Cricketers put their skills to test at new field

Harkirat Jhajj was having himself a field day batting for the Dawson Creek Cricket Club.

Elected the first batsman to start the second innings against the Prince George Chargers in their opening match at the Prince George tournament at Vanier Park Saturday afternoon, the 23-year-old Jhajj was pounding the ball into oblivion. He'd already driven out a dozen or so hits when he connected on his second six-run boundary, a straight drive that rolled well past the 100-metre mark.

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Needing 112 runs to overcome the Chargers, Jhajj scored 39 runs himself and had his team within 10 runs when bowler Jarman Gill, pitching the final over, jammed Jhajj with a pitch and fielded the batted ball off the turf into his hands just a short jog away from the Dawson Creek wicket. Gill knocked the wicket over, then went back to work on trying to dismiss the rest of his opponents.

Down by 11 runs with just nine bowls (pitches) left, Dawson Creek made it close. Vishal Rajput hit a four-run boundary that whittled the Chargers' lead down to seven and they continued to make contact, needing three runs to win on Gill's last pitch. They got two when Rajput hit a short chopper but Gill was there to field the ball and he ended the game by hitting the wicket to clinch a one-run victory.

Coming on the heels of their 158-99 loss to Surrey in the previous match, the win over Dawson Creek kept the Chargers alive. Had they lost, they would have been eliminated from playoff contention.

"That was pretty close, we were almost on the verge but we make it by one run," said Gill. "(Jhajj) is one of the good batsmen they have and he was making scores right from the start and that was the biggest danger to us. I finally bowled him out and that was a big achievement for our team. It was a very close game."

The hot sun raised the temperature to 27 C in the shade and there was none of that available to the players on the field.

"That's a 20-over game and it's sunny and pretty hot for us," said Gill one of five bowlers the Chargers used in the game. "It was our second continuous game after Surrey and we were standing there for 40 overs and six hours, but our hard work pays off and we're happy."

The P.G Cricket Club just put the finishing touches on its new field in time for the six-team tournament, which started Friday. The Dawson Creek club makes its home on a grass pitch and playing on concrete took some getting used to.

"The ball is skidding very quickly and that makes it harder to hit," said Jhajj. "We're not used to that kind of pitch, but when we spend the time we'll get to know how its behaving and automatically we'll get confidence."

Players were impressed with the predictable bounces off the bowled balls off the turf-covered concrete, which should help reduce the risk of injuries. Helmets and face shields are recommended but are not mandatory.

"When we used to play on grass it was really hard to judge where the ball was coming but now it's much better," said Banny Mann, the 34-year-old captain of Prince George Kings XI. "I got three stitches last year (on the chin) when I got hit by the ball, even though I was wearing a helmet."

The field also has a paved practice pitch, which will be enclosed with nets to make it safe. That will allow small groups of players to practice their bowling and batting skills.

The $15,000 project was paid for by the private donations and contributions from local businesses after the five-member committee (Navi Ghuman, Ravi Padda, Preet Ratoul, Lakhvir Bhatal and Kanwal Bains) won the approval of the city to build the pitch in the field adjacent to Westwood Church.

"When we first started we all played and then we started raising families and cricket went into the background," said Ghuman. "There were so many kids coming from India who were playing and we had enough players to make more than one team so we started to do the tournament (two years ago).

Most of the players on the six teams are originally from India and the Prince George club has about 50 committed players. The club hopes ex-patriots from cricket-playing nations will discover there is interest in the game in Prince George. Potential players from England and Australia came out to watch the tournament Saturday and some asked club officials for registration forms.

"A few people were asking and now, having a good ground, we'll catch them playing," said Mann. "Last year we tried to get teams from Edmonton and Grande Prairie to come to our tournament but they didn't come and they said it was because we didn't have a pitch to play and they didn't want to play on grass because it was dangerous."

While there were were no female players in the tournament, the club says players of both genders are welcome.

Now that it has a permanent home, the local club hopes to have a city league of at least four teams in place for next year. A 16-player select team from the club will travel to tournaments this summer in Red Deer and Kelowna.

"We really appreciate our cricket management team, they paved the way for us," said Vishvas Paul, 26, captain of Royals United of Prince George, which went 0-2 and was the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. "We came here as international students and we couldn't do this if we just did this by ourselves, we don't have the connections they have."

In the semifinals Sunday, the eventual champions from Surrey defeated Kings XI by 89 runs, while the Chargers beat Yadwindrian of Prince George by six wickets.

In the final, Surrey built a healthy lead in the first innings and won the title by 65 runs over the Chargers. Surrey batsman Ravjot Mann was the man of the match, scoring 93 runs off 42 balls.

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