The tenth ICC Cricket World Cup hits off on February 19th on the subcontinent. Canada's rocky road to their third successive Big Dance looks finally free of incident as they prepare for their first match against co-hosts Sri Lanka on February 20. The final hurdle, obtaining Indian visas for four key players, appears to have been settled as the four-month wait for approval came through last week.
The quartet of players - including vice-captain Rizwan Cheema and key bowler Khurrum Chohan - were all born in Pakistan and given the state of relations between the neighbouring countries, visa processing was delayed. Cheema particularly is an important figure for the Canadians, being one of the more experienced squad members in the tournament's most inexperienced squad, which boasts seven graduates of Canada's Under-19s squad. At sixteen, Nitish Kumar of Ontario looks set to be the youngest player ever to take part in a World Cup.
The fifteen-man squad boasts an average age of twenty-six, with almost all the experience coming from World Cup veterans Ashish Bagai, the captain, opening bowler Henry Osinde and perpetual ace-in-the-hole Jon Davison. The Canadians' combined 225 games of experience is cumulatively less than that of eleven individual players competing in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in February and March.
Canada's past participation at the one-day cricket World Cup includes a standalone appearance in 1979 in England and qualification through the ICC Tournament for the past two Cups in South Africa and the Caribbean. Last year's tournament was in South Africa and involved all of cricket's "associate" nations - countries not playing full-time on the international circuit. Led by 39 year-old converted Aussie Davison, Canada performed well during that tournament finishing runners up among the twelve nations behind second-division powerhouse Ireland. Two other important performers were Ian Billcliff and Geoff Barnett who both play competitively in New Zealand.
Safely qualified again, the selection team chose a 30-man shortlist for the tournament, minus several players instrumental in securing their Cup berth, namely Billcliff, Barnett and Sunil Dhaniram. Davison, who keeps a home base in Australia, withdrew from the squad in support of his omitted teammates but was re-instated when after talks with Cricket Canada clarified the reasons for the trio's non-selection. Still Canada's most potent weapon, Davison - who boasts the fastest innings of one-hundred and third-fastest innings of fifty in World Cup history - remains the trump on whom Canadian hopes rest for a victory or two in South Asia.
Recent preparations started with participation in the Caribbean 20-over tournament in mid-January. A two week stay in Dubai follows before the squad flies to Bangladesh for the official World Cup warm-up games. The Caribbean venture was a successful one, with narrow losses to several West Indian nations but also a victory against a fully-professional Hampshire outfit while helping coach Pubudu Dassanayake focus on several areas to be improved upon. More importantly, it provided valuable experience for the team's array of youngsters, Jamaican-born Tyson Gordon and young batsman Ruvindu Gunasekera particularly impressive.
Success for a Canadian team comprised mainly of semi-professionals will not be measured in wins, but in competitiveness. Drawn in a group with heavyweights Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, they also face easier opposition like Zimbabwe and Kenya. Should the team emerge with even one victory, it would be a great boost to the sport in Canada and given their recent 20-over displays in Barbados, upsetting a fellow associate nation is eminently possible.