Canada hopes to put up a good display in their final Cricket World Cup group match against New Zealand on Thursday. The squad had a Wednesday morning session at the Beausejour Cricket Ground, St Lucia. They looked much more relaxed and lively than last Saturday. The players are clearly benefiting from the improved performance against England after the mega-disappoinment against Kenya in the opening game.
Coach Andy Pick was upbeat when he spoke to some of the media after the practice. He was hoping 'we will get another score of 200 or so' against the strong New Zealand opposition. It should be remembered that the Blackcaps are the highest seeded team in the St Lucia group. 'We will be looking to improve in the first ten and last ten overs.' And if the side continued the general upward trend, he hoped his players might be able capitalize 'if we got to into a wining position.'
Winning the toss and bowling well to get early wickets, in favourable conditions would be a possible path to surprise victory. Or all the top batsmen coming up trumps might set the stage. But losing the toss and being put in to bat in early morning conditions that favoured the bowlers for the opening overs would be a major test of character.
He confirmed he would be returning to the England and Wales Cricket Board to return as coach of the England Under 19s and as a fast bowling coach.' He was 'a little bit sad' to be leaving the Canadian side. Financing for a third year on a new contract was an issue - largely dependent upon Canada retaining ICC High Performance funding, as things stand - and "time was running out."
Those close to the national squad have seen tremedous progress over this northern hemisphere winter. Most of the batsmen have posted personal bests for ODIs, there have been three century partnerships - the first in Canadian ODI history-, several of the bowlers have also improved personal bests and the fielding has begun to make strides.
Pick will coach Canada in the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2006 Final against Ireland in late May. This game is now set to be played in England at the County Ground, Chelmsford, Essex. But for now, the focus is on New Zealand. It is expected that the BlackCaps will rest Shane Bond and Ross Taylor will miss the game due to a hamstring injury, suffered during his innigs against Kenya. But the Kiwi pace attack will still have three pretty strong and tall bowlers who can dig the ball in.
This promises to be a challenge for Canada. Captain John Davison posted the third fasterst 50 in CWC history against New Zealand in South Africa in 2003. Perhaps he might go out with a bang, possibly in tandem with the likes of Ashish Bagai. The pair of them posted a century stand against Ireland in the World Cricket League, earlier this year. Today, Bagai was hoping to get back in the runs after a couple of low scores in the two opening games. Kiwi-residents Geoff Barnett and Ian Billcliff, both with first-class experience in New Zealand, might seek a repeat of their 170 run stand against Bangladesh in Antigua some three weeks ago.
It would be a great boost for Canadian cricket, and for ICC Associate cricket, to perform well in a good game of cricket against New Zealand, win, lose or tie. It would earn significant respect for these players and the small support group who have worked so hard over the winter, sacrificing time and money to represent their country. And, unlike the ICC Test Playing sides and Kenya, the Canadians had to take time off in 2005 and qualify for CWC 2007 in Ireland. But it takes time to adjust to playing against higher quality, or more renowned, opposition.
It was a reasonable showing against England, who had beaten Australia in the Commonwealth Bank series not too long ago. The claims were Australia had a partly depleted team. New Zealand then beat the Aussies in an ODI series that included their first ODI 10-wicket win against their local rivals. Perhaps that puts things into perspective as we look forward to this battle of David and Golaiath.