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Indians lead revival of cricket in Canada

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS,

Toronto : Just like Canadian field hockey where Indians form half of the national team, Indians are also leading the revival of cricket in this country.

If president Banwarilal (Ben) Sennik and CEO Atul Ahuja of Cricket Canada are steering the sport to make it popular across the country, eight Indian-origin players are sweating it out to raise the nation’s rankings in world cricket.

“In fact, the president of our Maple Leaf cricket facility – the only one as per ICC standards – is also an Indian Rajinder Saini,” says CEO Atul Ahuja amid laughter.

Among the eight Indian-origin players currently doing duty for Canada, six come from India and two from Guyana.

Leading the pack is Delhi-born Ashish Bagai who is a superb batsman and the team’s wicketkeeper. Impressed by his performance in the last World Cup, former Aussie wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist described Bagai as one of the very best in the world today.

The 26-year-old investment banker first played for Canada’s Under-19 team in 1997, and was included in the national team two years later.

Praising him, the Cricket Canada CEO says: “Bagai has the nerves of steel, always calm and unruffled. A great square player, he is a great runner between the wickets.”

The Delhi lad was named player of the tournament in the World Cricket League in Nairobi last year after he hit consecutive tons against Scotland and Ireland, scoring 345 runs at an average 86.25.

Gujarat-born Ashif Abdulhai Mulla is the backbone of the team’s batting line-up. A blue-collar worker, he is a solid middle-order batsman.

This 28-year-old, right-hand batsman made his debut with Canada Under-19 team in 1999-2000. Since the 2007 World Cricket League, he has matured into a batsman with a solid technique and temperament. Cover drive is his favourite shot. Mulla can also keep wickets.

Former Indian Ranji Trophy player W.D. Balaji Rao has just been blooded into the Canadian bowling attack. The 30-year-old Rao made his international debut just last month, playing against the visiting West Indies here.

“A top-class off-spinner and useful with the bat, he is a player with a huge experience. He played for India Under-19 team for many years. He did so well for Tamil Nadu and Railways for many seasons. And he played for the South Zone team that jointly won the Deodhar Trophy in 2000,” Ahuja told IANS.

In Indian-born Karun Jethi, the Canadian team has found a match-winning all-rounder. In his debut ODI against Bermuda here last month, this 24-year-old police cop hit an unbeaten 46 off just 36 balls and claimed two wickets to bag the man of the match award. “This young man is a superb batsman and a spinner, and I am he will go a long way,” says Ahuja.

And Chandigarh-born Harvir Singh Baidwan has made the Canadian tail wag. Since making his ODI debut against Bermuda in July, the 21-year-old seems to have cemented his place in the national team with all-round performance. Baidwan has emerged as a feisty medium-pacer and a belligerent batsman who can hoist the bowlers all over the ground.

Punjab-born Anuraj Gupta, who is a captain the Canadian armed forces, completes the tally of Indian-born players in the Canadian cricket team. “Anuraj is a good batsman and a wicketkeeper. I am sure, he certainly make an impact,” says the CEO of cricket Canada.