There’s this lone person with dreads wearing a West Indies shirt and holding up a Jamaican flag. The rest of us in the crowd are watching the match in front of us, but this guy is just staring at us, standing at the front of the bleachers.
Suddenly, in a thick Jamaican accent he yells, “Alright everybody we gonna do the wave on 3!”
The people around me are a little skeptical but by the time he counts down, the entire stand is doing the wave, which moves throughout each stand and eventually circles the whole ground. Even some of the players take notice and smile. The rest of the match, the man keeps getting us excited and on our feet for the cricket.
I’m at the Global T20 Canada, a two-week T20 tournament held in Brampton, Ontario, just minutes outside of hustling Toronto. It is here that a surprising number of international stars gather to play in a smaller ground where even the smallest swing of the bat sends the ball flying for a 6.
I talk to the guy in the Windies shirt for a few minutes and he says something that stays with me.
“Cricket is life my friend, it brings everyone together. It keeps us united."
And he is absolutely right. I look around me and I see a rainbow of colors in the crowd. I see mostly jerseys of Pakistan and India, but sprinkled between them are people from South Africa, England and even a few people from Nepal. We aren’t divided by the country we support; rather, we are united in the sport we all love.
The people here tonight are coming from all parts of North America. Though most are from the Greater Toronto Area, there are dozens of people I talk to who came from far-off places like California, Vancouver and New York City.
I myself made the five-hour drive from Ohio.
I ask everyone I meet why they made the long trip just for a random T20 exhibition, and the answer I get is the same.
“I love cricket,” they all say, usually with a wide grin.
For these people, the GT20 Canada is a groundbreaking experience. No longer are matches held halfway across the world, being played in the middle of the night. For the first time, it is being played in front of them.
And this isn’t your regular club cricket match. There are international superstars playing. T20 stalwarts featured included Kieron Pollard, Chris Gayle, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik and not to mention the iconic player of the tournament, Yuvraj Singh.
The GT20 Canada provided the opportunity of a lifetime for North American cricket fans who were desperate for a taste of cricket that didn’t involve walking up at 2AM. Our favorite players were in action right in front of us.
And man, they didn’t disappoint.
The first game I attended was Toronto Nationals vs Brampton Wolves. I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing pro cricket for the first time, but the man I was most excited that day to see was Shahid Afridi. Say what you want about Lala, but he is a legend.
Runs were endless in the four matches I attended. Batsmen made the most of a smaller ground and racked up boundary after boundary. Every six that came where I was sitting at square leg led to a burst of fans running to the barrier, hoping to be the lucky one to catch the ball.
There was also plenty of excellent bowling. Ish Sodhi picked up a five-for, and I watched my fellow countryman Ali Khan send stumps cartwheeling.
On the second day of matches I attended, I watched Vancouver take on Winnipeg, in what would be a preview of the finals. I sat back and enjoyed the cricket, laughing with my friends - both the ones I brought with me and the ones I made, including my new Jamaican friend.
It was a surreal moment, watching my favorite sport in person. Nothing could have made it any better.
Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod. Shoaib Malik was coming to field at deep square leg, not 10 feet in front of where I was sitting.
No way, my favorite cricketer is fielding right in front of me, I thought.
I grabbed my miniature bat and sprinted to the barrier and said in my broken Urdu, “Shoaib bhai ek autograph please!”
The second Malik stepped towards me, I was instantly surrounded by dozens of other fans, each holding an item they wanted signed, each yelling Malik’s name and hurling compliments at him.
Moments later, he ran back to his position on the field, and in my hand I was holding a bat signed by Shoaib Malik and other star players. It wasn't just Pakistanis who got one; Indians, Bangladeshis and even a few English fans were grinning with excitement at receiving an autograph from a Pakistan legend.
What that Jamaican man said could not have been truer in that moment. Cricket unites everyone together, and the GT20 Canada did just that.
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