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Next month's tournament like extended audition for UWO grad
Feb 20, 2007 12:59 PM
Neil Davidson
Canadian Press
Ashish Bagai has put his investment banking career in Los Angeles on hold for a year to play cricket for Canada.
If things go well at the World Cup starting next month, he may not be going back to Tinseltown any time soon.
Bagai is vice-captain and wicketkeeper on the Canadian team, which leaves Thursday for the Caribbean for a series of warmup games before the World Cup kicks off March 11. Canada's first game is March 14 against Kenya in Saint Lucia.
The World Cup, a 16-team tournament that decides the champion of one-day cricket, could be an extended job audition for Bagai.
A 25-year-old native of Richmond Hill, Ont., Bagai was recently named player of the tournament at the ICC World Cricket League, a competition for second-tier cricket countries.
Bagai scored two centuries and one half-century, averaging 86.25 runs at the tournament, which also included Bermuda, Ireland, host Kenya, the Netherlands and Scotland.
Canadian coach Andy Pick credits a stint late last year at a high-development camp run by the International Cricket Council for helping Bagai flourish.
"When I arrived in May, he was a talented cricketer who didn't make the best of what he's got. And he has now matured and learned a lot about the game. . . . He has now applied himself to the very best of his abilities," Pick said.
Other Canadians at the camp in Pretoria, South Africa, were Sunil Dhaniram, Abdool Samad and Kevin Sandher.
The 11-week camp drew players from each of the six so-called "associate" countries with top coaches like former Test players Rod Marsh, Kepler Wessels and Gary Kirsten. It was cricket from morning to night.
"I was there for three months and I worked pretty hard," Bagai said. "It's good to see results come out of that."
Bagai called it an eye-opening experience, one that has resulted in changes to his diet, lifestyle and mental preparation.
"The biggest thing I realized out of that camp was to be successful in sport or I guess in anything, it takes a lot of discipline and a lifestyle change."
"Every decision you make, you've got to think back to how it will affect you in the field," he added. "You do it consciously for a while and then it becomes lifestyle and habit."
Bagai, who studied finance at the University of Western Ontario, works at UBS Investment Bank in Los Angeles but was able to get a year off to concentrate on his cricket.
"I like it (banking) . . . but if I could play cricket, I would take that any day," Bagai said.
Bagai says he is not thinking that far ahead, preferring to concentrate on Canada's chances. But he knows a good performance could lead to a job offer.
Bagai was approached by a couple of South African cricket teams after the 2003 tournament, but he was in university at the time and not sure where his cricket future lay.
This time around, Canada is in a pool with England, New Zealand and Kenya. Only the top two teams will advance to the next round.
The Canadians' goal is to beat Kenya – something they did in January, although the Kenyans avenged that loss earlier this month – and steal a win against one of the other two teams. It promises to be a stiff challenge and there is no margin for error.
"That's what the World Cup is all about, I guess," Bagai said.
Bagai is one of six veterans of the 2003 tournament on this year's team. Other returnees are captain John Davison, Ian Billcliff, Austin Codrington, Desmond Chumney and Samad.
Canada went 1-5 in a roller-coaster ride at the 2003 World Cup.
Davison recorded the fastest century in World Cup history (off 67 balls) before being dismissed for 111 in a loss to the West Indies. He also clubbed 75 against New Zealand.
Also on the positive side, Canada beat Bangladesh by 60 runs for its first ever one-day international win. And opener Ishwar Maraj became only the eighth player to survive the full quota of overs in a World Cup match, finishing at 53 not out off 155 balls.
But Canada entered the record book on a different note when it was dismissed for 36 runs against Sri Lanka, the lowest one-day international total ever. And Maraj's showing against South Africa was also the slowest-scoring innings of more than 50 in a one-day international.
"A lot of positives came out of it," Bagai said. "We got our first World Cup win, which was huge for us."
Bagai has long been someone to watch in Canadian cricket. He competed at the first under-15 World Cup in England, where he was voted top wicketkeeper. He went on to captain the Americas team in the under-19 World Cup and was one of the youngest players at the 2003 World Cup.
Canada faces unique challenges in preparing to play with cricket's big boys. Extreme Cold Alerts – predicted weather of -15 C without wind chill – are hardly normal in a sport where players often lather zinc oxide over their face to fight off sunburn.
Instead, the largely Ontario-based Canadian team has had to practise inside during winter.
Plus almost all of the players have day jobs. And the team gets virtually no funding other than what it receives from the ICC.
Bagai acknowledges it is frustrating playing a sport that gets so little attention or help back home.
"We know we have so much more to give. It's just not possible with families and all that kind of stuff. I'm fortunate to get a year off. But people come to training right after the work, they've worked 10 hours.
"It's hard. But we love the game so we're doing it."
 
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