It’s taken a couple of years, but Canada’s cricket team has made it to base camp and is now at the foot of the mountain, looking up at the winding and treacherous path that leads to the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
The Canadian men’s squad is in Uganda for the International Cricket Council Division 3 championship, which runs from Tuesday till May 30. Six teams — Canada, the United States, Uganda, Malaysia, Oman and Singapore — will battle it out to secure two spots in Division 2.
The ICC likes to talk about growth and expansion of the sport, but has also made the curious decision to restrict the World Cup to 10 countries, down from 14 in 2011 and 2015.
The world’s top eight will automatically qualify, and the governing body has a crazy-like-a-fox plan to give smaller cricketing countries such as Canada a theoretical shot at a berth, too. It’s a cumbersome process of promotions and relegations through divisions, culminating in a qualifying tournament from which only two teams will emerge.
This will all take more than a year to sort out, so for the moment all that’s really worth knowing is that for the Canadians to remain in this race they must win or finish second in Uganda. If the team fails to get out of Division 3 — or worse, slips to Division 4 — Canadian cricket could be set back a generation.
Canada, however, has the highest pedigree in this group and should top the standings. Both the U.S. and Oman have moved up from Division 4, while Canada was in Division 1 before a freefall and needs to win this tournament to earn back some respect.
Canada has a proud history, participating in four Cricket World Cups — first in 1979, then three on the trot in 2003, 2007 and 2011. When the national team’s fortunes went south, though, the ICC did the same. In a move not short on symbolism, the governing body relocated the ICC Americas office from Toronto — where it once shared office space with Cricket Canada — to Colorado Springs. Development in the U.S. is clearly a priority for the sport.
Adding spice to the Canada-U.S. rivalry is that the Americans are now coached by Pubudu Dassanayake, who took the Canadians to the 2011 Cup and helped develop many members of the current side — including coach Henry Osinde, who for many years was the spearhead of the national team’s bowling attack.
On the field, Canada will be led in Uganda by Scarborough-born Nitish Kumar. Barely 23 years old, Kumar is a veteran of the 2011 Cup and has played all over the world, including professional T20 in the Caribbean Premier League and first-class cricket in England. Long hailed as a homegrown star in the making, Kumar knows well that it’s time to deliver on his immense promise.
Never shy about going to the kids’ table for talent, Canada has also selected 17-year-old Bhavindu Adhihetty as an opening batsman. The teen has been a dominant force on the Toronto club scene and is mature beyond his years.
Other notable members include former captain and power hitter Rizwan Cheema, former Sri Lankan first-class player Dhanuka Pathirana, and talented spin-bowling all-rounder Nikhil Dutta — who, with wicketkeeper Hamza Tariq, gives the lower order some spine.
Cecil Parvez and Satsimranjit Dhindsa form a potent new-ball pairing, while the Canadian tradition of carrying a clutch of part-time spinners continues with Kumar and Jimmy Hansra. Cheema remains good for a few overs of medium pace to round out the bowling attack.
With batting and bowling depth, this team inspires optimism. The slow trek up the mountain begins.
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