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Canadian cricketers look to impress in first trip to ICC Men's T20 World Cup

Canada cricket coach Pubudu Dassanayake (left) is shown talking to his players at practice on May 26, 2024, at Grand Prairie Stadium in Dallas where Canada will open the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup on Saturday against the co-host U.S. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Cricket Canada **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Canada steps onto the cricket world stage Saturday when it takes on the co-host U.S. in the opening match of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup in Dallas.

While known for other sports, the North American rivals have cricket history with their first meeting — in New York in 1844 — believed to be the first-ever international match. But this Canadian squad is looking to the future not the past, hoping to impress against some of the sport's biggest names.

"The mood is great," said Pubudu Dassanayake, in his second stint as Canada coach.

"Every player's dream is to be in the World Cup. So there's a lot of excitement within the playing group. And I think we're all looking forward to this big event."

Captain Saad Bin Zafar hopes the tournament shines a spotlight on the Canadian team and inspires a new generation of cricketers back home.

"You couldn't ask for a better platform than the T20 World Cup," he said.

The fourth-ranked West Indies, which is co-hosting the tournament, opens Sunday against No. 20 Papua New Guinea at the Guyana National Stadium.

The Canadian men, ranked 23rd in the world, have been drawn in Group A with No. 1 India, No. 6 Pakistan, No. 11 Ireland, and the 18th-ranked U.S.

After playing the Americans at the Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium, Canada faces Ireland on June 7 and Pakistan on June 11, both in the New York area, and India on June 15 in Lauderhill, Fla.

The New York site is actually Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, a 34,000-seat modular stadium some 50 kilometres east of downtown Manhattan in Nassau County.

The T20 World Cup will serve as 20-team, 55-game appetizer for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, where cricket returns to the Olympic program for the first time since 1900 in Paris when only Britain and France competed.

Canada is looking for results against the U.S. and Ireland to set up high-profile matchups with cricket powerhouses Pakistan and India.

"If we can get through these (first) two games, anything can happen," Dassanayake said.

"We strongly believe that we can compete with those guys … We're actually looking to put up a good showing against those legends of T20 cricket," added veteran bowler Jeremy Gordon.

All-rounder Nicholas Kirton relishes such elite opposition.

"This is the chance to really see what level you're at as a player, because India and Pakistan are the best of the best in the world," he said.

The top two from each of the four preliminary-round groups advance, earning automatic qualification to the next World Cup in the process

"It's a hard ask. But I think we're capable of doing it if we play the best cricket," said the Canada coach.

With teams batting for just 20 overs, batsmen are on the attack.

"A lot of excitement in every ball," said Dassanayake. "One over (which consists of six ball deliveries) here and there can change the whole game."

After missing the first eight editions of the T20 World Cup, Canada qualified in October by defeating host Bermuda by 39 runs to win the ICC Men's T20 World Cup Americas Region Final.

It's been a long climb up the world cricket ladder.

The Canadians regained their regained their one-day international status for the first time in almost a decade by finishing fourth at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier Playoff in Namibia in April 2023. Canada advancing to the Namibia event by finishing atop League A in the six-country World Cup Challenge League with a 13-1-0 record with one no-result.

Dassanayake credits a well-balanced team for such progress.

Kaleem Sana, a former Pakistan under-19 player, and Gordon are Canada's pace bowlers. Gordon's deliveries can reach 140 km/h with Sana at 135 to 140 km/h.

Dilon Heyliger is an all-rounder who usually looks after bowling the middle overs with Rishiv Joshi adding to the seam attack. Zafar and Junaid Siddiqui are Canada's spin bowlers

Zafar is an inspirational captain who leads by example.

"He keeps everything cool and calm." said Dassanayake

Opener Aaron Johnson leads the batting attack.

"He's a game-changer," said Dassanayake. "If he gets runs we will compete with any team at this World Cup."

Former captain Navneet Dhaliwal, Rayyan Pathan and Kirton can also cause middle-order damage with the bat.

Sadly Canada lost Harsch Thaker to an ankle injury on May 5. The 26-year-old will be a tournament spectator after turning heads earlier this year with back-to-back centuries in ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 play.

A wicket-keeper, Dassanayake represented Sri Lanka in 11 Test matches and 16 one-day internationals. After emigrating to Canada, Dassanayake made his Canadian international debut at the 2005 ICC Trophy.

The 53-year-old, who has also coached Nepal and the U.S., helped Canada qualify for the 2011 ICC World Cup, its last appearance at the global one-day (50-over) championship.

Cricket Canada is showing progress off the field thanks in part to a commercial partnership with Boundaries North. The governing body now boasts sponsorship deals with the likes of Nissan, TD Bank Group, Coca-Cola and O’Neills Irish International Sports Company.

Last year, Cricket Canada handed out 12 full-time and six part-time player contracts. They provide a modest amount but help pay the bills, with more pay when they go on tour.

Some 60 per cent of Cricket Canada's funding comes from the International Cricket Council, the world governing body. Its contribution depends on how Canada does on the field and its work off it to develop the sport.

A small amount comes from Sport Canada with the rest coming from sponsors, fundraising and the GT20 tournament in Brampton, Ont.

Canada T20 World Cup Roster

Saad Bin Zafar (capt.), Brampton, Ont.; Aaron Johnson, Surrey, B.C.; Ravinderpal Singh, Vancouver; Navneet Dhaliwal, Brampton, Ont.; Kaleem Sana, Vancouver; Dilon Heyliger, Toronto; Jeremy Gordon, Toronto; Nikhil Dutta, Brampton, Ont.; Pargat Singh, Surrey, B.C.; Nicholas Kirton, Toronto; Rayyan Pathan, Toronto; Junaid Siddiqui, Mississauga, Ont.; Dilpreet Bajwa, Surrey, B.C.; Shreyas Movva (wicket-keeper), Montreal; Rishiv Joshi, Toronto

Coach: Pubudu Dassanayake, Barrie, Ont.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2024

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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