ICC Media Release
Ashish Bagai represents the fresh face of the future of Canadian cricket. The new young captain is determined to mark his first meaningful match in charge of the side with a win that would give Canada its first ICC Intercontinental Cup.
It has been said that Canada is too reliant on elder statesmen such as John Davison and Geoff Barnett for the performances required to make an impact at international level but, at 25, Bagai is determined to oversee the transition and rebuilding of the national side.
Following the ICC Cricket World Cup (CWC) in the West Indies, Davison stood down as captain and although he is still in the team and on hand for advice, he passed the mantle over to Bagai, a talented wicketkeeper-batsman with a good reading of the game and a man who is passionate about cricket in Canada.
'It is a huge honour and privilege for me to be asked to lead the side,' he said. 'It's such an important game for us and I am looking forward to it enormously.'
Canada takes on defending champions Ireland in next week's final (22-25 May) at Grace Road, Leicester and Bagai knows the Irish will not be an easy nut to crack. Canada was bowled out by them for just 115 in a CWC warm-up game in Trinidad but prior to that it was Bagai and his team-mates who came out on top when they defeated the Irish by six wickets during the ICC World Cricket League Division 1 in Nairobi in February.
It was an impressive victory considering they chased 308 and the man of that match was Bagai himself who top scored with a magnificent 122. Now, however, Bagai will not be able to concentrate solely on batting at the top of the order as he must lead the team. Throw in the fact that he will probably be wearing the wicketkeeper's gloves as well, it's going to be a hectic few days for him.
'To be honest, I am looking forward to the challenge. It's not going to be easy to do all three things but I believe I can do it and I want to thank the selectors for having the faith in me to do it.
'We know the Ireland team quite well. They are a fighting side, they do the basics very well and they play within their limits. Doing so well in the World Cup they have been playing a lot more cricket than us and that is certainly an advantage for them. We are hoping that perhaps they'll be a little stale.'
Indeed, before arriving in England this week the Canadians had not played a competitive match since losing to New Zealand by 114 runs in the CWC at St Lucia on 22 March. It helps to have connections though and outgoing coach Andy Pick was able to organise a two-day game with an England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) selection at Loughborough to get them back into the swing of things.
Pick finishes up as coach of Canada after this game and will stay in England to resume his role as coach of ECB's under-19s that he had previously done before heading across the Atlantic.
'Andy has been really good for us,' said Bagai. 'I got on very well with him and learned a lot from him. He has been great for Canadian cricket.'
After concentrating on one-day cricket for the past few months, the ICC Intercontinental Cup provides Canada with the opportunity to play the longer form of the game and Bagai knows it is not easy to make that transition.
'I think there is a different approach needed. You have to take it session by session and if you fall behind it can be difficult to regain the initiative in the match. You have to trust in your ability and show a lot more patience than one-day cricket. Stamina and fitness are also factors. There is a different type of fitness required for the Intercontinental Cup than ODIs so we have been working on that.
'I think this competition is great. Playing longer cricket really challenges your technique and gives you the skills that can also be applied to one-day cricket. There is a danger for the Associates to concentrate too much on one-day cricket which is why this event is so important.'
While Ireland will start this match as favourites, there are a few things that are working in favour of Bagai and his men. The Irish will be without Niall O'Brien and Boyd Rankin due to county commitments and also influential all-rounder Andre Botha due to injury.
Canada can boast arguably the best new-ball attack in the Associate world with Henry Osinde and Umar Bhatti while the experience of Davison, Barnett and Austin Codrington will compliment the talented youth of Bagai, Qaiser Ali and Kevin Sandher. On its way to the final Canada beat Kenya and Bermuda, which put it top of Group B despite losing to the Netherlands in its final game.
'The next step for us in Canada is to rebuild the team with an eye on the next ICC Trophy (now called the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier). I hope we can inject some youthful energy into it and help build a side that will be together for the next few years,' said Bagai.
The new format in the ICC Intercontinental Cup means sides play a minimum of three four-day matches in this tournament. This increases to seven four-day matches in 2007 and 2008 when the event will be a full round-robin and global format.
That compares to a minimum of just two three-day matches per year under the previous structure which, until the semi-finals, was regionally based rather than global.
The ICC Intercontinental Cup began in 2004 to give the leading players from Associate sides the chance to improve by exposing them to a longer form of the game.
Canada: Ashish Bagai (captain), Abdool Samad, Ashif Mulla, Austin Codrington, Geoff Barnett, Henry Osinde, John Davison, Kevin Sandher, Naresh Patel, Sandeep Jyoti, Trevin Bastiampillai, Umar Bhatti, Qaiser Ali. Coach: Andy Pick.