Zee's notes: The game of cricket today to some has become too commercialized and equally to some has become one of the most exciting and watchable spectator sport. The 5 day Test (yawn) gave way to the 50 over one-day game and now the Twenty-20 format has brought more fans into the fold. The game has had to adapt to the demands of the sponsors who want to capture viewers in a shorter time frame and also by fans who want a more faster and exciting experience. The other phenomena has seen the Indian Sub-continent gain control of the advertising dollar and hence the power of calling the shots at a global level. India now provides 70% of all the sponsorship money in the game today - witness the spectacular success of the IPL Twenty-20 league which just concluded this month with record crowds combined with all the glitter of Bollywood - did you know 2 of the owners of teams in the IPL include Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zeinta.
So the punch line to the intro above is that Cricket will be one of the headline sports at the GJG next week in Nairobi. So here is my 2 bit primer on what to expect at the GJG cricket tournament.
Canada: First because I know it so well. The 17 lads who will represent Canada come from a land where the sport is played only in the 4 summer months. However many of them have been at the game for most of their lives. Shaheed Keshvani is a promising all rounder with ambitions of a spot on the National Team - indeed he represented Canada in the U-19 Youth World Cup held a few years ago. Canada also has former U-19 National Team members and brothers Jamil and Shafiq Kassam. Another highlight of this team is the veterans (old guys) who bring a lot of experience - Captain Taj Mohamed has won a few national club championships in Canadian Cricket.
USA: Cricket in the US has fluorished in the past decade due to the Indian and Pakistani influx and did you know there are Ismaili/Aga Khan Clubs in Atlanta, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and California. Such is the enthusiasm for the sport that word is the US is sending 2 teams to Nairobi. The US teams could provide many a highlight as, though I do not have names, there are many stars who have played at a high standard in their home countries.
Pakistan: Clearly the favorites to win the whole shebang. In 1989 when super cricketer Aslam Jindani, at one time the Director of Outpatient Services at AKU- Karachi, organized the Ismaili World Cup of Cricket, Pakistan defeated Kenya (with Steve Tikolo) at the Aga Khan Gymkhana in Garden. Cricket in Pakistan is like Ice Hockey for Canadians, NFL football for Americans and Soccer for Europeans - it is played with passion and many a conversation at the water cooler centers around the shenanigans of Shoaib Akhtar, the fastest bowler in the universe, and the rest of the team. The Pakistan team at the GJG will be good and you'll see many stars from this squad. Did you know that fast bowler Salim Jaffer of Karachi is the only Ismaili to ever play for Pakistan's national team at the World Cup and Test level in the late 1980's. Salim is now a selector for Pakistan's national Cricket team - an honor for sure.
Kenya and Tanzania: In the late 80's and early 90's Ismaili cricket almost disappeared when most of the stars left East Africa for better opportunities in North America and Europe. Over the past decade there has been an influx of players, like in the US, from India and Pakistan so the East African teams won't be regarded lightly by their opponents.
India: With the sport so huge in this country, little is known about what to expect from the Indian team. The only news has been that a team from the Gujarat won their national tournament. They may be the darkhorses as not much is known about them except they are from a country where, like Pakistan, the sport of cricket is King !!!
The UAE: Again, dominated by immigrants from the Indian Sub-Continent, they could provide a challenge to some of the favorites.
The UK: The English may surprise if they bring some of the players who have gained exposure with the game at the high school and university level. Though the English have pretty well lost their top level status in the game to the likes of Australia, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan - they do have a formidable coaching system and we may see some talented players in Nairobi.
So over the course of a week if you are in Nairobi head over to the local cricket grounds and catch some fast and furious action - oh did I tell you the games will be played under the Twenty-20 format - as my Gujarati tailor tells me - 'That too much fun !!!'