The day before their clash in Delhi, both Kenya and Canada's captains had said their teams would play their own brands of cricket. Jimmy Kamande promised his players would be expressive and bold, while Ashish Bagai said we could expect fluency from his men. At the end of Monday's game, Kamande could barely speak, hurt and distraught; Bagai was all smiles, and even spoke a few words of Hindi.
Canada were the sum of their parts on Monday. Their fast bowlers ensured they kept their foot on Kenya's throat after making early inroads; their fielders remained electric and attentive to avoid any slip-ups; and in the end, their middle-order batsmen kept their heads light but focussed to snatch a comfortable victory, only their second in all World Cups.
Essentially, Canada finished the job they had started against Pakistan last week. Then, chasing a similar target (184), they had stumbled at the halfway stage. Sensing a victory against a bigger opponent, they had shivered in the headlights. No such nerves on Monday. It was evident that Canada had been working on their mistakes.
Against Sri Lanka, in their opening match, they realised how big the chasm was between an Associate and a big brother. The realisation that they needed to do more than just turn up to last in a 50-over match hit them flush in the face like a Mike Tyson punch. Then, against Zimbabwe, Bagai talked up their chances and they duly got steamrollered by a 175-run defeat.
But it was against Pakistan that they took a big stride toward recovery. On a turning track, against an opponent never far from being fallible, Canada fielded and bowled with fervour to restrict Pakistan to less than 200. But could their batsmen pace the innings without allowing Pakistan to gain control? You don't walk in with doubts when you are facing Shahid Afridi, and he lauded it over Canada in feudal style, whipping them into submission with his versatility as much as his aura.
But, on Monday, it was a battle of equals; and Canada brought their best game to the table. Henry Osinde delivered the kind of spell captains yearn for from their premier bowlers; and with Kenya 57 for 5, Canada knew unless they did something completely stupid the match was theirs.
Luckily, they had a Plan B if things did not pan out the way they were expected to. On the eve of the match, Bagai had predicted that spin would be the dominant factor on a pitch that was devoid of any grass, in addition to being slow and low. But that never happened. Even Balaji Rao, their best spinner, who had managed to keep the Pakistan batsmen silent, couldn't do much. Still, Canada sensed they held the advantage as Kenya did not have many wickets in the bag. It was Kenya then that panicked in the end and lost their way.
Then, Canada made a smart move in sending the big-hitting Rizwan Cheema in to open. Though he did not last long, his brief cameo made clear the Canadian intentions: they were here to win.
"We had a disappointing batting display against Zimbabwe and Pakistan, and we had a chance of getting a win over Pakistan, but we were looking at the present," Bagai said after the win. "We are pretty happy with the guys who performed well. Henry bowled fantastic first-up, got us the advantage and then we pulled it back again in the Powerplay. And then two guys batted to get us over the line."
The two guys Bagai was talking about were himself and Jimmy Hansra. The pair added 132 for the fourth wicket, and along the way learned a few valuable lessons about constructing partnerships, which seems to be the Achilles heel of the batting line-ups of the Associate teams. "We were fortunate enough to have no run-rate pressure; four runs an over on that wicket would always be gettable if you spent some time on the wicket," Bagai said. "It was not an easy wicket to get used to, but once you were in there you could work it around."
Kamande admitted the loss was a bitter pill to swallow against an opponent Kenya fancied beating. "I will not hide it. Today was our most disappointing performance of the tournament," he said.
Bagai, who was born in Delhi, found plenty of home support at the Kotla, with his "grandparents, friends, relatives" accounting for some 50 people of the 5,500-strong crowd. Asked if he was chilled or thrilled with Canada's victory, Bagai said: "We are chilled with the win. We are looking to use this as a spark for the second half of the first round. My goal now is to get the batsmen who are performing to be consistent and leave the first round on a high."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo