By RON FANFAIR
Opposing bowlers should be wary now that Ashish Bagai is playing cricket full-time again.
The 27-year-old Canadian captain quit his job with the Union Bank of Switzerland in England last month to accept a central contract with Cricket Canada. Despite splitting time between his job and cricket, Bagai has proven that he is still Canada’s best batsman, scoring four half centuries in 12 One-Day Internationals and Three Twenty/20 contests in the past two years.
His role with the Canadian side over that period has been restricted to the shorter forms of the game.
Bagai admits he was unable to fully commit to Canadian cricket since joining the diversified global financial services company in the summer of 2007.
“I worked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week in the United Kingdom,” said Bagai who made his senior team debut a decade ago after graduating from Brian Hale’s Toronto Cricket Academy. “I played about 3 to 4 club games last year and this season I did not pick up a bat in England. Over the past year, I was showing up at tournaments without practice and that’s not fair to me or the team. I felt like if I was not fully committed to either my job or cricket, so I chose cricket for at least the next 18 months leading up to the World Cup and we will see where it goes from there.
“I enjoyed working with the bank and it’s a good career but, at the moment, it might not be the best industry to be in after the market’s demise and the remuneration is not what it used to be two years ago. It’s still however a good career and one that I may go back to. I will see where we stand as a cricket-playing country and if we are making progress I will like to stay here. If not, I will pursue other avenues.”
Bagai leads Canada in a four-day Intercontinental Cup match against Kenya at Maple Leaf ground starting tomorrow. It’s the first time he’s playing in the game’s longer version since his first assignment as Canada’s skipper against Ireland at Grace Road in Leicester in May 2007.
“Even though I have not played four-day cricket for sometime, that’s my preferred form of the game and I am very excited to be back in it,” said Bagai, whose average is 40.66 in the seven matches he has led Canada. “I think I still have a lot more to give to Canadian cricket and hopefully that comes out in the next few months.”
The University of Western Ontario business administration graduate said he will be happy to share his professional skills with Cricket Canada which has advertised for a business manager.
“I have not been approached about that position,” said the recently engaged Bagai who will tie the nuptial knot next August 1. “But, I will be willing to help out wherever I can with my skill set. It’s a full-time job and I understand the constraints of the resources that Cricket Canada has. If they need any help besides me playing, I will be happy to do that.
Bagai’s immense talent was evident as a youth when he was voted the Best Wicketkeeper in the first Under-15 World Cup in England. He also won the Best Gloveman award in the last two West Indies Under-19 tournaments in which he was Canada’s captain.
The extremely efficient wicketkeeper and consistent middle-order batsman, along with the other contracted players Umar Bhatti, Sunil Dhaniram, Henry Osinde, Khurram Chohan, Harvinder Singh and Rizwan Cheema form the nucleus of the national side preparing for the 2011 World Cup.