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Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Maccabi Canada to field cricket team at summer games

Tags: Sports
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Emmanuel Joseph

There are some sports in the Maccabiah pantheon that Canadians excel at – think hockey, softball, baseball, even judo and tennis.

But what about cricket? The confusing, can’t make heads-or-tails contest in which a “square cut” at an “overpitched googly” can get you “stumped,” just before the batsman is “dismissed”?

Yes, that game.

Well, “bumper”!

It turns out Canada does indeed have plans to field a cricket team at this summer’s Maccabiah Games in Israel. The team consists largely of immigrants from India, South Africa and other hot climate countries, who brought their cricket skills with them.

Emmanuel Joseph is coaching the team, which will join Great Britain, Israel, South Africa and Australia in vying for a medal. A native of Mumbai, India, Joseph played on the Indian team at the 1985 and 1989 Maccabiah Games. He wants the younger generation of local cricketers to experience what he did – participation in the “Jewish Olympics.”

“The Maccabiah Games has always been my dream,” he said. “I know what it is to be Jewish and [compete] at the Maccabiah Games. I know what it means, and it’s the dream of the boys as well. It’s been my dream since 1993.”

That was the year Joseph immigrated to Canada. Moving to a country where cricket is pretty much an exotic foreign sport didn’t mean he had to give it up. Soon after his arrival, he played at the Toronto Cricket Club, where he attempted to put together a Jewish team that he hoped would compete in the 1993 Games.

Though that effort didn’t pan out, he took the long view and kept the idea in the back of his mind.

About 2-1/2 years ago, Joseph brought together some of the local Jewish players into a team called the Pioneer Cricket Club.

“The guys got together and said, ‘We’ve got a lot of Jewish players here, why don’t we put together a team,’” Joseph recounted.

The name was chosen because, “I felt we were pioneers to do something big, to represent Canada for the first time at the Maccabiah Games,” he explained.

The town of Stouffville provided them a “home field” on Bethesda Road, and during the winter months, the team practises indoors

The 13 guys on the team play in the Markham League in mostly friendly matches and they work out regularly.

When he approached Maccabi Canada president Tom Bacher with the suggestion that the organization should sanction a cricket team to the 2013 Games, he was given a green light – with the proviso that the group raise the $8,300 a player needed to send them to Israel.

That has proven a difficult task – far more difficult than recruiting a competitive team, Joseph said.

Right now, the team has accumulated something like $3,600 a player, and that includes guys taking out loans and using their credit cards.

They’ve held a few fundraisers, but Joseph admits they’re new to that endeavour and are learning about it on the fly.

“It’s a concern right now, but the athletes are working hard right now,” he said. “This is a dream come true for the athletes. This is going to be big for them personally, for Canada, and for the Bene Israel community.”

The Bene Israel, or sons of Israel, is the name for the Jews of India. The people trace their origins to members of a tribe of Israel who washed up on the shore of the Kokan region in an ancient shipwreck.

“The Bene Israel have been in India for a very, very long time,” Joseph said.

In recent years, many have immigrated to North America and Israel, but 15,000 to 20,000 remain in India, he said.

Like others in the subcontinent, the Bene Israel took to cricket, and the local squad has plenty of skill to represent Canada ably, he said.

For more information, Joseph can be reached at Emmanuel.joseph@sympatico.ca.

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