The fans came for the overseas players but Canadian captain Rizwan Cheema reckons the local talent showed they belonged.
Cheema and fellow Canadians Ashish Bagai, Jimmy Hansra, Ravindu Gunasekera and Hiral Patel helped an Asia/Canada XI defeat an International XI by three wickets in an all-star Twenty20 cricket game Saturday afternoon.
“I’m very happy with all the guys from Canada. They did well,” said Cheema, who took two wickets and slammed a pair of sixes. “That’s a really good thing, a good thing for the country. People need to know we are up there — on the world (cricket) stage.”
Sri Lankan batsman Dhanuka Pathirana hammered the winning four off the last ball of the penultimate over on the artificial turf under the Rogers Centre roof.
The Asia/Canada XI finished at 167 for seven, losing a pair of wickets with their score at 162 before a small but lively crowd.
Batting first, the International XI put up 164 for six in its 20 overs. West Indies batsman Devon Smith, named man of the match, led the way with 69 off 63 balls, hitting seven fours.
The game lost some of its star power with late news that the Pakistan Cricket Board, looking to prepare its team for a tour of Sri Lanka, had refused to release six players.
That robbed the events of such names as Shahid Afridi, Misbah ul Haq, Mohammed Aheez and Saeed Ajmal.
Without the Pakistan players, the Asia XI turned into a hybrid lineup with the five Canadians.
Organizers will take solace from the fact that the revamped side turned out to be the winner on the day.
And while some big names were missing, the fans enjoyed more than a few moonshots into the stands.
South Africa’s Mark Boucher captained the International XI while Sri Lankan veteran Sanath Jayasuriya, who at 42 now restricts his play to Twenty20, was skipper of the Asia/Canada XI.
Former West Indies great Brian Lara had been expected to lead the International squad. He was on hand, but in civilian clothes on the bench.
Still there were enough name players to go around.
“It was good to have those calibre of players come into the country,” said Bagai, who removed three members of the International side via stumping. “It just lifts the profile of the sport.”
A temporary synthetic wicket was applied like a Band-Aid on the middle of the Rogers Centre turf. Second base was directly behind the south set of stumps.
Because of the Rogers Centre configuration, the field was somewhat egg-shaped.
“It’s totally different to us,” said Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor. “But we’ve all played enough cricket to sort of adapt and adjust to the conditions.
“It was fairly challenging, but good fun.”
Despite sun and warm temperatures outside, the roof was closed.
For Bagai, it was his first game of cricket since the World Cup in early 2011. He has been troubled by an injured knee and is working on his MBA at Wharton Business School in Philadelphia.
“The Canadian guys who stepped up batted really well, bowled really well,” he said. “Overall a good game. I think the crowd enjoyed it by the sounds of it.”
Bagai, a former Canadian captain, exited at 10 as the victory target neared. Cheema finished with 20 runs while hit four fours in his 39.
Gunasekera, opening with Jayasuriya, hammered a six in the first over but then promptly exited when he tried for a repeat — caught near the boundary.
Hansra also went quickly, for zero.
“They did very well,” New Zealand’s Tim Southee said of the Canadians. “We played against them at the World Cup last year and there’s a couple of guys there who were very good players.
“I’m sure Canadian cricket is building and hopefully one day they can compete a lot better worldwide.”
Jayasuriya opened the Asia/Canada XI batting attack with a bang, slamming 41 before being caught by Smith off a Jacob Oram delivery. The opener hit one six and seven fours in a short but entertaining knock.
The long ball was lapped up by the crowd, especially when six-foot-six Kiwi Oram slammed back-to-back sixes off Jayasuriya over home plate.
Fours and sixes were rewarded by short blasts of rock music, from Maroon 5 to The Wanted.
Oram exited on 19 — too early for the crowd’s liking — when another rainbow shot was caught by Nasir Hossain at the boundary off a Saqlain Mushtaq delivery. Fourteen of those runs came in three strokes of Oram’s bat.
Players stationed near the boundary did their part to entertain, signing autographs during breaks in the action.
Tickets ranged from $25 to $195 and there were plenty to be had. Most of the crowd was in the bleachers, with acres of empty space above the baseball dugouts. There was no one in the 200 or 500 levels.
No attendance figure was provided.
“The event was a good exhibition for the potential of cricket in this region,” Cricket Canada president Ravin Moorthy said in an email to The Canadian Press. “We were so happy to see such an enthusiastic crowd which bodes well for events in the future.
“The fans in attendance were thrilled with an entertaining match that saw Canadian players factor heavily in the victory for their side.”