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We are well prepared for the World Cup - Bagai

Mohammad Isam

February 10, 2011

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

Canada captain Ashish Bagai addresses the media, Dhaka, February 10, 2011
Canada captain Ashish Bagai is one of seven professional cricketers in Canada © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Ashish Bagai | Balaji Rao
Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
Teams: Canada

Canada were the first team to arrive in Bangladesh for the 2011 World Cup on Wednesday evening and, though there is little local awareness about the team, their ride from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to the team hotel made headlines for the traffic jam it caused - a reminder to Dhakaites that with the excitement of hosting a World Cup come the attendant security and other issues.

Being the first team on the block, though, ensured maximum attention for Canada and their captain Ashish Bagai. Freshly shaved, Bagai, 29, was hardly recognizable to even those journalists present on that day in Durban in 2003 when Bangladesh were shocked by the Canadians.

Bagai, the wicketkeeper so synonymous with Canadian cricket and one of seven professional players in the side, is leading a team that has seven different nationalities and an age-bracket typical of the ICC's Associate nations. There is the 16-year-old Nitish Kumar (the second-youngest ever to play an ODI) alongside John Davison, at 40 the elder statesman of the side if not the entire tournament. Rizwan Cheema and Zubin Surkari - the sole Zoroastrian in this World Cup - are the bats that are billed to make heads turn while the towering Henry Osinde looks more like an NBA star. There is also the legbreak bowler Balaji Rao, an experienced Ranji Trophy player who moved to Canada for his family. And Bagai himself, born in New Delhi, but having played all his cricket in Canada.

"I get asked that question a lot actually," Bagai concedes. "Sometimes we are called the United Nations team because we have seven different nationalities. It is challenging at times, players here grew up in different cultures and they approach cricket differently.

"They play for a common cause though initially it was a bit of a struggle. We learn a lot about each other, the different cultures. But it has been a real treat to lead the side over the last two years. We learn a lot from each other, we take advantage of this."

Expatriates keep cricket alive in Canada and though they get a small window every year, they make the best of it. Balaji, who migrated in 2001 to Toronto at the age when a legspinner usually approaches his peak, is one of the part-timers in the squad despite his vast experience in the Ranji Trophy. But in a country where cricket careers remain a gamble, Balaji had to make a choice between his mother and a promising career.

"It was my choice to go to Canada and play," he said. "I was doing well but I had to move due to my family conditions. My mother was unwell, she had cancer, so I had to take care of her. It was either play cricket or take care of her, and family was important to me."

Balaji took time off from his insurance job (he specialises in auto claims) to play in the World Cup. "I have the knowledge of playing in these conditions. I was exposed to first-class cricket from the age of fifteen. I have played for and against Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble," he said, counting among his close friends VVS Laxman, and former India internationals Sridharan Sriram and WV Raman. "They have been in contact with me. I am very excited to play in India actually. I have lots of sweet memories but the sweetest has to be taking the wicket of Steve Waugh."

With the expansion of cricket in Canada over the last two years through the introduction of professional contracts, the Inter-Continental Cup and World Cup, the national players haven't often sat idle during the long winters. "We get five months, from May to September, like the English season," Bagai said. "Over the last couple of years we have been travelling quite a bit in the winter. We have had camps in Sri Lanka for a couple of months in the winter. We've done camps in India and Dubai. The board has done pretty good trying to get us prepared for this event."

The man himself left his banking job in 2009, a move that underlined his faith in the system. "For the last couple of years I've been involved in no other profession. We have seven full-time professional cricketers and the rest are contracted till the World Cup. It was a big step for Canadian cricket to get the central contracts. For the last six months, there have been part-time contracts for the rest of the guys."

What has affected them though, is the ICC's proposal to trim the next World Cup to just ten teams; it would be a big blow for Canada's cause and could mean this is Bagai's last such tournament. "It is pretty disappointing and frustrating to have that decision made. But that decision was made keeping a lot of things in mind but that is not in our minds, as players. They have more teams in the Twenty20 World Cup, which they think is the future of world cricket."

