By RON FANFAIR
Nitish Kumar was just five years old and running around cricket fields in short pants when Canadian captain Ashish Bagai made his first appearance for the national senior side a decade ago.
Now the 15-year-old cub will rub shoulders and share the dressing room with Bagai after being named in the national squad to oppose Kenya in a four-day Intercontinental Cup match at King City, starting tomorrow, and three One-Day International contests at the same venue next week.
Both Toronto Cricket Club players are Toronto Cricket Academy (TCA) graduates.
“Nitish might be just a kid, but his game is way ahead of most young players his age,” said TCA director Brian Hale, a former Guyana Under-23 and Canadian batsman. “He came to us at age four and he missed just nine days practice in the 11 years he spent with us. That tells you how committed he is to the game that he has played almost all of his life.
“When I took him to England a few years ago to be assessed, we were told that his game was close to where young players six years older than him in England would be at. The guy has enormous talent and I think he’s ready to step into the national senior side. He also has the temperament and quick bat speed and he picks up the ball very early. Right now, he bats in the middle, but I firmly believe he has all the qualities to be an opener.”
Kumar was exposed to a cruel tragedy four years ago while on tour in England with the TCA. The car in which he and his father, Vikal Kumar, were traveling in was involved in a serious accident, resulting in Vikal’s death. Nitish was also injured in the crash.
“Of course, he was deeply affected by his father’s death because he was there,” said Hale. “It took him about two years to get back on track. However, when he was on the cricket field, he was still very focused on the game and what he was doing.”
Two weeks ago, the right-handed batsman scored 91 off 89 balls against Gujarat in a Toronto & District Cricket Association (TDCA) Elite league match at King City. That was Bagai’s first match with the club this season since he quit his job in England to accept a contract with Cricket Canada.
“I was very impressed with what I saw,” said Bagai. “I don’t quite know where he is at mentally but the coaches think he and some of the other young players are ready to be part of the senior squad.”
Kumar is one of three youth players who were part of the national side that captured the Under-19 Americas title last month to be included in Canada’s four and one-day squads for the forthcoming matches against the East Africans.
The others are youth skipper Rustum Bhatti and all-rounder Hiral Patel who was the youth series’ Most Valuable Player after scoring a tournament-high 305 runs (av. 101.67).
“They are the future of Canadian cricket and this is the time to blood them,” said manager Mike Henry. “I saw Nitish eight years ago and knew immediately that he would be an exceptional player. Rustum is an accomplished batsman, quality wicketkeeper and an outstanding fielder when he’s not behind the stumps.”
British Columbia batsmen Jimmy Hansara and Jawad Dawood are the other newcomers in the national teams.
The Intercontinental Cup squad is Ashish Bagai (capt.), Umar Bhatti, Qaiser Ali, Rustum Bhatti, Rizwan Cheema, Khurram Chohan, Sunil Dhaniram, Jimmy Hansara, Sandeep Jyoti, Shaheed Keshvani, Nitish Kumar, Hiral Patel, Abdool Samad, Henry Osinde and Zameer Zahir.
The ODI squad is Ashish Bagai (capt.), Umar Bhatti, Harvir Baidwan, Khurram Chohan, Sunil Dhaniram, Jawad Dawood, Sandeep Jyoti, Shaheed Keshvani, Nitish Kumar, Hiral Patel, Abdool Samad, Zubin Surkari, Henry Osinde and Zameer Zahir.
The Kenyan squad is Maurice Ouma (capt.), Jimmy Kamande, Alex Obanda, Steve Tikolo, Collins Obuya, Thomas Odoyo, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Lameck Onyango, Peter Ongondo, Hiren Varaiya, Rakep Patel, Elijah Otieno, Seren Waters, David Obuya and Alfred Luseno.
The four-day match runs from August 14 to 17 while the three 50-over matches take place on August 19, 21 and 23.