While the senior Canada teams (both men’s and women’s) have experienced a decade-long drought of global tournament appearances, the youth side has been a regular feature in the more inclusive U19 world cup. Landing in sunny South Africa for their fourth consecutive event, the Canadians are looking to shake off the rust of their long Northern winter and regain the imperious form that saw them sweep through the regional qualifying tournament last July.
With Canada’s domestic season ending in September, match practice has been in short supply. Speaking to Emerging Cricket, coach Farooq Kirmani explained that the squad has been training indoors since October, with the weather simply too cold to play outside. A creditable performance in their first warmup match against the West Indies showed positive signs, but a demolition job at the hands of Australia brought them crashing back to reality. Questions also remain over an approach to preparation that has seen the squad go months without a competitive match. In November Canada was invited to participate in CWI’s regional 50-over tournament, affording them an opportunity to give the U19s some valuable game time against quality opposition. Instead, Cricket Canada opted to send a development squad devoid of any current age group players (though oddly enough 2018 alumnus Arslan Khan was included). A puzzling decision, and one which Kirmani acknowledges was a missed opportunity: “That’s a very important question and I am not in a position to answer that but yes, some of the U19 players should have gone.”
This speaks to the broader topic of Canada’s youth programme, which has produced impressive results at underage level (the U19s side is arguably their most successful) without a clear pathway to bridge the talent gap into the national side – for example, seamer Faisal Jamhkandi was the joint-leading wicket-taker at the previous U19 world cup, but has not been selected in Canadian colours since. For any Associate nation, nurturing the player base is essential, and Kirmani agrees there is room for improvement: “In my opinion we need to start talking care of U19 players very seriously. Because they are highly skilled and fit players and that is the only pathway to make your senior team better.”
The current crop of juniors will be looking to buck the trend and push for senior honours on the back of an eye-catching world cup campaign after qualifying in emphatic style.
On home turf in Toronto (where the majority of the squad hails from), a string of records tumbled as Canada pummelled the lower-ranked Bermuda, Argentina and Cayman Islands, before completing a comfortable win over the old enemy USA to book their place in the ICC’s premier youth ODI event. Skipper Ashtan Deosammy led the way with the bat as he annihilated the Caymans with 155* and finished top of the run charts, while Raqib Shamsudeen’s left-arm orthodox was unplayable as he collected 12 wickets at the mind-boggling average of 2.6 across the 4 matches.
The pair have also impressed at domestic senior level, with Deosammy already possessing a strong record over several seasons and Shamsudeen continuing his stellar qualifying form with his club side JBM Tranzac in 2019, picking up 24 wickets in 8 innings at an average of 7.5 and an economy rate of 2.5. Joining Deosammy with the willow is opener Ravi Sandu, tipped by coach Farooq as one to watch in South Africa, while first-drop Akhil Kumar is another with a solid domestic record already. In a format where Associates often struggle to bat time, his temperament and technique will be a valuable commodity in helping the Canadians to lay a platform – as shown by his knock of 59 (76) in the warmup match. He can also send down some handy partnership-breaking medium pace.
Complementing the spin threat of Shamsudeen, Canada enter the tournament with a double-barrelled left-arm pace attack of Muhammad Kamal and Rishiv Joshi. It’s an exciting new ball pairing for Kirmani, who also listed the duo as players set to impress, and Joshi underlined his credentials by scalping 4/23 against the West Indies.
Seam bowling quality is one area where the shift in conditions will assist Canada, though moving from the often sluggish pitches of Toronto to the Southern hemisphere is a challenging adjustment for them. As Kirmani explains, “South African conditions are totally different than what we’re used to. The wickets are harder and quicker, and grounds are much faster.” This difference, combined with the significant jump in quality from Americas regional level to the world stage means Canada face an uphill battle to qualify through their group. However, when asked to define success for his side, Kirmani was unequivocal: “A successful tournament is for us to get into the top 8 countries. This is our goal and we have worked very hard and prepared ourselves to get there.”
A top 8 finish for Canada would be a marked improvement over their previous best of 11th position back in 2010, so it’s an ambitious statement of intent. But with a talented crop of players and group matches against UAE, South Africa and Afghanistan, the Canadians have a realistic – if unlikely – pathway to qualify for the knockout stage.
Full squad: Ashtan Deosammy (c), Akhil Kumar, Arshdeep Dhaliwal, Ayush Verma, Benjamin Calitz (wk), Eshan Sensarma (wk), Gurjot Gosal, Mihir Patel, Muhammad Kamal, Nicholas Manohar, Randhir Sandhu, Raqib Shamsudeen, Rishiv Joshi, Udaybir Walia and Harmandeep Singh Bedi.