For Jimmy Hansra, Thursday’s announcement that he’d been selected to Canada’s team for the Cricket World Cup officially brought his athletic career full circle.
Hansra, a 25-year-old Abbotsford resident, grew up in the Punjab province of India, playing “street cricket” – a descriptor which evokes parallel images of Canadian kids playing street hockey in cul-de-sacs across the nation. Nothing too formal, makeshift equipment, just kids playing for the love of the game.
In February, Hansra will return to India – one of three World Cup host nations along with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – wearing the maple leaf on his chest.
“It’s really a dream come true, especially being of Indian descent,” he enthused. “To see the players I grew up watching on television (at the World Cup), I can’t even describe it.
“It’s really an honour to represent your country and play the best of the best.”
Hansra’s cricket skills were initially honed in India, but the local cricket scene in Abbotsford merits a great deal of credit for his ascent to the national team.
Hansra moved with his family to Canada 11 years ago, settling first in Penticton before moving to Abbotsford in 2004. It was on the pitch at Exhibition Park that he began to take the sport more seriously.
“I didn’t know there was cricket in Canada when I moved here,” he said with a chuckle. “In Penticton, I played soccer.
“After we moved to Abbotsford, I went to Rotary Stadium to play soccer one day, and I saw people playing cricket here for the first time. I was like, ‘There’s cricket in Canada?’”
Hansra joined the local B.C. Mainland Cricket League side, and helped the team rapidly progress from Division 4 up to the Premier Division. In 2009, Abbotsford won the Premier championship, and Hansra was named co-winner of the top division’s sportsman of the year award.
That success drew the attention of Cricket Canada. Hansra is an all-arounder – a player who excels at both batting and bowling – and he made his national team debut two years ago in a game against Kenya in Toronto.
In September 2010, with Canada ramping up for the World Cup, Hansra became a carded athlete, securing a leave of absence from his job as a structural engineer with a Langley company in order to train and travel with the national team. He participated in a training camp in India in November/December, and played in the Caribbean Twenty20 tournament earlier this month.
“It’s a struggle for Canadian athletes to work, stay fit, and compete against the best,” Hansra noted. “Being able to concentrate my full effort on cricket has really helped me a lot.”
Like the soccer World Cup, the International Cricket Council (ICC) championship is held every four years.
Hansra said his team’s goal at the World Cup is to advance to the second round. To do that, they’ll need to finish in the top four out of seven teams in Group A, which features big-time cricket nations like Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan.
“We want to play good, hard cricket and cause a few upsets,” Hansra said.
Team Canada leaves for a pre-World Cup training camp in Dubai on Jan. 26, then heads to Bangladesh on Feb. 8 for tune-up matches against Bangladesh and England. They open the World Cup Feb. 20 against Sri Lanka.
“This year’s been crazy,” Hansra marveled, reflecting on his road to the World Cup. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride, and I’ve learned so much.”
Hansra said he hopes his World Cup selection serves to inspire young cricket players in Abbotsford.
“We’re trying to encourage all the juniors to take the sport seriously, because opportunities are there,” he said. “I’m the first one on the Canadian team (from Abbotsford), and I’m hoping I’m the first of many. We’ve got a lot of guys in town who can really play.”