They say that when you play a sport, passion is the most crucial aspect that drives you forward. After all, one starts playing any game for the love of it, not for the fame and money that is associated with the same.
However, as a sportsperson grows older, mature and level-headed, there is a constant need to address the off-field facets of the game. But, when we spoke to Canadian U-19 star Kavian Naress, he had a very different outlook.
“For me, love of the game keeps inspiring and pushes me to work even harder to get to the big leagues." A very mature statement from someone who is working his way up the ladder from an associate nation.
Naress was initially based in Sri Lanka, where he began his cricketing career. “I was in Sri Lanka when I saw kids play cricket on the streets. I went and joined them and later asked my dad to get me into an academy to play cricket regularly.
"Fortunately, I went to a big club named the NCC and my interest genuinely increased. I started working on my basics under the tutelage of my coach Lionel Mendis. He, unfortunately, passed away in 2015.”
Canada has never prominently been associated with cricket as such. Sure, the national team has appeared in some major tournaments but they haven’t been consistent in that process of regular development.
However, Naress says that things are changing at the lower levels, which will definitely have a major impact going ahead. “Cricket in Canada is getting better, a lot of kids have started playing cricket, a lot of programs are happening in schools to keep the interest in cricket high for the kids.
"Now, the Global T20 league has opened the opportunities for us younger cricketers to dream bigger. Players such as Chris Gayle and Andre Russell have played in the league and that has boosted the interest.”
Despite the fact that cricket is still arguably in its nascent stages, there is a proper setup in terms of drafting the younger players into the senior team. “They pick players on based on their performances in the U-19 levels and pick them to play for Canada A.
"From there onwards, we are touted to play for the national team. It’s a fixed process that provides equal opportunities to everyone.”
Having played for the U-19 team in the World Cup earlier this year, Naress has some fond memories of the tournament. He has been a part of the younger age group setup for over a year now and has played well in certain tournaments.
Speaking on his performances, Naress said, “It was a really good experience playing the U-19 World Cup. It was excellent exposure playing with some brilliant upcoming players. I averaged 35 in the World Cup and scored 61 against West Indies.
"Recently, I played the U-19 West Indies regional tournament in St Vincent and scored 192 runs averaging 32. My highest score was 71 against Windward Island and notched three half-centuries against the likes of Guyana and Trinidad. I was really grateful being the 4th highest run-scorer in the tournament, which has been a progressive step in my career so far.”
For associate countries, major international tournaments like the World Cup are one of the few chances they get to rub shoulders with the best in the business. On this, Naress remarked, “It was really good experience playing against upcoming star players. However, I believed in myself that I could perform in big leagues and be one of the star players in the future.
"This World Cup showed me how I can go to the next level and improve my game to perform well in the bigger stage.”
Understandably, the Canadian Cricket Association could take some viable steps to develop the infrastructure and the training facilities for the rising talents. According to Kavian Naress, there is a lack of overseas practice throughout the year.
He said, “The problem we have here is that we only get 3 to 4 months to train outside. We need more exposure playing quality cricket outside the country during the winter season. We usually have tours to West Indies or big tournaments in the summer.”
Asked if there was a definite pay structure that eased the financial burden, Naress had a very underwhelming reply. He said, “As professional cricketers, we don’t get paid much.”
Though there’s lack of all year-round cricket practice, Naress’ daily routine does involve working on his game with his personal coach. “Daily routine would be going to the gym, working out and improving on my fitness.
"Then there is daily training with my personal coach David Patterson and my siblings. Before a match day, I meditate for 15 minutes to get my mind relaxed and clear for the game. There are national camps during the winter season though.”
Growing up, every aspiring cricketer looks up to certain legends of the game to draw inspiration from them. “Legends who have inspired me would be Kumar Sangakkara, Virat Kohli, Brian Charles Lara and Shane Warne,” said Naress.
“The way they play/played the game is unbelievable. They always gave it their all for their respective countries, which undoubtedly is inspiring.”
“My future aspiration is to play in the senior World Cup and get drafted into big leagues like IPL, CPL, the Big Bash and many more,” said the 18-year-old.
Kavian Naress might not attract attention of the masses whilst playing for Canada, but he is keeping his head down and trying his best to overcome the barriers set for players from associate nations.
His story is yet another inspiring testament to the fact that if one truly admires and follows the game and if one's heart beats for success, then that person eventually achieves it, come what may.