World Cup performance
Canada viewed this World Cup as a major turning point in their cricketing journey. Self reliance appeared to be a mirage until this tournament, but according to board president Ranjit Sahni, sponsors are beginning to show up at their door. Plans are afoot to launch a five-team competition along the lines of the IPL in Canada, with the involvement of foreign players. They are striving to go beyond the handouts they get from the ICC and script their own destiny. Much depended on their young team stringing together a few good performances in this tournament and they have done that.
They gave a real scare to England in the warm-up game but were pinned down near the line by Stuart Broad. Realistically, their goal was to beat Kenya, the other Associate team in their group, and maybe also beat Zimbabwe. They achieved a five-wicket win over Kenya but were thumped by Zimbabwe. Where they really sparkled, albeit in phases, was against some of the Full Members. Apart from that warm-up encounter against England, they bowled out Pakistan for 184 and reached 104 for 3 before collapsing for 138. Against Australia, they raced to 82 for 1 in just 11 overs, courtesy of a dazzling knock from Hiral Patel, and reached 150 for 2 in the 29th over before the inevitable collapse.
A win is priceless and so the defeat of Kenya stands out. To make the Australian captain lose his rag - a frustrated Ricky Ponting threw down the ball in anger, ostensibly due to a team-mate, but Canada's blitz would have contributed to his overall sombre mood - was another mini-highlight. But the two performances against Pakistan and England will be treasured. They came close to beating both and if not for Broad and the wily Shahid Afridi, they might even have done it.
It has to be their performance against Zimbabwe. Getting crushed by Sri Lanka is one thing but being thumped by Zimbabwe would have saddened them. Zimbabwe waltzed to 298 before Canada were shot out for 123.
The youth provided hope, a couple of experienced players impressed, and the management seems keen on developing the game. Hiral Patel hit a 45-ball 54 that included a mind-blowing back-foot six over covers to a 158.5kph thunderbolt from Shaun Tait. Ashish Bagai was fabulous behind the stumps and very purposeful, and calm, in front of it with the bat. Balaji Rao treated your senses with his legspin when he dared to flight the ball. The seamer Harvir Baidwan picked up 13 wickets at 23.61 and Jimmy Hansra made over 200 runs with the bat.
The inability to maintain their hold for long. Whenever they had the game, if not in their grasp, at least on an even keel, they collapsed. The cause can't be simply a lack of skill. It reflects a mental weakness as well, probably stemming from the lack of exposure to such competitive games. There was enough evidence there, though, that suggested that this team can improve with more games.
Management visions can be dangerously illusionary. They talk of pumping in money, improving infrastructure, spreading the game to the grassroots but this, as we know, is not an easy task. What Canada seem to possess, though, is the desire and the will to do something. The first thing they plan to do is extend year-long contracts to players. They have formed a close alliance with the West Indies cricket board and are involved in exchange programs; they have already featured in the Caribbean domestic Twenty20. Bigger things are being planned in terms of a jazzy local competition in Canada and they are even thinking about setting up a winter base in India. A cricket village offshore where the boys can spend time improving their game and play the local teams is being planned. A scholarship program is being planned for young kids interested in the game which they hope will act as feeder system for the national team in due course.
Ashish Bagai, the captain, said the game can get corporate and government support only if the locals get involved in the game. So far, it's the expat community that is interested in the game. This will be the most arduous task for the administrators to pull off. Cricket Canada plan to produce and broadcast cricket from around the world, including the local game, on broadband internet in the country. Only time will tell whether that translates into viewership and kick starts interest in the Canadian kids. If they can learn from the mistakes made by Kenya and remain professional, Canada can only grow from here.