Canadian captain Ashish Bagai, the face of Canadian cricket for more than a decade, is retiring from the sport at the age of 31.
Bagai, who graduated last year from the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia with an MBA, is starting a new job next month as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company.
Bagai returned to the sport last May after graduation and captained Canada at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the United Arab Emirates. He had hoped to play in the ICC World Cup Qualifier that runs Jan. 13 to Feb. 1 in New Zealand but it bumps heads with his new job.
Had he been able to play, the tournament would have been his swan song anyway.
“Obviously it’s pretty emotional for me,” Bagai said in an interview Sunday. “I’ve been playing for the senior side for about 15 years. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it and I’m definitely going to miss the game.
“But I think in terms of my life, getting my career started, this is probably the best time for me. ... It’s been a big part of my life. It’s given me so much over the years, both on and off the field. I’ve made some great friendships, travelled the world and been able to do my small bit for Canadian cricket.”
Bagai, who was born in India but grew up in Toronto, made his senior debut in 1999 at the age of 17. A talented wicket-keeper and batsman, he went on to captain his country and play in three World Cups.
He cited a 2003 World Cup win over Bangladesh (his one-day international debut) and the 2009 World Cup qualifiers, where Canada finished second to Ireland, as career highlights. There was also a memorable inning of 137 not out against Scotland in 2007.
He also won a professional contract to play in Sri Lanka, a stint in 2009 cut short by injury. He said he learned there of the hard work needed to succeed as a full-time athlete — and the competition to win those spots.
Along with now-retired all-rounder John Davison, Bagai has been perhaps Canada’s best-known cricketer. He leaves the game as Canada’s highest run-getter in one-day internationals with 1,964 for an average of 37.76.
Cricket Canada president Ravin Moorthy said Bagai is “in the discussion to be one of the top associate (country) cricketers” of all time.
The International Cricket Council is divided into full members, associate members and affiliate members.
Even Bagai could not guarantee success, however. Canada managed just two wins at last month’s T20 qualifier.
“The sad part is it’s a tough time for Canadian cricket, being where it is at the moment, with the result of the last couple of years” Bagai said. “But I think they (Cricket Canada) have done a decent job getting some young guys started to get ready. Hopefully they can carry it on over the next four to six years.”
Vice-captain Jimmy Hansra will take over as the Canadian skipper. Trevin Bastiampillai takes Bagai’s roster spot.
Moorthy also talked of Bagai’s commitment to his country, citing his decision last year to put his career on hold for cricket.
Bagai excelled at the sport despite the demands of school and work, Moorthy added.
“Every time he came back to play cricket, he was still at that very high level.”
Bagai had only positive words for his new employer.
“They’ve been really supportive to begin with,” he said. “I was supposed to start in September. This is the most I could have pushed them.”
And on Twitter, he said it was the right time to move on.
“Been an honour to represent Canada over the last 15 yrs. Wish the boys all the best going forward. Will miss this game! #retiring #itstime.”