ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News

Sri Lanka v Canada, Group A, World Cup 2011, Hambantota

Pressure-free Canada ready to impress

Osman Samiuddin in Hambantota

February 19, 2011

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Ashish Bagai's memory isn't as clear as it should be perhaps, though given what happened when Canada last met Sri Lanka at a World Cup, he is not to be blamed. That game, in Paarl, South Africa in 2003, was over in just over half a Twenty20 game: Canada's 36 all out remains the lowest World Cup total.

A day ahead of - for want of a more appropriate word - their rematch at Hambantota, he's not too keen to remember the game. "I don't have such good memories of that. The one before that is still in my mind, but I think I have forgotten the Sri Lanka game," Canada's captain said. The one before was a loss to Kenya, so it is the one before that he remembers: the Austin Codrington-inspired 60-run win over Bangladesh. "There are only two guys from that World Cup here, myself and John Davison and we don't talk about that game too much."

Canada have made some strides since then. There are central contracts in place. They also have a clutch of Under-19 players in the side, homegrown products and a "brand" of cricket they are keen to show off. It is bracing talk. "We've got some very exciting youngsters coming through the Canadian program for the first time. It's important to show our brand of cricket and home-grown cricketers, as opposed to the past where lots of guys from India and Pakistan came in after playing in their domestic leagues and 'A' teams. We want to show what Canada has produced for the first time."

Prime among them is Nitish Kumar, all of 16 and with much hype around him. No wonder his listed nickname is Tendulkar. From Bagai's words, the hype may not be unjustified. "He's my favourite batsman to watch in the world. I've never seen a talent like that and a lot of coaches in world cricket say that about him. He's so young but very exciting."

An eye will be kept on others, like the left-arm spinner Parth Desai or Ruvindu Gunasekera, the left-handed top-order batsman who's done well domestically in Sri Lanka, the land of his birth. Something, over the course of six matches, will surely come from Rizwan Cheema and the godfather-grandfather John Davison.

A little insider knowledge is also available. Canada's head and assistant coaches are Pubudu Dassanayake and Chandika Haturusingha, both former Sri Lankan internationals. The latter only joined recently, but together, says Bagai, the pair has been crucial. "Pubudu has been crucial for us, especially in grooming youngsters to play at this level. Hatu is an excellent man when it comes to technical ability. Both of them together form a good group for us and both have very good knowledge of subcontinent conditions. Most of our players are from subcontinent roots so they can relate to them really well."

Talent, inside information, spirit and all these things will take you only so far when you step out on to the field against co-hosts and favourites in a World Cup. There is no reason to suspect Bagai - an impressive man - doesn't know that. But freedom from fear and pressure are great, mood-changing stimulants. There is no pressure on Canada, none whatsoever and Bagai knows that too.

"In the warm-up game against England, there were nerves for the younger guys because we've got five Under-19s players in the side," he said. "We got that out of the way. Now, tomorrow is about no pressure, nobody expects us to win and we want to spin that positively and use it to our advantage. Play freely, see young guys play their natural game and some responsibility from the older guys."

Simple really, when put like that.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
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