ICC Media Release
There is a sense that Canada has not yet realised its full potential in the world of international cricket. A huge country with a long and proud cricketing heritage, life in modern-day Canada is as diverse and cosmopolitan as almost anywhere on Earth and certainly cricket has progressed a long way from its colonial beginnings.
And that progression looks set to continue. These days, with so many Asian-Canadians and West Indian-Canadians playing the game alongside European-Canadians and even Australasian-Canadians, the players are as likely to be called Bagai or Jyoti as Bilcliff or Davison. And it is that strength in diversity that administrators in Canada are keen to promote and celebrate.
As the national team attempts to qualify for its third successive ICC Cricket World Cup, which will take place in the Asian Sub-Continent in 2011, captain Ashish Bagai – a young but experienced wicketkeeper-batsman – is relishing the opportunity of pitting his talents against the best Associate and Affiliate teams in the world at the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in South Africa.
'I can't wait. This is what we play cricket for – the big occasions – and for Associate teams this is huge,' said 27-year-old Bagai.
'A lot of our players are of South Asian descent and some even have relatives over there so to get to play there would be a huge thing for us. Most of us have never played cricket in the sub-continent so we are using that as a motivation tool,' he said.
'The qualifier should be a great event. A lot of the teams are very evenly matched and it's hard to predict who the four qualifiers will be. So long as Canada is one of them, I don't mind.'
Already a veteran of two ICC Cricket World Cup campaigns, Bagai is about to embark on another and this time he has that all-important experience to go with his well-documented talent, technique and work ethic.
From an early age, Bagai caught the attention of national selectors due to the combination of stylish batting and handy glove work. He appeared at two ICC U/19 Cricket World Cups the highlights being an unbeaten 53 against South Africa in 2000, a team that included the likes of Albie Morkel, Johan Botha, Graeme Smith and Jacques Rudolph, and 83 not out in a tied match with Bangladesh in 2002.
In the mean time he had staked his claim for a place in the senior side and took part in the ICC Trophy in Toronto in 2001. It was to prove a memorable event for the home team as Canada came third and thus qualified for its first World Cup. Not surprisingly, the 19-year-old Bagai was loving it.
'That year there were only three spots in the World Cup up for grabs (compared to four at this year's ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier) so it wasn't easy,' said Bagai.
'It was all so new to me that I probably didn't fully appreciate what an achievement it was to qualify. But going to 2003 World Cup in South Africa was the most exciting time of my life and I enjoyed every minute of it.
'We had some great highs during that tournament and a few lows too but overall we came out of it pretty happy and it was certainly a great experience for me. I was only 20 and so to take part in a World Cup was amazing for me.'
He missed the ICC Trophy in 2005 but Canada still managed to qualify in his absence and it's probably fair to say he came of age as a batsman in the build-up to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007. At the ICC World Cricket League Division 1 tournament in Nairobi a few weeks before the big event he scored 137 not out against Scotland and added a second ton against Ireland four days later.
His 345 runs in that tournament at an average of 86.25 won him the player-of-the-tournament award and he was later shortlisted for the inaugural ICC Associate ODI Player of the Year at the ICC Awards in 2007. Just what would he give for a repeat of that form between 1-19 April this year?
'Of course that would be great but we have a good team so I expect all the guys to contribute. And so long as we qualify I don't really mind who scores the runs. We have a clear plan, we know what we need to do and now we just have to put it into action. It sounds simple but I know it's going to be tough.'
Canada (squad): Ashish Bagai (captain), Balaji Dorakanti, Eion Katchay, Havir Baidwan, Henry Osinde, Ian Billcliff, John Davison, Khurram Chohan, Umar Bhatti, Arvindan Kandappah, Sandeep Jyoti, Qaiser Ali, Rizwan Cheema, Sunil Dhaniram, Geoff Barnett.