Will Canada's best team make it to the World Cup?

The board has chosen to leave some veterans out of the side for reasons best known to them, thereby hurting the side's chances

Faraz Sarwat
Canada's Ian Billcliff swipes the ball towards midwicket, Afghanistan v Canada, ICC World Cup Qualifiers, Super Eights, Pretoria, April 13, 2009

Ian Billcliff: deserves better than the treatment he has got from Cricket Canada  •  Getty Images

The dust has yet to settle on John Davison's startling announcement that he would be withdrawing from Canada's World Cup squad unless team-mates Geoff Barnett and Ian Billcliff are provided clear explanations for their non-selection. Cricket Canada is relentlessly subjected to all manner of criticism, some of which can be ill-informed or unfair. Against that backdrop, the issue with Davison is an own goal of the worst kind. It is no longer political opponents with vested interests alleging incompetence - it is Canada's best-ever player. It is time to take notice.
While Cricket Canada has been making positive noises about qualifying for the World Cup quarter-finals, those outside the board have no such expectations. The gulf between Test-playing nations and a team like Canada is immense, if not unbridgeable. In such circumstances all that is reasonably hoped for is that the team compete as well as they can. To do so, the best players must be chosen, including Billcliff, Barnett, and for that matter the mysteriously unlamented Sunil Dhaniram.
Billcliff is a 38-year-old, battle-hardened batsman who has not just scored runs for Canada but gritty runs, match-saving runs; and that Canadian rarity, match-winning runs. Barnett is Canada's most versatile batsman. He can open the innings or come in at the fall of the first wicket. Capable of scoring briskly as well as buckling down, Barnett, like Billcliff, gives the batting some spine. At 26 it is absurd that he stands on the precipice of cricket oblivion.
Barnett has not been provided with an official explanation for his non-selection, though correspondence seen by ESPNcricinfo between Cricket Canada and Barnett suggests they have taken exception to how Barnett chooses to express his frustration with the board.
For Davison, it is important that the board have the man-management skills to handle different personalities. "Let's face it, young sportsmen can be brash and sometimes difficult to deal with off the field, but it is often these characteristics that help them to be successful on it. One's ability to be able to deal with an individual who challenges your capabilities is no reason to shatter an athlete's hopes and dreams."
The system, however, currently lacks the maturity to look beyond personal slights. If a player happens to rub someone in the administration the wrong way, he can forget about representing Canada for a while, if not forever. This type of thing may happen in Test-playing countries too, but at least those teams have the luxury of any number of first-class cricketers waiting to break down the door. In Canada, player resources simply don't allow for administrators to go on a power trip at a cricketer's expense.
The system currently lacks the maturity to look beyond personal slights. If a player happens to rub someone in the administration the wrong way, he can forget about representing Canada for a while, if not forever
Billcliff has ostensibly been left out because he was unavailable for matches that Cricket Canada deemed he needed to have played in order to be considered for selection - the same matches that both Davison and Barnett were advised that they did not need to play after initially being told, like Billcliff, that they were mandatory. Confused? So are the players. Billcliff's age does count against him, but for someone who was instrumental in Canada qualifying for the World Cup in the first place, and who does not have a ready replacement in the team, he deserves better.
After every World Cup, whether a team has had a good tournament or not, there is always an element of renewal. Some players call time and bow out gracefully, others go kicking and screaming. Teams change direction, they rebuild, they move batsmen up and down the order, they capitalise on what they did right at the World Cup and correct what they did wrong. But for the World Cup itself every team in the world strives to put its best foot forward, selecting its best players. And here is where Cricket Canada has let itself, its players and it fledgling fan base down. They have simply not selected the best team possible.
The time has come for all who profess to care about Canadian cricket to put their egos aside and do what they can to ensure the team gives a good account of itself at the World Cup. In a country like Canada, where there are so few cricketers with meaningful international or first-class experience, Davison's views need to be treated with deference and respect. Davison's stand is a courageous one. How many players in the world would put their own World Cup dreams on the line to stand by team-mates who have been hard done by? That Davison has done so speaks volumes.
It is a moment of truth for the board. Will they get their backs up and do away with Davison too, or will they fulfill their moral and professional obligation to put Canada's best team in the World Cup? The players and the fans wait.

Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures