Patel Steers Canada’s youth cricketers to Americas title

By RON FANFAIR

Had last week’s Americas Cup youth cricket championship not been significant, all-rounder Hiral Patel would have been in Europe with the senior national side.

Canada, however, needed to finish as one of the top two teams in order to ensure a place in the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Under-19 World Cup global qualifier, scheduled for the Greater Toronto Area in early September. Regaining the title it last won six years ago was another priority for Canada, which fell to Bermuda by 13 runs in a decisive contest two years ago, and was also upset at home by the United States in 2005.

The national youth side achieved all of its objectives, with Patel playing a central role with both bat and ball. Emerging as the series’ Most Valuable Player, Patel registered a tournament-high 305 runs (av. 101.67). His economical and productive bowling spell of 3-28 off nine overs, helped Canada brush aside the Americans by 62 runs on its way to an unblemished 4-0 record – which included a five-run win over Bermuda last Saturday in a contest decided by the Duckworth/Lewis system used in rain-affected games.

“Hiral is one of the most consistent players I have seen at this level of the game in the region,” said ICC Americas Development Manager Martin Vieira who was appointed in 2003 and has overseen the last four regional Under-19 competitions. “He will get a chance in September to show what he’s got against the best Associate players in his age group. He has a bright future.”

The right-handed opener and left-arm orthodox spinner recorded four half-centuries and a tournament-best 95 against Bermuda, while claiming six wickets. He attributed his success to the six-week high performance training camp in Sri Lanka that he and national youth team mate Usman Limbada attended earlier this year.

“The quality of the training I received was very high and it certainly has contributed to my development as a cricketer,” said Patel, who came to Canada four years ago from Gujarat, India. “It was the best camp I have been to and it could not have come at a better time in my young career as a cricketer. I am a better player now and I definitely know I am at the point where I am ready to play for the senior national side.”

Patel registered three half-centuries in five games he played with the national team during warm-ups in Sri Lanka while preparing for last April’s World Cup qualifier in South Africa.

“He (Patel) will be ready for us this season,” said senior team coach, Pubudu Dassanayake.

The 17-year-old won two schoolboy championships with Woburn Collegiate before transferring to Lester B. Pearson Collegiate where he will pursue his Grade 12 education after taking a few months off from school to hone his cricket skills.

Patel plays for Victoria Park in the Toronto and District Cricket Association premier and first division competitions.

“He stood out for us in this series,” said coach Wilbert Plummer who came to Canada in 1991 after graduating from Jamaica’s C.G. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport. “I know he has the ability and it showed in this series.”

Canada, meanwhile, defeated the Cayman Islands by 10 wickets, the Bahamas by nine wickets, Argentina by 261 runs, the United States by 62 runs and Bermuda by five runs to complete the series with the maximum 10 points. This means they join the United States – which placed second with eight points – as the Americas’ representatives in the ICC global qualifier.

Bermuda – with outgoing national team coach Gus Logie (who didn’t renew his contract, which expires in September) in its corner – finished third with six points, followed by the Cayman Islands with four and the Bahamas with two. Argentina remained winless.

Canadian captain, Rustum Bhatti, who scored 118 runs (av. 39.33) and took three catches behind the stumps, was named the tournament’s Best Wicketkeeper while Bermudan all-rounder Chris Douglas won the Best Bowler award for picking up 14 wickets with his right-arm off-breaks, including 4-4 off 3.3 overs in his team’s comprehensive eight-wicket defeat of Argentina.

Douglas – a left-handed, middle-order batsman – failed to reproduce the form which saw him score an impressive 53 against the West Indies at the same venue during last summer’s triangular One-Day Internationals series that also involved host country Canada. He tallied 128 runs (av. 25.60).

American Greg Sewdial, who collected four catches, was voted the tournament’s Best Fielder.

Talented all-rounder Nitesh Kumar who, at 14, is the youngest member on the national side, dedicated the victory to his father Vikal who was killed in a vehicular accident in England in August 2005. Nitesh was also injured in the crash. He was on tour with the Toronto Cricket Academy.

“I always remember my dad,” said Kumar who scored 116 runs (av. 38.67) and captured four wickets (av. 7.25).

Plummer said the Canadian squad will assemble in the Greater Toronto Area in mid-August for a two-week camp leading up to the global youth qualifier, which starts on September 1.

Canada will host the United States, Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and two European teams that will be decided following their two-week, 10-team-tournament regional qualifier in Jersey, July 14-20. The top five teams will join Kenya and the ICC’s 10 Full members in next year’s 16-team youth World Cup series, slated for New Zealand.

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