Canada return to Namibia after a good showing at last year’s event, with only a Karan KC-inspired epic against Nepal in the final group match denying them a place in the CWCQ tournament in Zimabwe. The wafer-thin margins of error in Associate cricket were further highlighted as Nepal returned home from Zimbabwe (to a hero’s welcome) having secured ODI status, while the UAE (who edged past Canada on NRR despite being beaten by them in Windhoek) pulled off a heartbreak of their own by eliminating the hosts in the knockout phase of the tournament.
With another strong field to negotiate at this year’s event, Canada have recruited the seasoned Monty Desai to help guide them into the top four and an all-important place in the upcoming ODI CWC League 2. How much difference he can make in just a month with the side remains to be seen, but having worked extensively in the Indian domestic set-up with Andhra, Delhi Daredevils, Gujarat Lions and Rajasthan Royals, he has a wealth of experience to call upon and should be a valuable asset in smoothing over the team’s combinations as they work to gel after several personnel changes.
Most notable of these is Davy Jacobs, a hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman who was previously best known for his years of reliable service across several South African domestic franchises. Having relocated to Canada in 2015, he worked as a player-coach with the Ontario Cricket Academy and qualified late last year thanks to the ICC’s relaxation of eligibility criteria. Being parachuted in as captain ahead of Nitish Kumar was perhaps not surprising, given his leadership at Warriors was highly regarded, but it did court controversy as it was announced before he’d even played a match in national colours.
Coming in down the order, Jacobs’ first outing in red was during Canada’s campaign in the Caribbean Super50 Cup. There alternated between stability and acceleration; his ability to modulate the scoring according to the situation will be very important in Namibia as he looks capable of providing cover for his patchy top-order colleagues. However, despite regularly getting starts, he didn’t pass 50 once – so he’ll need to dig in once he’s set and guide Canada to some truly imposing totals.
Despite losing the captaincy, Nitish Kumar (the Ontarian batsman, not the Indian politician) remains the backbone of Canada’s batting lineup. He is a classic no. 3, flexible enough in his approach to be comfortable rebuilding after early losses, rotating the strike through the middle overs or accelerating late in the innings. In Windhoek last year he contributed consistently without dominating, scoring 206 runs across the tournament with an average above 40 but a highest score of just 62. With WCL tournaments often low-scoring, one batsman converting starts into big scores can make the difference between most sides – so this year Nitish will be looking to cash in once he’s set.
Pipping him at the top of Canada’s run charts in 2018 was Ruvindu Gunasekera, another decade-long veteran at the top of the order, with 216. His aggressive starts were laced with 12 sixes (second-most of the tournament, behind only the God-Emperor of Nepal, Paras Khadka), but the dot ball count meant his boom-or-bust approach was liable to get bogged down if he couldn’t clear the rope. For Canada’s return to Africa, his team will hope for a more tactical approach to his hitting.
One familiar name returning after a long absence (and another option at the top of the order) is Hiral Patel. He last played for Canada in 2015, when rumours of a falling-out with the administration swirled around his decision to unofficially retire from the national side. An exciting talent, his 4 years away from the highest level were spent on study and career, and he also got married – so his return to the fold perhaps indicates a maturation in outlook (as well as an improvement of relations), which is a good sign for team harmony. Many long-time Canadian fans will remember his blistering half-century against Australia at the 2011 World Cup, but he seems to have reinvented himself since as a bowler; over his last 2 seasons for Toronto, he has averaged an underwhelming 23.8 with the bat (with just one century), but an impressive 15.03 with his left-arm orthodox. He also made 3 appearances for Winnipeg in the Global T20 tournament and didn’t bat once.
While Patel’s left-armers will no doubt be handy, he is most likely to play support to star offspinner Nikhil Dutta. At last year’s WCL2, Dutta took full advantage of the less-than-ideal batting conditions and scalped a team-best 11 wickets at the stifling economy rate of 2.47 (equal-best for the tournament). With T20 franchise experience in Bangladesh and the Caribbean, and possessing relentless accuracy to go with one of the better doosras in Associate cricket, he is the natural leader of Canada’s strong spin contingent.
Bolstering the Canadians’ slightly thin pace stocks, meanwhile, is Romesh Eranga, who was drafted into the side during the subregional Americas qualifier in September. A canny left-arm seamer, he showed his quality in the Caribbean, accumulating 17 scalps in 6 matches (including two 5-wicket hauls) at an average of 12.11. Given the sluggish pitches in the Caribbean are not too dissimilar from what is expected in Namibia, Eranga’s form will be especially heartening for Canada.
Looking ahead, Canada seems to have a solid core of batsmen, and plenty of spin options, but question marks remain around the pace bowlers, as well as the team composition. With up to 5 openers among the batsmen presenting a case, Canada will either be playing several out of position or need to make some tough choices between the hard-hitting duo of Navneet Dhaliwal and Rodrigo Thomas (who both impressed in the West Indies), as well as spare keeper Srimantha Wijeyeratne, Hiral Patel and Gunasekera (who had a miserable time in the Caribbean with just 61 runs from his 4 innings, but followed that disappointment by stroking a century with the Ports Authority side in Sri Lanka’s domestic first-class competition). Spin is expected to play a significant part in Namibia, so Dutta and left-armer Saad bin Zafar appear likely to be working in tandem with support from Patel, while Eranga and long-serving workhorse Cecil Pervez form a left/right-arm partnership with the new ball. Dilon Heyliger seems to be firming as the third seamer, while Dhaliwal’s tidy medium pace can also be called on to provide support if needed.
Starting XI (possible): 1. Navneet Dhaliwal, 2. Rodrigo Thomas, 3. Ravindu Gunasekera, 4. Nitish Kumar, 5. Srimantha Wijeyeratne/Bhavindu Adhihetty, 6. Davy Jacobs (c, wk), 7. Hiral Patel, 8. Nikhil Dutta, 9. Saad bin Zafar, 10. Dilon Heyliger/Cecil Pervez, 11. Romesh Eranga.