By RON FANFAIR
Canada will face defending champions Australia for the first time ever in cricket’s next World Cup tournament in 2011 in south Asia.
Winners of the last three finals and the last tournament jointly staged by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka 22 years ago, the Aussies will be favoured to capture an unprecedented fourth straight title.
Joining Canada and Australia in Group “A” are 1992 champions Pakistan, 1996 winners Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Kenya. The other group comprises India, South Africa, England, the West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and The Netherlands.
Former Sri Lanka and Canada wicketkeeper/batsman-turned-national-coach, Pubudu Dassanayake, acknowledged that the local side will be tested when it meets the world’s top teams in the next 16 months.
“If we want to advance to the Super Eight stage, we will have to beat two Full members,” said Dassanayake. “That means that we will have to be at our very best when we come up against these teams if we expect to be competitive and give ourselves a chance of creating upsets.”
Canada was grouped with Kenya and New Zealand in the last World Cup in the West Indies in which the teams were divided into four groups. In the 2003 competition in South Africa, the national side was in the same group with Sri Lanka, Kenya and New Zealand.
England, Pakistan and Australia were clustered with World Cup debutants Canada in the 1979 edition.
The next World Cup, which starts on February 18, 2011 with the opening ceremony in Bangladesh, will be shorter than the last version. The International Cricket Council (ICC) revealed a new format that will reduce the number of games from 51 to 49 and possibly lessen the duration by at least a week. A total of 16 teams took part in the 2007 World Cup over six weeks.
India will host 29 of the 49 matches across eight venues, Sri Lanka will stage 12 games at three venues and Bangladesh has been allotted eight matches to be staged at two grounds.
Pakistan was stripped of hosting rights because of security concerns following an armed attack by unidentified gunmen on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore last March.
India-born Ashish Bagai, who along with overseas-based players John Davison and Ian Billcliff are aiming to become the only Canadians to appear in three World Cups, returned last week from Sri Lanka where he was playing club cricket after aggravating a knee injury.
“He suffered the injury against Kenya this summer and it started to bother him in Sri Lanka,” said Dassanayake. “A doctor there told him the left knee ligament is torn and recommended surgery. We advised Ashish to return home immediately so that he could get the injury re-assessed here.”
If fit, Bagai will attend a batting camp for Associate countries preparing for the next World Cup at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre in South Africa November 16-23. The national skipper will be in the republic anyway as Associate captains and coaches have been invited to attend the camp. The other Canadian participants in the batting camp are Cheema and national youth players Hiral Patel and Nitish Kumar.
The seven players contracted by Cricket Canada have been offered opportunities to play for overseas clubs during the winter.
Medium pacer Harvir Baidwan is already in Sri Lanka where Henry Osinde and Rizwan Cheema – who was in South Africa two weeks ago for the sixth LG/ICC awards ceremony – will join him later this month.
Cheema was nominated for the ICC Associate Player of the Year award which was won by Ireland’s captain, William Porterfield.
Umar Bhatti left for Pakistan yesterday to join Khurram Chohan while former captain Sunil Dhaniram will head to Guyana to play for Everest Cricket Club.
The players are expected back home in December to prepare for a one-month camp in Colombo, Sri Lanka, starting on January 4 prior to the ICC Twenty/20 World Cup qualifier in Dubai February 9-13.
Canada is in “Group “B” with The Netherlands, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates while Group “A” comprises Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan and the United States.
The top two teams will join the ICC 10 Full members Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, West Indies, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, England and India in the third biennial championship from April 30 to May 16 in Guyana, St. Lucia and Barbados.