Akash Gill was six years old when he fell in love with cricket in the basement of his family home in Toronto.
It was the start of a cricketing odyssey which has landed him in Whanganui for the summer.
“My dad just handed me the bat and the first ball he bowled to me was short and I pulled it.
“I had no idea what I was doing, I just swung at it. He was surprised so he called my mum downstairs and she started taking some pictures and the very next ball my dad bowled it short and I pulled it again.
“Ever since then Dad’s just always been pushing me and I just fell in love with the sport.”
Since that afternoon, cricket has taken Gill around the World and before arriving in Whanganui in October he played for Canada at the under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.
The 17-year-old is here as part of partnership between the Ontario Cricket Academy, which he joined when he was eight, and Cricket Wanganui.
The fast-bowling all-rounder will spend the summer playing club cricket for Tech, rep cricket for Wanganui, coaching children’s cricket and assisting with the Wanganui Collegiate team.
He’s also helping keep the grounds at Victoria Park with Wanganui rep Dom Lock, who he is staying with.
“I’m really thankful for that. They opened up their house to me. He’s like my older brother here away from home,” Gill says.
“It’s great to give back. I’ve been coached by numerous coaches along the way so it’s good to be able to coach these ten and eleven-year-olds to give back to the game.”
He’s also made the Wanganui men’s team and impressed in his Hawke Cup debut against Taranaki, top-scoring and picking up key wickets.
“It felt good to me to be a 17-year-old kid coming from Canada and be opening the bowling for Wanganui. It was just a great experience.”
And he’s relishing playing in a country where it is the summer national game.
“It was really competitive. Bowlers over here, they are very consistent. Back home they will test you out but if you get them off the line, it’s hard for them to get back.
“Over here, if you hit the bad ball away you’ll find out that the next ten balls will be good balls.
“It was a really good challenge batting for a really long time and having the pressure of trying to stay in.”
Back in Canada, ice hockey still rules, but cricket is on the rise.
“In the last few years it’s grown a lot so you’ll have a lot more school games.
“You’ll have people coming in from the West Indies playing for clubs and stuff so it’s getting pretty big.
“I think it’s the diversity in culture. There’s more cultures there, right, so you have a lot of Indian people, some people from Asia. They really brought the game there and it’s just exploded.
Gill was 16 when he played at the under-19 World Cup earlier this year and will still be eligible when the tournament is played in New Zealand in 2018.
“I’m looking forward to probably coming here next summer as well, probably with a couple of other guys,” he says.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to get some experience here and get acclimatised to conditions and all that sort of stuff.”
Having already played one World Cup, Gill has tested himself against cricketers who will soon be playing at the highest level of the sport for India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
“It was a great experience. We got to play against some really good teams. It was amazing to compare yourself to where they’re at and knowing what you have to do to get to their level.
“Our technique can be matched to those of India and Pakistan but their mindset – the positivity, the way they make runs – that’s just from match practice, from playing every single day.”
But Gill says Canadian cricket will improve.
As one of six in the high performance programme for the national side, he wants to be part of a Canadian team climbing the rankings.
“Our team right now is developing and it’s got some really good talent.”
Gill is also focussed on making a living from his sport with his mind set on playing in the Indian Premier League.
“Getting into the IPL, CPL (Caribbean Premier League), all those types of leagues and getting my name out there to showcase my talent to the world.
“I’ve been aiming for that for the last four-years and keeping that consciously in my mind to get there,” he says.
“There is opportunity in Canada. It’s just that once you get your opportunity you’ve got to make sure you make the most of it because you’re not going to get that opportunity consistently.”