Student cricketer helps
to grow the sport



When Zohaib Usmani says he was raised in a company town, he isn’t evoking the term casually.

Located near Kolkata in east India, Jamshedpur is a community that genuinely owes its existence to industrial giant Tata Steel.

Founder Jamsetji Tata was determined to establish steel production in India to help advance the nation at the turn of the 20th century. When the first steel ingot rolled out of the factory in 1912, it ushered in a new era for the region and the country. The steel mill would employ thousands, which required building company housing.

Tata’s plan to expand the nearby village of Sakchi was an ambitious one. He insisted on providing all the benefits of a planned community, including wide streets with shade trees as well as generous public gardens, parks and playfields for soccer and field hockey. The new town was called Jamshedpur in honour of its founding father.

“It seems like half of the people in town are employed by Tata,” says Usmani, who grew up in what is now a city of 1.3 million inhabitants. Remarkably, it remains the only Indian city of more than one million residents without a municipal government. Taxpayers have repeatedly rebuffed the state government’s attempts to end Tata’s administrative rule.

Usmani took advantage of his boyhood home and played sports in Jamshedpur’s parks and fields. His soccer skills proved to be so good, he played in India’s national tournament representing his state. Usmani also enjoys cricket, a pastime that was introduced to India in the early 1700s by the British. He was good enough to play at the provincial level, representing his hometown.

When Usmani completed 10th grade, his mother dispatched him to Vizag to attend boarding school for his 11th and 12th grades. There he studied science and math to prepare for a career in mechanical engineering – but his path would take an unexpected turn.

“There are lots of university programs in India, but they make you study everything for the first three years before you can specialize in engineering,” says Usmani, who wished to focus on the design aspects of engineering, specifically related to aerospace. He thought about finding an international school that taught the subject.

“I considered a couple of universities in New Zealand, but the deadline had passed and the reviews were not very positive,” he says of his search. He turned his attention to Canada, where his aunt lived in the city of Mississauga.

Usmani discovered the Mechanical Engineering Technology Design program at Toronto’s Centennial College and enrolled right away. The courses combine engineering theory and practice, focusing on the design and development of mechanical products using computer-assisted drafting and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) tools common to the industry.

“We progressed from using AutoCAD to Inventor to SolidWorks and now CNC programs used in manufacturing. There’s lots of hands-on learning in the classrooms and labs, and my professors have been super helpful. My friends tell me it isn’t like that in university in India. I’m not a bookworm,” he confesses.

Unlike many of his colleagues studying at Centennial, Usmani did not attend university back home. He came to Canada to pursue undergraduate studies because the program immediately introduced him to the design skills he wanted. Beyond the curriculum, there is much that he enjoys about his Canadian college experience.

“When I arrived here two years ago, the Centennial College residence had only been open for one day and we all moved into brand-new rooms. It became a fantastic community and I made many friends.”

“When you read poor reviews online about a school, chances are the student who wrote it did not dive into the full experience,” he says. “I tell people the more you get involved at college, the better your experience will be.”

Usmani knows from first-hand experience. Rather than take a part-time job at a restaurant, he found work at the college as a referee in the athletics department, then a cricket convener and more recently as an intramural sports coordinator.

He tries to get students interested in the many activities put on by the college and the student association to keep them engaged, challenged and physically fit.

“Just going to class is not enough,” he says. “Students pay a fee with their tuition to subsidize all these extra activities, so I tell them that they’ve already paid so they should take advantage of the trips and the games.”

In addition to overseeing the recreation activities on campus, Usmani was keen to play cricket, which enjoys a large following at Centennial College.

“When we had team tryouts, more than 80 players showed up for four positions on the team,” he recalls. While he wasn’t chosen, the coach sensed his enthusiasm and invited Usmani to tag along with the team to watch and learn. Because of the time of year, college cricket is played indoors in a gymnasium, requiring a style of play unfamiliar to many Indians. So Usmani watched and learned.

“One player eventually injured himself, so they put me in the game and I quickly learned to adapt to indoor play. I had to start from zero. But at the end of the season, I was given the award for the most improved player. And Centennial won the season as the best in the province.”

Usmani has watched the popularity of cricket grow on campuses all over Ontario during the past two years. He was even invited to fly to Sioux Lookout in northern Ontario last summer to teach Aboriginal youth to play cricket.

“I had taken a bunch of new equipment there on the plane with me. I was surprised by the turnout. The kids like playing the game so much. I heard they are still playing cricket there right now!”

Usmani is hopeful that cricket will become an official intramural college sport in the near future. In the meantime, he’s having a lot of fun with it – including wearing the Colts mascot costume at various events.

“It’s supposed to be a secret,” he smiles sheepishly. Usmani marvels at all the talent that has amassed at Centennial College.

“I have one cricketer who was part of India’s Under 17 national team. He played in a couple of tournaments in South Africa. And I have the job of telling him how to play here!”


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