By RON FANFAIR
Last year this time, Nikhail Batiste was in Jamaica preparing to migrate to Canada to start a new life.
Now, the Emery Collegiate Institute Grade 11 student is getting set to represent Toronto in the annual “Cricket Across the Pond” tour of England in August. He was one of 12 players named in the squad unveiled last week at City Hall.
“It’s amazing how things happen,” said the 16-year-old all-rounder. “There was no way that representing Canada or Toronto in cricket in another country so soon after my arrival would have crossed my mind a year ago. The priority was settling in and trying to get a good education.
“It’s a bonus to be going to England to play cricket and to be visiting Lords which is considered the sport’s Mecca. I might try to get some of that grass and frame it.”
Batiste said watching cartoons on television was his favourite hobby before he embraced cricket.
“I remember seeing these guys in coloured clothing and thinking to myself that they look cool,” he recalled. “So my interest grew and I started to follow the sport on TV and play it a bit. That was how I was turned on to cricket.”
Batiste has not had much time to sharpen his skills since arriving in Canada. The new season started a month ago, but he has been busy preparing for exams. He wrote an English exam last Friday when the team was announced.
“I am a little rusty, but I am going to be ready by the time we are set to leave,” he promised. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime to represent my new city and I intend to make the most of it.”
Born in Kingston, Batiste was raised in rural Jamaica and attended DeCarteret College in Mandeville where he was the captain of the Quiz team. He plans to pursue bio-medical studies after graduating from high school next year.
Wicketkeeper/batsman Tristan Ali also learned to play the sport in the Caribbean. The Toronto-born played hockey and soccer for almost seven years before showing an interest in cricket.
In 2005, his father, Aleem Ali, enrolled him in a six-week junior camp in Trinidad & Tobago. After a second camp in the twin-island republic the following year, Ali joined Brian Hale’s Toronto Cricket Academy whose graduates include national captain Ashish Bagai.
The 17-year-old Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy student, who represented Canada and the Ontario Cricket Academy (OCA) at the Under-15 level, joined Overseas Cricket Club this season.
“Tristan has come a long way in a short time,” said his proud dad. “Once he decided that he was committed to the sport, he made every effort to do what it takes to be a capable player and that included watching DVDs and some of the world’s top players on TV.”
That Ali should become a wicketkeeper was natural since he was a hockey goaltender and soccer goalkeeper.
Batiste and Ali are among seven high schoolers in the squad that also contains two college and three university students.
Pakistan-born left-arm orthodox spinner Saad Bin Zafar is the only member of the squad that has represented Canada at the senior level, having debuted in July 2008 against Bermuda. He plays for reigning champions Popeyes in the Toronto & District Cricket Association (TDCA) elite league.
Zafar’s inclusion has prompted the team’s coach Derek Perera to declare that this is the strongest unit selected to play for the city.
“It’s also a very balanced and mature side and I expect that we will do well again,” he added.
Canada won all six of its matches two years ago and two of six in 2009.
Perera is also counting on all-rounders Pratik Marathe of McMaster University and Father Michael Goetz Secondary School’s Nikhil Dutta to provide leadership and production.
They were members of the OCA side that toured T & T last March and Dutta won the TDCA 2009 Most Promising Player award. He was the ninth top run-accumulator with 341 runs (av. 68.20) and the third leading bowler with 30 wickets (av. 5.63).
Now in its third year, the scholarship program enables young cricketers from Toronto’s diverse communities to participate in the project that includes a visit to Lords.
The City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation Access & Diversity Unit teamed up with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and several corporate sponsors to support the initiative that provides youth with an opportunity to showcase their skills and also represent this city abroad.
Mayor David Miller, who was born in England and came to Canada at age eight, said the City of Toronto strives to offer innovative programs which reflect young people’s interests.
“The City of Toronto is proud to offer recreational programs that reflect the interests and cultures of our youth and our diversity,” he said. “Cricket Across the Pond gives youth an opportunity to participate in a sport that is becoming increasingly popular in Toronto and to travel and gain new experiences and knowledge that will be with them for a lifetime.”
The full squad is high schoolers Tristan Ali, Nikhail Batiste, Nikhil Dutta, Muhammad Hassan, Shashwat Koirala, Tasheen Shah and Vikram Singh; university students Pratik Marathe, Parth Raval and Saad Bin Zafar and collegiate players Mahideep Sidhu and Dale Lucas.
Retired Toronto Community Housing Corporation manager Vinod Sharma will manage the side on the tour that starts on August 13.