Canada are in Bangladesh to play two warm-up games, first of which is against the hosts in Chittagong on Saturday. Canada take on Sri Lanka in their opening World Cup game in Hambantota on February 20 and the skipper is looking keenly into that contest. "It is a new venue, even they won't know what to expect, so it's going to be tough," Bagai said. Obviously Lasith [Malinga] and [Muttiah] Muralitharan are the big threats but if we can get through a couple of their bowlers we have a good chance."

It would be a mammoth challenge but if Canada are dreaming an improbable dream, there's no better country to find inspiration to carry it out.

Mohammad Isam is Senior Sports Reporter, The Daily Star in Dhaka


Comments: 17 
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Posted by D on (February 11, 2011, 18:39 GMT)

Go Canada! Win or loose, do your best. We're all aproud of you

Posted by Dinesh on (February 11, 2011, 18:12 GMT)

@Nikhil Desai

That could be in a tour match or a practice match that he got Steve Waugh.

Look at his profile - no reference to "India"

Posted by Chatty on (February 11, 2011, 15:24 GMT)

I am a Sri Lankan-Canadian and I know it will be tough for Canada to beat SL in the opening game. I am afraid that it will be very one sided. But I hope Canada does well. I hope Canada beats some of the more established teams such as Zim/Bang/Kenya. I would love to see Canadian cricket flourish!

Posted by saumitra on (February 11, 2011, 10:06 GMT)

yeah, well prepared for 1st round exit as always

Posted by Spad on (February 11, 2011, 8:53 GMT)

@ Meety, In my opinion, the 16 team format is not good. But the current format is excellent. I Hope the so called minnows can perform neck and neck with the biggies in this world cup. That makes the tournament exciting. And also hope ICC will be settled with the current format which consists of 14 Nations, 2 Group, QF, SF and FINAL. Ban, Zim, Ire and Ken have the capability to win matches against biggies. I would love to see any one of the mentioned teams to win the world cup....atleast Final....All the very best Minnows....

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 11, 2011, 7:35 GMT)

I wish all the best for Canadian team. Good luck Bagai, Davison, Chohan, Cheema, Rao, Zubin and rest all team specially the youngsters. I don't expect a semi final spot from this team but the experience would definitely help Canada cricket in general. At the same time it would not be a surprise to me if Canada win either against ZIm, BD or even WI.

Posted by Andrew on (February 11, 2011, 6:52 GMT)

@Nikhil Desai - also like to point out that NOT EVERYONE lost interest in the 2007 W/Cup. Two nations with large fan bases may of. I think seeding is important if a 4groups of 4 structure is used. Based on ICC rankings A) Oz, Bang, Netherlands, Namibia B) India, NZ, Zim, Afghanistan C) SL, Pakistan, Ireland, Canada D) Sth A, England, WI, Kenya. This would mean there was 1 tough Group (D). IMO - there should be some point to the ranking system & so Oz & India would of derived an advantage from their standings. Only Group D would there be a Test side definately eliminated from the next round/QTR finals. This would be a much shorter format & it gives opportunities for fledging nations to aim for something.

Posted by Andrew on (February 11, 2011, 6:38 GMT)

@Nikhil Desai - no worries mate, that's your opinion, I don't agree with it. I don't care if a major nation bows out early. Oz bowed out early @ home in the 92 edition. I think a tournament without upsets is boring! I also like to note that " if a team lost one game, next two games would be do and die" sounds exciting to me! Pak & India didn't rise to the challenge - India rose to the challenge in 2003 - falling at the last hurdle, & Pakistan rose famously in 92. I think an air of uncertainty adds to the drama - if teams can't hack it - tough! In a 4 groups of 4 format, (if seeded properly), any of the top 4 sides are only going to face one other "tough" side & then at worst another lowly side like Bangladesh or Zimbabwe + an associate. TBC

Posted by Jay on (February 11, 2011, 3:38 GMT)

As a Canadian of Indian origin my loyalties lie split however I back my lovely Canada to do well in this tournament. They have some wonderful talent and Bagai is a future star in the making. Good luck Canada !!! love you !!

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 11, 2011, 3:03 GMT)

I can only say Canada 'tough luck'.i will b also there in the ZAC stadium 2 watch the practise mtch between 'bd vs canada'

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