Canadians gear up for their big day
Sri Lanka is fast becoming a country for overseas teams to come and practice and train during the winter. At the moment the Canadian national team is on a five-week visit preparing themselves for the ICC World Cup Qualifiers in Johannesburg which starts on April 1.
Canada's national cricket coach Pubudu Dassanayake has set his sights further ahead than the tournament itself. "We will qualify for the World Cup I am definite," he said. "But we are not just looking to qualify but we want to win. We have the capability of doing it. It's only a matter of putting things together.
"If you make it to the final, the ICC has promised us two tours a year against Full Member countries, and if you finish in the first six you keep the ODI status - and ICC funding is also available. The reason why I am planning to win this tournament is if we win we have a good chance of trying to become a Full Member status of the ICC within maybe the next 10 years.
Dassanayake, who kept wicket for Sri Lanka in 11 Tests and 16 ODIs, is only contracted with the Canadians until the end of the tournament, but if he steers them to a top-six finish then he had been assured that he will be signed-up until after the 2011 World Cup.
His associations with Sri Lanka were not the only reason he opted for the country as Canada's base ahead of the Qualifiers, and he was quick to praise the facilities. "I don't think you can get them anywhere in the world. Financially also it is profitable for us. When you compare the costs in Canada it is relatively cheap to come to Sri Lanka, although we are far away from home."
"Sri Lanka doesn't realise the huge potential it has. I took this team to Guyana in November for training and the facilities were terrible. Everything there was expensive. In Sri Lanka the coaching knowledge and the facilities we have are huge."
Proof of how much Dassanayake rates the Lankan coaching was established after hired former Sri Lanka captain and opening bat Marvan Atapattu to be the team's short-term batting coach. "He is one of the best batsmen we had from the technical side. At the same time he is also a tough character. I needed his type of approach and his personality in my team. That's why I selected him."
Dassanayake stated that batting has been the main weakness in the Canadian team. "If you take the other ICC Associates we have the best bowling side. But batting was always a problem because we were depending too much on a couple of New Zealanders and one Australian. John Davison. who played for us. They are still playing but I want some of the local boys to reach that level to take the team forward."
Dassanayake went to Canada in 2001 to play club cricket and moved there a year later with his family. He played for Canada in 2005 and 2006 and after the 2007 World Cup, Cricket Canada offered him the opportunity to become national team coach. H e gladly accepted because it was a role he always wanted to play.
His links with Sri Lanka have reaped another benefit, as Sri Lanka's specialist coaches are assisting him in an honorary capacity because of his personal contacts with them.
"We have hired only Marvan for batting and Chandrishan Perera to help us on the fitness side. I don't think Cricket Canada would have got this kind of help anywhere in the world," he said. "I am thankful to Cricket Canada for placing a lot of trust in me and allowing me to bring the national team to a country like Sri Lanka without them knowing the potential and facilities that are available here. They took my word and gave me a free hand with the players. The way we have planned out our practices and training is something the Canadian players have never undergone in their careers."
The biggest change has been in Dassanayake's insistence that the main players be given full-time contracts, ensuring they are available to practice at all times.
And while heat of Sri Lanka caused a few problems for players used to the intense cold of a Canadian winter, they have adjusted well. "The first few days the boys struggled a little to cope up with the heat and humidity so we concentrated the first two weeks on fitness," Dassanayake said. Now they have got used to the conditions."
According to Dassanayake cricket in Canada is gaining popularity fast. "It's developing fast because the Asians don't like to play sport like ice hockey or basketball. Now the schools have started to play tournament cricket. Cricket is huge now."