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Canada's captain and wicketkeeper Ashish Bagai appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of Australia's Brad Haddin during their ICC Cricket World Cup group A match in Bangalore on March 16, 2011. (Vivek Prakash/Reuters/Vivek Prakash/Reuters)
Canada's captain and wicketkeeper Ashish Bagai appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of Australia's Brad Haddin during their ICC Cricket World Cup group A match in Bangalore on March 16, 2011. (Vivek Prakash/Reuters/Vivek Prakash/Reuters)

One big idea

Cricket captain urges funding to expand sport in Canada Add to ...

Even though Ashish Bagai is stepping down as captain of Canada's cricket team to pursue an MBA, he isn't quitting his spinoff job as champion of the sport's growth in this country. Canada participated in the 2011 Cricket World Cup, and although the team was eliminated in the first round, it created a lot of buzz for the sport here.

A Toronto resident and investment banker, Mr. Bagai's master plan to improve life in the GTA: Find more corporate sponsors and more government funding for cricket. He hopes to improve the training of coaches, the sport's infrastructure and the promotion of cricket in schools.

"Cricket has had a rich history in Canada dating back to the 1800s," he says. "Most people don't know this, but the first international cricket game played was between the U.S. and Canada in the mid-1800s. Over the years, this sport has lost its popularity and I would love for it to come back as a national sport."

Mr. Bagai learned to play cricket under the tutelage of Caribbean, Australian and Indian coaches, often practising and playing indoor on industrial properties.

"I have been part of the Canadian cricket team for about 12 years. Cricket brings people together and we need to get more support for this, otherwise it will stagnate," says Mr. Bagai.

Is cricket as worthy as hockey in your opinion?

For the average Canadian today, probably not. That's something that I would like to see changed. But if you look at the global audience, it definitely creates a buzz. Cricket is the third most-watched sporting event around the world after the Summer Olympics and World Cup of soccer.

Toronto has the privilege of being home to some of the most diverse cultures in the world. How does the sport of cricket unify people?

Sport has the power to break through barriers and bring people together. When you play cricket, you do not care about the background of your teammate. Everyone puts on the same uniform and you play on the same team. You learn to become tolerant of others and their backgrounds. We have people from seven different countries on the Canadian national team and we all get along great. I have learned so much about the world through my teammates.

I think young Canadians from India and Pakistan - they get along a lot better in Canada and cricket is a huge bonding factor. Take for example the Canadian national team, in which we have both Indians and Pakistanis: We are the best of friends and this is the power of cricket - it marries communities and individuals.

Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area are home to the largest South-Asian Diaspora. Some statistics even suggest that the largest numbers of Indians living outside India are now settled in Toronto and surrounding areas. With this in mind, what is the future of Canadian cricket?

The future of Canadian cricket looks bright. We have a lot of young players coming through the system. We had five under-19 players on our national senior team with us in the World Cup and we hope they will use that experience for the years ahead. The cricket board is actively seeking opportunities to expand and grow the game. One thing we need is corporate and government financial support, which is essential for us to take the game to the next level.

Do the various levels of government and International Cricket Council provide any support in monetary terms to promote cricket?

Very little support is being provided ...It is a sad state of affairs in terms of funding. Many athletes have to sacrifice a lot to represent their country. The government at all levels must understand that there is a lot of demand for cricket in this country and dedicated resources are required for this sport. ICC has helped us financially over the past two years but additional help is required to set up grassroots programs. We would also like to encourage corporate Canada to recognize the potential of this sport and invest in it.

How many international assignments is the Canadian cricket team likely to get?

For the last two years, we have had a packed schedule all-year round due to the World Cup. A lot depends on the ICC's decision to include associate countries in the 2015 Cricket World Cup (Canada is one of these along with Ireland, Kenya and the Netherlands). However, a petition to the ICC sent by players, administrators and fans from around the world may help in a reversal of this decision when the ICC governing body meets in Hong Kong towards the end of June. The World Cup is similar to the Olympic competition and an outlet for people to achieve their potential and realize their dreams. Therefore, everyone should be allowed to participate.

Is there something you are preparing for now?

The ICC Intercontinental Cup is coming up in July in which eight countries will participate including Canada, Afghanistan, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, Kenya, Namibia and the United Arab Emirates. We actually have a schedule out and we start training for the first game with Afghanistan in Toronto.

Renu Mehta is a freelance writer and the Consulting Editor of The Indian Express and Divya Bhaskar (North American edition)

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