Canada’s cricket captain Ashish Bagai will be keeping a very close eye on the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) annual conference in Hong Kong at the end of next month.
At the request of ICC president Sharad Pawar, the executive board will reconsider the decision to decrease from 14 to 10 the number of contestants for the next World Cup, which will shut out the Associate countries – including Canada – which have vehemently opposed the move.
At its meeting last April, the board also agreed that the 10-team format would be in place for the 2019 World Cup in England as well, though there would be a qualification tournament for that edition.
Bagai’s contract with Cricket Canada expires at around the same time the ICC is meeting in Hong Kong, and the board’s decision on the next World Cup format could have a bearing on his future with the national senior team.
“I still want to play for Canada,” said the 29-year-old wicketkeeper who quit his job with the Union Bank of Switzerland in England in July 2008 to accept a central contract with Cricket Canada. “However, I am not sure how much longer I can make a full-time commitment to the sport here.”
The opportunity to become the first Canadian to play in four World Cups might be the only thing that would inspire the Delhi-born cricketer to stick with the national program for a few more years.
Married last year and no doubt considering starting a family, he has been hobbled by patella femoral syndrome, a common knee injury among active athletes characterized by intense pain around the kneecap that increases with activity. The nagging left knee injury has bothered him for the past two years.
Bagai, who took cortisone injections during the recently concluded World Cup to ease the pain, said he enjoyed captaining Canada in the quadrennial global tournament.
“It was a challenge which I relished,” he said. “Captaining a team requires man-management. In addition to wicketkeeping which calls for a lot of concentration, I had to pad up as soon as the opposition innings ended because I was batting at number four. The overall job was very demanding, but I relished it.”
Bagai was also saddled with leading a Canadian side that was the youngest in the World Cup. Opener Nitish Kumar was the youngest player to appear in a World Cup at age 16 years, 274 days while former captain John Davison was the tournament’s oldest player at 40 years, 286 days.
Davison, who announced his retirement from first-class cricket prior to the national team’s last match against Australia, made his ODI debut with Bagai in Canada’s first World Cup win over Bangladesh in South Africa eight years ago.
“JD put Canada’s cricket on the map,” Bagai said. “He and Ian (Billcliff) brought an excellent work ethic, discipline and value on and off the field to our program.”
Billcliff, who lives in New Zealand, was not considered for the World Cup.
While the emergence of young players Hiral Patel, Harvinder Baidwan and Jimmy Hansra has pleased Bagai, there is no doubt he would have preferred to have more experience at the World Cup.
“I believe that experience counts for a lot when you are playing in big tournaments,” Bagai said. “Giving young players a chance is all well and good but the goal in major competitions like the World Cup is to win games. I don’t think that’s the stage to give unproven youths an opportunity to learn. I definitely thought Ian could have made a contribution to the side. The selectors however wanted to promote youth and we will find out if they are right or wrong in the next few years.”
Last month, Bagai started a short-term assignment with Cricket Canada.
“I am doing it out of good faith because it’s not in my contract,” he said. “Part of my role is to put a budget together and help come up with a plan for this year’s national championship.”