Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo
The status of Wayne Gretzky as the most famous Canadian sportsman of all time would not really have been threatened by Ashish Bagai and his men had they pulled off an Irish - to use the current slang - but dear Lord it would have made them famous. For 83 overs, they threatened a result that would have surpassed even Kevin O'Brien's heroics on Wednesday night in Bangalore for shock value; one that would not have been dissimilar to Ireland's other big World Cup win, three years and 50 weeks ago.
The instant Shahid Afridi won the toss and chose to bat, under dirty grey skies on a dirty brown surface, Jamaica '07 entered the room. It was a good toss to lose, Bagai said later, the groundsman having told him it was a bowl-first wicket. And Canada were tremendous, more so given they lost a frontline bowler in Khurram Chohan early. The spirit of Ireland and Bangalore was still floating around in the morning, Bagai said. "It gave us all a little belief in the morning."
At the centre was a quite outstanding spell of precisely the kind of right-arm medium dibbly-dobblers that so often trumps a top side in these conditions. Harvir Baidwan has a reputation for taking wickets and you can kind of see why; his pace is seductively friendly and the lengths are generally full so that batsmen will take chances. Ahmed Shehzad fell for it, and Younis Khan was duped by a lovely curving ball. Two overs to Umar Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq deserved much more than just one maiden.
There was support as well: a lovely hand from the podgy Balaji Rao, who put in a pleasing, unhurried spell of legspin; Rizwan Cheema and Jimmy Hansra more than chipped in as well, leaving their captain satisfied with the overall effort in the field. "Keeping them to 184 on that wicket was a tremendous effort especially after losing one of our key bowlers in the first couple of overs. The six bowlers did a fantastic job and it was a decent fielding effort."
Canada's problems lie most squarely with their batting. They've now scored 122, 123 and 132 in three games. And it's been fragile enough to sense that even when they were sneaking along at 104 for 3 in the 34th, one wicket could change the game. Until then Zubin Surkari and Jimmy Hansra had been just the men for the job, chancing it and milking it. When Ireland took off in pursuit of 133 in Jamaica, though, and even on Wednsesay night, despite losing wickets, there remained a robustness and calm about them that, to the disappointment of Bagai, was absent in Canada's performance in Colombo.
"The wicket was getting better and better which is very unusual for this wicket. The game plan was to just be positive and because the batting has been a worry, we said we would just play our natural games. A couple of youngsters opened the batting and we said play your natural games and the same for the rest of us. We had a decent partnership in the middle, a couple of good ones, but Shahid [Afridi] came on and he was the difference between the two teams. Our batting worries continue. It's very disappointing because I thought we had a good chance of putting in a shock performance and getting back on track but that wasn't to be."
Afridi, especially, looked as if he might pose fatal problems; his bowling is, these days, a handful against most sides but against the Associates he is an entire truckload of trouble. There was a plan in place, Bagai said; the kind sides put out against Muttiah Muralitharan, but plans look best on paper. "We're very disappointed one guy ran through the batting order. We started off with the approach of trying to milk him for 30 to 35 runs, but once he gets wickets he gets right on top of you and he gets very confident. He gets his variations going and then it gets harder and harder and we were just not good enough today."
They weren't, but only just. "That's sport, that's cricket, you've got to pick yourself up. At the end of the day it is sport," Bagai said. It can be a cruel one.