It’s crunch time for Canada’s cricket

By ERROL TOWNSHEND

This weekend, Cricket Canada (formerly Canadian Cricket Association) will hold its first AGM under its new name. What hasn’t changed is the intrigue and infighting. Rumour is that president Ben Sennik and his board will face a non-confidence vote led by his ex-first VP and onetime bosom buddy, Mike Kendall, of Kitchener. The room is likely to be as tense as a maternity ward.

After five years at the helm and, on his watch, the body having been ethnically cleansed of West Indians, it is odd and mildly amusing that Sennik should be facing a challenge from this quarter. The tipping point appears to have been his firing of CEO Atul Ahuja, the bull-in-a-china-shop outsider who seemed to think cricket in Canada began with his First Coming.

Sennik replaced him with, hold your breath now, a West Indian, former Canadian captain, Ingleton Liburd. The wheel having come almost full circle, even sacked Maple Leaf curator, Austin Ward, the best in the business, is back in harness. The stones that the builder rejected…..

For all his shortcomings, the mere thought of replacing Sennik with Kendall is a bad joke. Neither knows much about the game and their divisive management styles have serious limitations. But it cannot be denied that Sennik has significantly improved CC’s finances, decimated by the ill-advised decision of the previous administration to host the 2001 ICC Trophy under the oppressive IMF-style terms imposed by ICC.

Kendall’s record as president of Southern Ontario, Ontario Cricket Association and 1st VP of Cricket Canada is strikingly bereft of even a single accomplishment. Indeed, two seasons ago with more money than ever, OCA was unable to complete the season and Kendall’s provincial senior team has been beaten by almost every curry goat X1 it faced.

Whether Kendall’s challenge fizzles, as expected, or the delegates drink the KoolAid, the sad irony is that the tussle may be over a corpse. Canada is locked in a do-or-die 12-nation qualifying tournament in South Africa starting, ominously, on April Fools Day.

Now ranked fifth, Canada must finish in the top six or face loss of one-day and four day international status and a massive cut in ICC funding. Only a top four finish secures a World Cup place. Canada’s 2008 record under Ahuja and his six different captains was atrocious. Only last November we were humiliated by the Leewards Islands and struggled to beat Argentina.

The selectors have assembled a talented squad this time and the preparation in Sri Lanka has been as good as, or better than, in the past. However, there remain serious concerns about team chemistry and leadership that money can’t fix. The ‘kitchen cabinet’ consists of manager, coach, specialist coach, analyst, player rep, captain, vice captain, plus four ex-captains! Who’s the real chef? Everybody and nobody, one fears.

In 2005, Canada finished third via two nail-biting, last-ball wins over Namibia and Netherlands. Sennik has “guaranteed” a top four this time. Several of our 2005 stars – John Davison, Ian Billcliff – seem past their sell-by date.

Perhaps new stars Rizwan Cheema and Balaji Rao will emerge. Perhaps Sennik knows something the rest of us don’t. Like lightning striking the same place twice. Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, Netherlands, Namibia have beaten us in the past two years. So, if the formbook means anything, we start favourites for sixth spot over Bermuda, UAE and Afghanistan.

Ewat@rogers.com

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