The ICC's Winter Training Camp (WTC) may well help to ensure that Canada can never again be accused of being a one-man band.
In the past that accusation could have been made thanks to the exploits of John Davison, the offspinning allrounder who smashed the fastest hundred in World Cup history against the West Indies (67 balls) in 2003. But thanks to the work put in by the four Canada players attending the 11-week residential course in Pretoria - Qaiser Ali, Umar Bhatti, Kenneth Carto and Henry Osinde - it is an accusation that could soon be put to bed for good.
"In the past it was possible to argue that if you got John Davison out or ensured he did not get any wickets then that would put too much pressure on the other players but hopefully, from Canada's point of view, those days could be behind them," said WTC head coach Andy Moles. "In Henry Osinde and Umar Bhatti they have two good opening bowlers, Qaiser Ali has made good progress as an allrounder and Kenneth Carto has done the same in his role as a wicketkeeper-batsman. Hopefully the strides these players are making here will add to the depth of the Canada squad and give their selectors some really tough choices over the coming months and years." The four Canadians are part of a group of 23 players from the six Associate countries due to take part in the 2007 World Cupin the Caribbean, all of them working to improve their games.
Davison, who has been working at the WTC in a coaching capacity, is modest about his past achievements but even he is prepared to grudgingly admit that Canada have had a reputation as a side that relied on his performances a little too much. "I am not sure Ian Billcliff or several others of the senior players would agree we have been a one-man band but maybe, on occasion, it has been fair comment," he said. "But whatever may have happened in the past, I am really excited by what is happening now at the WTC. The four players here have come on in leaps and bounds and that has to be good for Canadian cricket."
Perhaps the biggest plus for Canada has been the form and improvement shown by opening bowlers Osinde and Bhatti. "They have the potential to be comfortably the best opening pair of bowlers at Associate level providing they keep up their good work here," said Moles. "The biggest compliment I can pay them is that all the other countries would want them and that is a real feather in their caps."
Moles then went on to explain why they are likely to be so important in taking Canada's cricket to the next level. "When the Associate sides play in the World Cup the bottom line is that they have to get early wickets," he said. "If they do not then the bigger teams have enough quality in depth to rattle up huge scores, especially if they have wickets in hand towards the end of an innings. Both Henry and Umar have the potential to take those early wickets because they are good enough to get good players out and that is a great sign for Canada and for Associate cricket."
Davison echoed those comments, adding: "The prospects for Canada really are great if Henry and Umar keep making progress. Henry bowls fast outswingers from a good height and he bowls balls that will get rid of good players while Umar has a great ability to swing the ball and now he is learning how to work batsmen out."
Moles said he hoped the camp would be a turning point for the Canadian quartet. "I think the WTC has changed the way they think about the game because they came here as club cricketers and I think they may leave as something more," he said. "In the past they may have got by in club cricket playing averagely well but still being successful but now we are teaching them that in order to be successful at a higher level it needs much more from them in every aspect of the game. "They have bought into that, I am very happy with their progress and they have been very hungry to learn."
WTC head coach Moles gives his assessment of the four Canada players in Pretoria:
Henry Osinde - Along with Ireland's Eoin Morgan, Henry is the player with perhaps most potential among those here at the WTC. He has a great physique and is very single-minded with the ball in his hand. At six feet and four inches in height he can generate disconcerting bounce and he hits the pitch hard. Henry can tend to bowl too short but getting him out of that habit is all part of the learning process he is going through with (bowling coach) Bob Cottam while he is here. We have told him he needs to bowl better lengths to better players and he has developed an extra level of consistency. I gather back home he is an accountant and he will be going back to work after the WTC ends in late December but I hope he is able to get some competitive cricket as soon as possible after that so he can put all he is learning here into practice.
Umar Bhatti - A left-arm seam and swing bowler, Umar is wiry and has a quick arm action, just like Wasim Akram, although he is not as fast a bowler as the former Pakistan great. Thanks to the fitness work he has done Umar has developed a lot more strength and mobility and his bowling has benefited as a result because he can now keep going for longer without any loss in quality. He is a genuine swinger of the ball, able to swing it back into the right-handed batsmen but what we are trying to teach him is what is known in the boxing trade as "ring craft." In Umar's case it is about telling him that when you get to the top level it is not enough just to swing the ball back and he needs to think about using other deliveries too. For example, he can look to bowl several balls across a batsman so the player is looking for the ball outside the off stump and at that point he can then look to swing it back in.
Qaiser Ali - Qaiser found the going tough when he first arrived because he was not in the best shape possible for a camp like this but, all credit to him, he has bought into the regime and has shown himself to be a real workaholic. He is a batsman who bowls rather than a genuine allrounder but what he has done since he has been here is to develop his seam bowling so that he is now a viable sixth or seventh bowler for his captain in a one-day game. Qaiser arrived as an offspinner but (bowling coach) Bob Cottam spotted something in him and asked him to try bowling medium pace, he agreed and has made great strides doing it, although he still has plenty of work to do on that front. As a batsman he is keen to play his shots and what we are trying to do is ensure he is more selective in his strokeplay and not premeditate his shots before the bowler bowls. Also we are encouraging him to move his feet more, especially in getting a good stride in when he plays forward.
Kenneth Carto - Like Qaiser, Kenneth had an issue with his condition when he arrived and with both players it was a case of giving them some life education about how they looked after themselves and what they ate. Both players have changed their outlook as a result and both have probably lost between six and seven kilos during their time at the WTC. Kenneth's condition meant he was not as mobile as he needed to be as he is a wicketkeeper but his improved fitness has allowed him to work on that aspect of his game and now he is moving far better. He is probably Canada's second or third choice wicketkeeper at the moment but he is still only young and if he can carry on with the work he has put in here then he will be pressing for a spot in the senior side on a regular basis before too long. Hopefully when his peers see him in his improved condition and see how his game has moved forward it will also send a message to them and make them work just as hard as Kenneth has in order to make progress.