Canadian veteran cricketer Junaid Siddiqui savouring T20 World Cup experience | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Canadian veteran cricketer Junaid Siddiqui savouring T20 World Cup experience

Canadian cricketer Junaid Siddiqui (left) is shown at a Canada training session in Grand Prairie, Texas on May 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Cricket Canada **MANDATORY CREDIT**
Original Publication Date June 06, 2024 - 8:01 AM

At 39, Junaid Siddiqui waited a long time to make it to the ICC Men's T20 World Cup. And he's savouring every minute of the experience.

"The dream was always World Cup," Siddiqui said. "I'm happy, privileged that I'm getting that opportunity … Going to this World Cup is really special for us, and for me."

Siddiqui and the 23rd-ranked Canadian men look to bounce back from Saturday's seven-wicket loss to the United States in Texas in their tournament debut when they take on No. 11 Ireland on Friday at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in suburban New York.

Ireland was soundly beaten by No. 1 India in its opening game Wednesday.

The Irish were dismissed for 96 in 16 overs with only four batsmen reaching double figures. India needed just 12.2 overs to reach its victory target with eight wickets remaining.

Canada is also looking to put a painful loss behind it. After putting up 194 runs at the expense of five wickets, the Canadians could not corral the American bats with Aaron Jones doing most of the damage with a hard-hitting innings of 94 not out.

On the plus side, Canada beat Ireland by 10 runs in the 2019 ICC Men's T20 World Cup Qualifier in the United Arab Emirates with opener Navneet Dhaliwal leading the way with a 69-run knock. The Irish finished third at that tournament, qualifying for the 2021 World Cup, while Canada was a spectator after placing ninth.

"We were able to surprise them that time," said Canadian vice-captain Navneet Dhaliwal. "And we are hoping we can do it again, especially with a few more players who are kind of senior players, like especially like Kaleem Sana, Aaron Johnson, so it's kind of added value to the team."

Nitish Kumar, who scored 53 runs for Canada in that 2019 game, has since switched his international allegiance to the U.S. and is part of the American team at the tournament. Kumar was eligible to play for the U.S. after satisfying residency requirements following a move south of the border to play club cricket.

Siddiqui, who made his debut for Canada in 2011, says the cricket landscape back home has changed for the good, with the GT20 tournament playing a big role.

"You can see how the game is growing the last three or four years."

Siddiqui, a specialist leg-spinner who can also handle the bat, last played a T20 game for Canada in 2022 and was recalled to the squad before the World Cup.

"I was hoping that I would be able to play. It was always in the back of my head," he said. "But I kept working hard, kept playing. Wherever I played, I performed. And I think that was the biggest thing for me. (I was) able to go out anywhere and able to perform. Keep going. And then leave everything in God's hand."

"I was always positive about things," he added.

The call eventually came eight weeks in advance of the tournament.

"That was one of the best days of my life," said Siddiqui.

He also worked hard off the pitch to get back. While Siddiqui is not one of the Canadian players on contract with Cricket Canada, he has two Timothy's World Coffee franchises, in Mississauga and Newmarket, Ont., and some investments in IT businesses.

"That allows me to play cricket," he said. "Either for Canada or contract-based (club) cricket in the U.S."

"It keeps me busy but it gives me enough time to play," he added.

A finance and economics graduate, he was on a Cricket Canada full-time contract until 2015 when the governing body could no longer afford them. So with help from his wife and family, he built up a business portfolio to help facilitate his cricket.

At the same time, Siddiqui worked hard on his fitness.

"That didn't stop. During the years when I played and when I was not in the team, that did not stop one day," he said. "It was a lot of hard work, proper food, nutrition."

He also played a lot of club tournaments in the U.S.

After Ireland, Canada faces No. 6 Pakistan on June 11 at the Nassau County ground before wrapping up Group A play June 15 against India in Lauderhill, Fla.

The 20 teams at the World Cup have been divided into four groups, with the top two in each pool advancing to the Super 8 round.

The Pakistan match will be special for Siddiqui, who grew up playing street cricket in Karachi before moving to Toronto with his family at the age of 13.

"We really want to win that game for the country," he said.

Siddiqui is a made-in-Canada cricketer, though, turning heads playing for Woodlands Secondary School in Mississauga to start.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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