Going into the four-day Intercontinental Cup cricket fixture against Namibia starting today at Windhoek, Canadian coach Michael Dighton has a simple message for his batsmen.
Just occupy the crease for a lengthy period.
Canada is without a point after lopsided losses at home to Afghanistan by nine wickets and Ireland on the road by an innings and 11 runs. What is more telling is the national side succumbed to the Afghans early on the last day after the entire second day’s play was washed out and the Irish bowled them out twice on the second day.
In the clash with Afghanistan, the top three batsmen – Ruvindu Gunasekera, Hiral Patel and Tyson Gordon – faced just 82 balls in both innings while openers Gunasekera and Patel lasted 74 balls in the Ireland contest.
“We need for our players to bat for longer periods of time,” Dighton told Share before the team departed last Sunday. “We have a fairly young bowling attack that we will be going into the game with, so if we can try and bowl Namibia out, I guess that is one way of going about it. Sadly, this is a format of the game that I think we have to make some big improvements.”
There are two changes to the squad that took part in the World Cup Twenty/20 qualifier.
Vikings all-rounder Durand Soraine, who scored 512 runs (av. 39.38) and picked up 10 wickets (av. 25.40) in 16 Toronto & District Cricket Association Elite division matches last season, and PCB Stallions middle-order batsman Usman Limbada replace left-arm seamer Raza-ur-Rehman who injured his shoulder in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and medium-pacer Harvir Baidwan who is in India for personal reasons.
The squad is Rizwan Cheema (capt.), Jimmy Hansra, Rustam Bhatti, Ruvindu Gunasekera, Hiral Patel, Nitish Kumar, Maninder Aulakh, Henry Osinde, Zahid Hussain, Usman Limbada, Junaid Siddiqui, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Durand Sorraine and Tyson Gordon.
Runner-up in the inaugural 2004 competition and again in the 2006-7 series, Canada has struggled in the game’s long format in the last two tournaments with just one win against the UAE at King City by an innings and 228 runs and 10 losses in 13 matches.
Without pointing fingers at individual players, Dighton said the batsmen’s failure contributed to Canada’s sixth place finish in the just concluded International Cricket Council (ICC) Twenty/20 qualifier.
“Entering the tournament, we were ranked sixth and we finished in that position so, in a sense, we deserved to finish where we were,” Dighton said. “On the other hand, we were outstanding against the lesser teams, but we did not get the job done in the crucial matches against Afghanistan, the Dutch and the Irish.
“Some of our senior players need to stand up because they are the ones we need to produce to win those games in crunch time. They have failed to do that in the last two tournaments. I don’t want to name names, but those are the guys who have been around for a while and have played a lot of cricket. They are the ones you are looking to perform when the pressure is on.”
Cheema, who took over the captaincy last month after Hansra stepped down, recorded 66 runs (av. 8.25) in nine innings in the World Cup Twenty/20 qualifier after scoring just 13 runs in four matches in the Caribbean Twenty/20 series in January.
Patel, the exciting 21-year-old opening batsman who hit Aussie fast bowler Brett Lee for a massive six in last year’s World Cup, lacked consistency even though he surpassed the 40-run mark twice in the UAE. He amassed 170 runs (av. 18.9).
A former English county player with Derbyshire and Hampshire, Dighton is also concerned about the fielding.
“There is nobody in our group that is a natural fielder and moves well,” he said. “That is just going to be a work in progress. It’s going to take a lot of effort and time on the players’ part to actually want to get better. Fielding makes a difference, particularly in the short form of the sport.”
Gunasekera, the left-handed opener, and leg spinner Junaid Siddiqui were the most productive batsman and bowler respectively in the UAE. Gunasekera recorded 276 runs (av. 30.66) while Siddiqui took 12 wickets (av. 15.58).
“Junaid bowled really well at times,” said Dighton. “He’s an energetic cricketer and a fantastic young man. Going forward, I see him playing a big role in Canadian cricket.”
Dighton, who played five seasons in The Netherlands and was the Dutch assistant coach in last year’s World Cup, also had high praise for middle-order batsman, Nitish Kumar, who is attending school in the United Kingdom. The diminutive 17-year-old right-handed batsman registered 172 runs (av. 24.6) in the recent World Cup qualifier.
“Nitish is a fantastic young player and I have really enjoyed working with him,” said the coach. “He has a lot of ability and I believe he can really be one of the best players Canada has ever produced. Bagai (Ashish) is obviously up there, but this kid will pose a serious challenge with a little bit of refinement and hard work. I am very excited about him and I think the sky is the limit with Nitish.”
Dighton arrived last October to replace former Sri Lanka and Canada wicketkeeper/batsman, Pubudu Dassanayake, who is now the Nepal coach.
He took the national team to Barbados last December for a short training camp before heading home briefly for the Christmas holidays. He returned to the Caribbean in early January for the West Indies Twenty/20 competition, went back to Australia while his Canadian work permit was being processed and then joined the national squad in Sri Lanka to prepare for the World Cup qualifier.
Dighton acknowledged the schedule has been hectic.
“It’s been tough at times,” admitted Dighton whose contract with Cricket Canada runs until December 31, 2013. “After the recent tournament, I felt pretty flat and drained. We have spent a lot of time on the road and I have been away from my family for quite a while. I am, however, confident we can turn things around. We have got a largely young squad and it’s going to take time for them to perform on a consistent basis. They are certainly getting exposed to higher levels of competition which will put them in good stead going forward.”
Dighton’s wife and two young kids, who are in Tasmania, will join him in Canada later this month.
By RON FANFAIR