective is that with its potential cricket interested population of 12 million plus, coupled with its incomparable historical record of international involvement, Canada is in fact the Americas second best cricketing country, behind only the West Indies.

It is this abiding belief that has been the foundation of Saini’s lack of interest in and rejection of the numerous proposals he has received for Canada’s hosting of a Toronto based T20 international franchise team. An arrangement which would generate at best, annual revenues of $150,000 – $250,000.

According to Saini, everyone has had a plan for the development of Canadian cricket. His issue is that these plans have all been developed without either Cricket Canada’s input or an appreciation of the realistic financial requirements for the further development of Canadian cricket.

With Canadian cricket spread as it is across ten Provinces and five time zones, sums of $150,000 – $250,000 per year would simply be insufficient to cover any real development costs. Furthermore any such values would not be, in Saini’s view, accurately reflective of Canada’s cricket related revenue generating potential, given its borderless society location within North America, which outside of India is the world’s second largest television viewer market.

Saini’s belief is that Canada’s proximity to both the West Indies and the US, coupled with its ever burgeoning population of residents from cricketing countries, primarily India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, presents it with an ideal opportunity to capitalize on potential spectator interest, television revenues and player development exposure.

Cricket Canada’s reality is that all of its development plans, including A Team Tours require funding revenues. The level of Sports Canada funding it currently receives is approximately $80,000, of which $10,000 is required to be spent towards French Canada player development. The remaining $70,000 is therefore wholly insufficient to fund Cricket Canada’s obligations in one Province, let alone nine others!

The miniscule Sports Canada funding is a reflection of the fact that cricket is currently not part of multi sport international events. Attempts to get into the Pan American Games were unsuccessful and very little actual progress has been made towards cricket again becoming part of the Comm0nwealth Games or even more importantly, an Olympic Sport.

Cricket Canada’s current financial challenge is therefore that with no commercial revenues, insignificant government funding and insufficient ICC financial support. its developmental plans are constantly being compromised in the face of absorbitant costs. The cost of bowling one cricket ball in Canada is probably higher than anywhere else in the cricketing world. In order for national domestic tournaments to be staged at any level, senior or junior, players have be flown in from other Provinces, while accommodation and staging costs including those for grounds and official have to be covered.

The hiring costs for even bare bones professional staff leaves insufficient funding for actual matches. This reality has placed an onerous burden on the volunteer contributions of Cricket Canada’s Board members, some of whom as a result suffer from loss of interest and commitment. Added to this is the fact that with Board elections being held every two years there is a resulting high level of personnel turnover, which significantly undermines continuity and in turn has negative effects on the administration’s efficiency.

Given such an environment, Saini and Cricket Canada’s view is that the single team franchise model is not suitable for Canada. What Canadian cricket needs is a League hosting model that will allow for the reciprocal development of international level players. If Canada is to support foreign franchises then the countries that are supplying players for such franchises will also have to accommodate Canadian players, within their respective Leagues.

As Cricket Canada’s President, Saini now personally views himself as having two fundamental duties and responsibilities. First and foremost there is an obligation for him to be loyal to the interests of Canadian cricket and to oversee its further development. His second personal duty is to do his very best to be of outstanding individual service to the nation to which end he has chosen his cricket involvement as the mechanism that will allow him to do so.