By Nina Shu
Wherever Ryerson alumnus Hassan Mirza goes, cricket teams spring up.
First, was the one he started at Monarch Park Collegiate Institute after immigrating to Toronto from Pakistan at 15. Next, while attending Ryerson’s Chang School for business management courses, he organized and captained the men’s cricket team, which received official club status in 2015. And in 2014, he founded Canadian College Cricket (CCC), an organization that helps colleges and universities across Canada form their own cricket teams.
“Every time I go to watch one of the Raptors games downtown, I ask myself, ‘Why can’t cricket be there?’ That’s my dream,” said the 31-year-old Mirza.
With cricket being one of the fastest growing games in Canada, and the multicultural population of Toronto filled with immigrants from cricket-loving commonwealth countries, the numbers are there to make Mirza’s dream come true.
One of the biggest things missing was the sport’s representation in post-secondary institutions and an organizing body for that level of playing. This is where CCC came in.
While the U.S. had American College Cricket (ACC) with over 80 participating schools, Canadian colleges and universities had mostly self-contained cricket clubs. There were annual championships, but the cricket community lacked continuity throughout the year.
Working closely with ACC, Mirza co-founded CCC at the end of 2014, which currently has 12 participating schools, including Ryerson, University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University. It runs a summer league, championship events for both indoor and outdoor cricket, a women’s cricket program, and an All-Star series in partnership with ACC.
“Every time I go to watch one of the Raptors games downtown, I ask myself, ‘Why can’t cricket be there?’ That’s my dream”
As president of CCC, Mirza faces challenges unique to growing an up-and-coming sport with a lack of established processes.
“When you’re trying to develop a new game, you learn as you go. You make mistakes, you learn from them, and you try to improve on them,” he said.
Passing his knowledge onto those following in his footsteps has always been Mirza’s strategy—whether it be in captaining a team or making one. Maintaining relationships with younger cricketers is how he met CCC’s co-founder and current chief operations officer, Obaid Ullah.
When they first met in 2013, Mirza was the captain of Ryerson’s men’s cricket team and Ullah was a freshman, eager to get on the field. Mirza was looking for someone to pass his knowledge to, someone with the leadership skills and passion to fill his shoes.
To Mirza, Ullah met those requirements, and then some.
Ullah, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, current captain of Ryerson’s men’s cricket team, and a big player in school politics, started out by shadowing Mirza both on the field and in terms of managerial duties for the cricket club.
As a player under Mirza’s captaincy, Ullah got to know how he took control of the game, stayed mentally focused, and inspired his teammates.
“He’s very positive and aggressive when it comes down to the game situation,” said Ullah. “If he’s bowling, he wants their wicket. If he’s batting, he’s gonna score as many runs as he can. If he’s fielding, he’s gonna take as many runs as he can and he’s gonna make sure the whole team’s involved.”
Ullah recalled a moment last year during the semi-final game of the ACC Nationals: Ryerson was facing their archrivals, the University of South Florida, to whom they’ve lost multiple times.
Not only did the Rams have a low score, a loss seemed to be on the horizon. Mirza had sustained a hamstring injury halfway through the game and couldn’t walk. He only sat out for a few minutes before jumping back to his bowling position, picking up three crucial wickets and leading the Rams to victory.
“He loves leading from the front; he wants to take initiative to put runs on the board and take wickets, and lead the way for the other team members,” said Ullah.
With CCC, Mirza is also leading the way for other cricketers across Canada and making the sport accessible to everyone, regardless of racial or financial background. One of his goals for CCC is to gain enough support and sponsorships to be able to offer sports scholarships to students and take some of the weight off their shoulders.
As a student from an immigrant family who worked full time and took courses part-time, Mirza understands the struggle of other immigrants and the difficult choices they have to make: do they focus their energy on school, work, or recreation?
Now, as CCC has been affiliated with the Cricket Council of Ontario, it is one step closer to being nationally recognized. Mirza is also one step closer to his dream of having cricket being open to everyone in every college and university in Canada.
“I always believe the outcome will be good because as long as you’re sincere towards anything,” Mirza says. “The outcome can never be wrong.”
Correction: In a previous version of this article, it was written that the Canadian College Cricket organization had eight participating schools, when it really had 12. The Eyeopener regrets this error.