By RON FANFAIR
Canada continued its winning ways today with an important win over Afghanistan which brings it one win away from advancing to cricket’s World Cup finals in 2011, that will be hosted by India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Canada needs just one win in its final two Super Eight contests against either the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday or The Netherlands on Friday to secure a fourth trip to the World Cup finals. Canada and Ireland are tied at the top of the Super Eight standings with eight points each, but the Canadians have a superior net run rate. Kenya and the Dutch follow with six points each while Scotland and the UAE each have four. Afghanistan and Namibia share the cellar with two points each.
Buoyed by another brilliant all-round performance by Rizwan Cheema and a sterling match-winning fourth-wicket stand of 148 in 31.2 overs between skipper Ashish Bagai and Ian Billcliff, Canada staved off a strong challenge from the Afghans to soar to a six-wicket win with nine balls remaining.
Billcliff, who defied physicians’ suggestions to miss the game after suffering a double fracture of the second finger on his right hand in the last game against Kenya, led Canada with a responsible innings of 96 not out off 134 balls to lift his tournament average to 49.
“This was a very brave and brilliant knock when you consider that doctors advised him yesterday not to play today after X-rays revealed that the tip of the finger was fractured,” Canada’s manager, Mike Henry, said after the win against the Afghans. “Though there was some protection on the finger, he had to be in some discomfort.
“He also dropped the Afghan opener that made a century (Noor Ali) in the day’s fourth over off Henry Osinde while fielding at slip and I am sure that the injury contributed to the let down because that’s a catch he normally would have taken.”
Henry also disclosed that Osinde has a strained rib muscle injury and Umar Bhatti and Harvir Baidwan are bothered by nagging leg injuries.
“Despite the ailments, the boys are in good spirits,” added Henry. “As they say, winning is masking the pain and aches some of them are enduring. We will celebrate this win tonight and then get down to the task of going hard after the UAE on Wednesday to complete the mission we came here to achieve and that is to return to the World Cup finals.”
Earlier, medium-pacer Cheema claimed three wickets for 41 runs off his allotted 10 overs in Afghanistan’s challenging total of 265-8 off 50 overs, and then hit a lightning 46 off 23 balls with two sixes and eight boundaries in an opening stand of 67 off 8.1 overs with Geoff Barnett to engineer Canada’s pursuit.
Bagai, who is averaging 97.5 in his last three games, and Billcliff then batted sensibly to lead their team to its sixth win in seven matches in the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup qualifier. Bagai hit a six and three fours in his innings of 68 while Billcliff was four runs short of his first ODI century when victory was achieved.
Bagai, who has been phenomenal behind the stumps, took three more catches to boost his total in the tournament to 18.