Bagai the face of Canadian cricket

RICHARD MAUNTAH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:16 PM ET

In many ways, Ashish Bagai personifies Canadian cricket.

The man who will captain Canada’s national team in the cricket World Cup which begins on Saturday, was for many years a part-time player — as were most of his teammates. While setting up shop behind the stumps as the national team wicket-keeper, he was also building a career as an investment banking analyst, operating between Los Angeles and London.

But the job forced him to miss too many playing opportunities, so two years ago he came home and joined a handful of full-time players as opportunities for Canada to play internationally increased. Having full timers is an important step forward for the team.

“We have seven full-time professional cricketers and the rest are contracted till the World Cup” Bagai told a recent press gathering in Bangladesh. “It was a big step for Canadian cricket to get the central contracts. For the last six months, there have been part-time contracts for the rest of the guys.”

Bagai also represents the team’s other trait. He is one of six Canada players born in India. Along with players born in Pakistan, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Australia they account for 13 of the 16 roster spots. Only Nitish Kumar and Zubin Surkari (Toronto) and John Davison (B.C.) are Canadian born.

Of course, that’s not a bad thing, as it showcases Canada’s multiculturalism and helps shape Canadian cricket’s identity as the associate nation enters its fourth Cricket World Cup.

“Sometimes we are called the United Nations team because we have seven different nationalities, Bagai said. “It is challenging at times, players here grew up in different cultures and they approach cricket differently.

“They play for a common cause though initially it was a bit of a struggle. We learn a lot about each other, the different cultures. But it has been a real treat to lead the side over the last two years. We learn a lot from each other, we take advantage of this.”

Canada played the first known cricket international, against the United States back in 1844. More recent cricket history has seen a team which more than holds its own against associate nations. A runner-up finish in the 2009 ICC qualifying tournament in South Africa earned them a spot in their third successive World Cup. Canada also competed at the 1979 World Cup.

Against the big boys at the big dance, however, it’s been a different story. A win over Bangladesh in the 2003 tournament brought Canadian cricket unprecedented coverage in the mainstream sports media. The lowlights have been there too, none lower than their 36 all out debacle against Sri Lanka just a few days later. In total, Canada has a record of 1-11.

But that doesn’t stop Bagai and his teammates from aiming high.

“We discussed our expectations and goals as a team,” he said. “We talked about getting into the second round. Wins against Zimbabwe and Kenya and an upset against any of the other four teams is our goal.”

Canada did suffer a bit of a snag when Indian visas were delayed for three Pakistan-born players but now that the inconvenience is behind them, they can focus on the task of putting on a good show for the fans in the subcontinent and the bleary-eyed followers back home.

richard.mauntah@sunmedia.ca


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