With studies out of the way, Ashish Bagai is committed to playing cricket for Canada for at least the next nine months.
The former captain graduated with an MBA from the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia 10 days ago and has rejoined the national program. Next February, he takes up full-time employment in Toronto as a consultant with McKinsey & Company – a global management consulting firm.
It’s almost certain that Bagai’s commitment to the program will extend beyond February only if Canada qualifies for next year’s Twenty/20 World Cup and/or the 2015 World Cup.
The 2014 Twenty/20 World Cup qualifier takes place in Dubai in October. A total of six Associates will join the 10 Test playing nations in next year’s World Cup in Bangladesh from March 16 to April 24. The 2015 World Cup qualifier is in New Zealand in January.
“This is a very important period for Canadian cricket,” said Bagai. “If we fall behind, we will lose funding and there will be little interest in the program for the next three to four years.”
He acknowledged his employers’ flexibility for allowing him to return to the national cricket program.
“I spoke to them and they said I could come back after nine months,” said Bagai, who quit his job with the Union Bank of Switzerland in England in July 2008 to accept a central contract with Cricket Canada and prepare for the 2011 World Cup. “They told me to take the time off to follow my passion and come back to them early next year.”
A University of Western Ontario business administration graduate, Bagai said he returned to school two years ago because of a nagging knee injury and his unhappiness with the direction in which Cricket Canada was heading at the time.
For nearly three years, 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. He took cortisone injections during the last World Cup to ease the pain.
“I have been doing rehab on the knee,” said Bagai. “It’s a lot stronger. Being away from the game has allowed me to rest it. Hopefully, it will stay strong, but I will have to monitor it closely.”
The wicketkeeper/batsman, who has not played for Canada since March 2011, after the national side was eliminated from the World Cup in south Asia, is anxious to get back on the field.
“I have not played much cricket,” said Bagai. “Last year, I played a few matches for Toronto Cricket Club in the Toronto & District Cricket Association league. It takes me about 2-4 weeks to get back into the swing of things. I have been doing a lot of work in the gym. Physically, I am feeling good but cricket wise, it will take me a little time to get back. Hopefully by the time the National Cricket League (NCL) rolls around, I will be ready to go.”
The NCL takes place at King City from June 23 to July 1 while the Auty Cup series against the United States will be held from July 25-28 in Edmonton. In addition, Canada will host the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates for One-Day Internationals and Intercontinental Cup matches at King City in July and August.
Despite concerns about his knee, Bagai said he will keep wicket when he returns to the team.
“Coming back behind the stumps really gives the side balance,” he said. “That does good things for us with me in that role.”
Bagai’s return excites Gus Logie, who is back for a second stint as Canada’s coach.
“His presence will be a lift for the players,” said Logie, who coached Canada at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe. “He has always been a leader. We have quite a few young players who will benefit from Ashish’s experience. We are trying to bake a cake and at the end of the day we need icing. He’s that. His professionalism will certainly add to what we are trying to achieve. I am certain that if he can perform at the same high level, Cricket Canada will benefit in many ways.”
Cricket Canada’s president, Ravin Moorthy, hailed Bagai’s decision to sign a contract.
“It’s the single most important thing we have done as an organization in the last five years,” said Moorthy. “The fact that he feels that pride to put on our jersey and represent this country is exceptional.”