Cricket, the world’s most popular bat and ball game, normally takes place in temperate, sunny climates. The coldest matches are usually found on blustery April mornings in Lancashire, England or in Dunedin, New Zealand—players can be seen wearing two sweaters, and clutching hand warmers in their pockets.
The Snow Cricket World Cup in Montreal, however, is a bit more extreme. A number of players—curious Montrealers and expats from Commonwealth countries, where the sport is primarily played—descend on Parc Jeanne-Mance to take part in the event. The tournament, now in its ninth year, has seen temperatures of -24°C in the past, leading participants to kit themselves up in Canada Goose, North Face, and Timberlands. Founder of the tournament and President of the Pirates of the St.-Lawrence Cricket Club, Angus Bell, got the inspiration for the tournament from his travels.
“The idea for snow cricket came from Estonia, where I was lucky enough to play cricket on ice, inside a former soviet missile factory against [the Estonian cricket team],” Bell explained. “It was part of a massive tour around the former Soviet Bloc and the Warsaw Pact countries at the time, so I was playing in the Croatian islands and the Slovakian mountains and stuff like that. So I thought if the guys can play cricket there, surely we can do it in Montreal.”
Translated from Eastern Europe to Parc Jeanne-Mance, snow cricket is wonderfully bizarre: A wooden platform lying on top of the snow serves as the pitch on which the ball is bounced. There are no boundaries, so the batsmen can smash the ball and run between the wickets as many times as they deem fit. Bowlers and fielders don bulky winter wear. At any moment, a cross country skiier moving through the field could stop play. Running through the snow is notoriously difficult—likened to sand on more than one occasion.
“It just works,” Bell explained. “Obviously when you are dressed up for the ski slopes like a ninja, bowling with frozen tennis balls on wood, it’s slightly ridiculous.”
A social, carnival atmosphere permeated the event. Teams were split into six different regions—England, the Asian bloc, the Celtics, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The teams had players of varying levels, and the idea was to give everyone a chance to get involved.
“It’s a fantastic introduction to the game,” Bell said. “It’s winter outside so there is nothing else to do, it’s a lot of fun, the most fun you can have in winter. So people come out, they bring friends. It’s a gateway drug to cricket.”
Teams played to win, but not at the expense of the event’s social side. At lunchtime, everyone stopped to eat pies. During the game there was considerable banter between the players. Everybody was laughing and enjoying the incongruous setting for a cricket tournament.
Australia defeated the Asian bloc in the final—a game that saw big hitting, foolish running, and manic celebrations. Afterwards, in proper cricketing fashion, everyone hit the pub to warm up after the game.
The fun event is part of Bell’s, and the Pirates of the St.-Lawrence Cricket Club’s, vision to introduce cricket to the wider Montreal community.
“[After finding inspiration from Estonia], it became a drive to open cricket to everybody,” Bell explained. “We have had over a thousand players in eight years at the [Pirates of the St Lawrence cricket club]. We have matches all summer against teams from New York, Boston, Toronto[….] Then we have our 10 week cricket program.”
Bell has an inclusive vision for the sport in Montreal.
“Everything we do is open to everybody,” he commented. “We have a lot of beginners, a lot of people who haven’t played since primary school, and [The Pirates of the St.-Lawrence] is one of the [most affordable] sports clubs in Quebec, we have all the equipment so people just need to turn up.”