ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Sri Lanka v Canada, Group A, World Cup 2011, Hambantota
Canada's gun prepares to fire
February 19, 2011
By deed, if not by sight, the exploits of Rizwan Cheema of Canada have travelled well. There is the start: 89 0ff 69 balls and 61 off 45 against the West Indies in 2008, nine sixes off men such as Jerome Taylor, Darren Powell and Kemar Roach. There is the 2008 Shoaib Akhtar encounter, where our hero lofted him for six over long on off the third ball of their introduction, having told his family as he left the house that morning that he would do so.
There is the strike rate: 121.38 in T20s and 119.4 in ODIs. There are the ten sixes in a T20I tournament in Canada, more than anyone including Shahid Afridi and Sanath Jayasuriya. For this tournament he warmed up with a 70-ball 93 against England and though it wasn't recorded, he likely scared the bejeebers out of them.
At practice in the magnificent but isolated Mahinda Rajapakse stadium in Hambantota on Friday evening, the most relentless drive to hit balls, every single ball, as high, hard and handsome as possible was Cheema's. Not all connected but the ones that did were pure, clean hits, of the kind that bring movement around to a halt.
Canada's foremost cricket analyst Faraz Sarwat notes that a Cheema hand is essentially a "primal" joy. It is based essentially, as for so many subcontinent players, on hand-eye coordination. The range of shots is not expansive and not technically attuned, but if the ball falls in an area he likes, lord help the bowler. Asked to describe himself as a batsman after practice, Cheema smiled and said, "Hard-hitting....I like to hit the ball."
A pause, another smile. "Out of the park."
It says something for pure talent that he has managed the deeds that he has. Climatically, Canada is not given to cricket. "The set-up isn't great there because only four months out of the year do we have a chance to play outdoors and rest of year it snows," he says. "Right now it's minus 30 there. So we're totally opposite to cricket weather-wise but still we try indoor practices and since we qualified, we've played outside Canada in the winter. There are indoor facilities but that's only matting, not turf."
Some players have at least been given central contracts so that there are seven full-time professionals in the side. The chances of a plumber running through a team have receded, though for the sake of a tale, it is a little loss. And as any self-respecting big team has done or still does, there were serious grumbles about the squad for the tournament, in particular the omission of Ian Bilcliff and Geoff Barnett.
A young squad has thus arrived, including five players from the Under-19 side. There has been quarter-final talk but Cheema, understandably for a 32-year-old perhaps, is more realistic. "We've been working hard for almost a year now preparing for this. We'll try to win three games that is the goal. Realistically we're not going to win the World Cup but we're trying to make sure we go out and take lots of positives from here, maybe reaching the second round."
Soon he will come across his former countrymen. Shoaib might be around as well, hoping to reacquaint. Cheema is, of course, from Gujranwala and only moved to Canada in 2000, having played club level stuff in Pakistan and idolised Imran Khan. He initially wanted to play only recreationally in Toronto but ended up in the Toronto and District Association League and, from 2005 onwards, began to do the kind of things he is now known by: 161 off 61 balls (eight fours, 15 sixes), a 145 with 15 fours and nine sixes. He only qualified for Canada selection in 2008.
"I played against them in Canada in 2008. It's always a good feeling playing against players you grow up following and the team you want to be in from your heart, but fortunately I'm playing for Canada now. I want to make a hundred that is my main goal, maybe against Pakistan. The 93 against England has given me lots of confidence."
It is not something he lacks particularly but it is on the hope that such players might do something, no matter how brief or how lost the cause - even one shot - that you remember forever after, it is on such hope that a World Cup also runs.
Given his age, there might not be another chance for Cheema. Given the ICC, there might not be another for Canada either.