Auty Cup morale boost for Canada, but problems persist
Canada's place as a top flight Associate has been on shaky ground over the past two years. They finished sixth out of seven teams in Group A at the 2011 World Cup, beating only Kenya. Match-winners like John Davison and Ashish Bagai have moved on from the national team and Canada now sits at the bottom of both the Intercontinental Cup and the World Cricket League (WCL) Championship standings.
The country's winning results in the Auty Cup tour, against USA last week, make for a good morale boost heading into their next fixtures against Kenya in the Intercontinental Cup and WCL Championship, but the way they went about it was also indicative of why they are currently struggling in those competitions. There aren't enough players making major contributions from match to match.
Much of Canada's success against USA in Florida can be linked to the all-round performance of Raza-ur-Rehman. Canada couldn't reach 200 in the two-day match against a USA bowling unit that was missing all of its regular first choice components. Take away Rehman's twin half-centuries in the two-day match and Canada's highest score in that game was 28 in the second innings by Jimmy Hansra.
Rehman starred with the ball in the 50-over match as well, taking 5 for 27 with his left-arm spin as Canada coasted to a four-wicket win after overhauling USA's 194. Usman Limbada top scored with 64 in Canada's chase. Limbada is one of Canada's most exciting young talents, not just for his batting but for his exceptional fielding. He scored a half-century last summer in an ODI against Ireland, but those kinds of scores are too few and far between for a player of his ability. More should be expected of him.
Perhaps the most positive sign for Canada was the blistering half-century made by Rizwan Cheema in the first Twenty20 against the USA ,which Canada won by 36 runs. Cheema scored 24 runs off the first over of the match on his way to making 54 off 29 balls. He burst onto the international scene in 2008 by rocking West Indies and Sri Lanka with a string of Afridi-like displays in Toronto, but in the last two years he has struggled badly for form with the bat and earned his place in Canada's XI more recently for his bowling. If the score he made against USA last week can reignite his confidence, it would serve to lift the rest of his team as well.
Canada has been patient in giving their young nucleus of talent - including Limbada, Ruvindu Gunasekera, Nitish Kumar and Hiral Patel - time to develop and mature in their roles at the senior level. Although they've all shown flashes of being match-winners, none of them truly strikes fear in the hearts and minds of the opposition the way that Davison did in his career, or even Cheema did during his golden run from August 2008 through June of 2010. That needs to change over the course of the next 18 months for Canada to remain an ODI nation or else they could see their status relinquished in favor of another up-and-coming nation like Namibia or Nepal by 2014.
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey