“What it is”
This blog entry is slightly different from others I’ve done. The only thing that made me hesitant to do it, is the fact that this piece would make the guy I’m going to tell you about feel extremely uncomfortable. This is by no means his thing, he is a “behind-the-scenes” guy, managing and creating, growing and producing, but never one for the spotlight, or there to take credit. I’ll tell you about him, because you should all know this.
In general, when people make drastic lifestyle changes, there will be questions. Two of the most common ones I get on a regular basis, from friends to family members, and across the crazy world of social media and its different formats; “Why did you retire so suddenly, and how did you end up in Canada, of all places?” The first one is a story for another day.
I had basically decided two or three years before my actual retirement date that I was ready to move on. I wanted to move to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and my wife; Lizelle, mentioned Australia. Something told her I needed to go check out North America first, as I had actually never been there. I sent out some random emails, and received a response from the founder and director of the Ontario Cricket Academy; Derek Perera. We set up three High Performance camps for the summer, agreed that I would play a few games for the club, after which I would fly to Belfast, or go back home first, and then jump on another plane.
As my flight took off, displaying that incredible view of my beloved Port Elizabeth, a strange sensation vibrated through me. It almost felt as if I was saying goodbye. But that was just silly, I had a suitcase and a cricket bag, I was only good for a few months, no more. I’d be back.
Without a US Visa, I had to fly to Frankfurt, and Toronto from there. I stepped off the plane and realized that I only knew one person in Canada; Hoppies Hopkins, but he lived in Alberta, thousands of miles away from Toronto. No worries man, I had my passport, credit card, my phone, and a charger, I’m good! Cruised through customs, and I briefly studied the picture of Derek that I had saved from Facebook. I recognised him, standing against a pillar, right at the arrivals gate. A bunch of emails, Facebook messages, one Facebook call, and I meet the guy at last.
June 18, 2015.
I walk up to the square at Courtney Park, still feeling the 32 hour travel from Port Elizabeth to Toronto. The Ontario Cricket Academy & Club is in the middle of a practice session. A kid with red pads and a red helmet is at the crease, or should I say, “at bat”. I am in North America now, after all. Not quite. This kid resembles a young Daryll Cullinan, 16 years old, and he wants to be a doctor. Apparently he went to the previous u/19 World Cup, and I watch him bat for about 10 minutes. Not sure what I had expected when I came to Canada, but definitely not this. A spinner comes on. This must be the kid who just played in the CPL, the first Canadian to play pro cricket. He basically bowls like Narine. A Kuweit-born, Canadian Narine. Okay. Little Cullinan, who was later appointed captain for the next World Cup, jumps on the boy’s doosra, and chips it over extra.
The leading run-scorer in the domestic youth leagues rolls up in his car. His siblings are with him, a girl with a cricket bag, and a younger brother. I notice Derek staring at them, a tinge of emotion in his eyes. I was later told that Derek literally rolled tennis balls into this kid’s hands, when he was 6 years old, taught him everything he knows. The younger brother was in a baby-seat back then, seems like a lifetime ago. The girl wants to play in the women’s Big Bash in Australia. She probably will. Derek just smiles as the three walk up to him, greeting him, “Hey coach”.
That same weekend a 13 year old boy smashes a 100 in a T20 game. And when I say smash, I mean hitting 80meter sixes. What is going on here? Why is Canada in the fourth division? Something is wrong. The butterflies in my tummy had started.
I’m sitting on Derek’s balcony in the hub of Mississauga City. The view is insane, the Marilyn Monroe Towers flaunting its dominance against a melting sunset. I feel like I am in heaven, and it suddenly hits me. I turn to Derek, and tell him that I want to move to Canada. He gets this a lot. He responds with a natural, instinctive set of detailed sentences and information. I stop him, and I repeat myself, “Derek, I’m moving here”. He looks at me for a moment, and smiles…”You are moving here, done”.
I tell Liz about my new plan, and jump into action.
Long story short, I ended up staying in Canada for 5 months before my family joined me. Sure, I’m domesticated, I’ve been married for a very long time. But this was new to me, I had not realized how lost I was without Liz. I’m well-travelled, but staying on your own, and not in a hotel or backpackers, is different. Derek and his partner Tina looked after me during those months. They cooked for me, helped me with laundry, drove me around, we socialized together, went sightseeing, fishing, he even took me downtown to see my immigration lawyer. As I am typing this, I am sitting at the dining room set he had given me for my new home, together with endless supplies of cutlery, pots and pans, dishes, snow shovels, you name it. He helped me pick out a car, find insurance, the healthcare process, utility services, anything you can think of.
This is the guy who stood by me when I was missing my wife, my daughters, and dealing with the nerves and frustration that only an immigration process can provide. You know when people say that a guy would give someone the shirt off his back? Well, this guy actually does. On a weekly basis he drives kids home after practise, no matter how far it is. His first priority is always making sure that everyone around him is taken care of, that the kids at the academy are comfortable, that they are having fun, that they are fed, that they are happy.
Derek Perera is a creative genius. His nonstop ideas and innovations sometimes drive me crazy, as I am super structured and I love simplicity. We fight, we argue, we laugh together and we get emotional together. That’s what chemistry does, and that’s the reason why we are always moving forward, breaking down barriers, and defying logic.
“Derek the Great”, as he is often referred to in our circle. My fellow coach, my business partner, my brother.
Salud mi familia.