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Canadian batsmen Mihir Patel swings in an undated handout photo.HO/The Canadian Press

It may have been over a decade since Canada was at international cricket’s top table but the men’s national cricket team moved a step closer to qualifying for the 2023 one-day international World Cup by winning the Cricket World Cup Challenge League A title with three games to spare in Malaysia last week.

Having lost its ODI status in 2019, Canada was relegated to the International Cricket Council’s lowest tier of List A competitions, but climbed out of it in remarkable fashion by winning 12 out of its past 13 games, four more than nearest rival Denmark.

Securing the title means it will now progress to the World Cup qualifier playoffs in Namibia next March, where it will be joined by CWC Challenge League B winners Jersey and the bottom four teams of the ongoing World Cricket League 2, potentially Papua New Guinea, the United States, Nepal and United Arab Emirates.

The six teams will then battle for the two spots up for grabs at the World Cup qualifier, a 10-team event to be held in Zimbabwe in June and July. Given the 10-team nature of the ODI World Cup in India next October, only two teams from the qualifier will progress to the showpiece event.

If Canada manages to reach the qualifier, it could be pitted against full members Sri Lanka, the West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland or South Africa in what promises to be a cut-throat qualifying event.

While Saad bin Zafar, the Canadian captain, conceded that qualifying for the main draw in India will be challenging, he is confident about achieving a more realistic goal come March.

“Our first and foremost goal is to get the ODI status back,” he said. “Yes, we would like to be playing in the World Cup as well, but frustratingly, the ICC has reduced the teams to just 10 and that makes it really difficult for [countries like Canada] to be a part of it.”

That Canada has spent the past three years to go through another two competitions before it can make its fifth World Cup appearance – and first since 2011 – stands testimony to how fine the margins are for countries that don’t have ODI or Test status.

In the previous cycle of the World Cricket League Division 2, now replaced by the World Cup League 2 and the Challenge League, Canada suffered an agonizing loss at the hands of Nepal’s Karan KC in a miraculous 51-run last-wicket partnership to deny it a spot at the 2018 World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe. A year later, Canada lost their ODI status when USA pipped them on net run-rate, the margin of difference being a mere four runs.

“To even talk about that game against Nepal, it hurts,” recalled Srimantha Wijeyeratne, the Canadian wicket-keeper who scored a century in that game four years ago.

“Everyone was just so devastated coming so close to gaining ODI status and to eventually play the World Cup qualifiers. That’s just [cricket’s structure for teams without ODI or Test status]. If you miss it by a whisker, you have to wait a few more years and go through the whole process again.”

The manner of Canada’s victories in the continuing Challenge League is no mean feat, having registered wins north of a 180-run margin four times – three times this year alone – to sweep aside Qatar, Vanuatu, Singapore and Malaysia.

Navneet Dhaliwal, the opening batter, enjoyed a prolific run, scoring three centuries – the most by any batter in the League – and is set to finish as the second-highest run-getter when the qualifying tournament concludes on Tuesday (December 13).

On the bowling front, it has been a collaborative effort underpinned by Bin Zafar’s 24 wickets at a miserly economy of 2.97 runs per over.

“We only got together as a group a month and a half before this tour,” Wijeyeratne said. “Everyone’s worked hard and the results are showing but we can’t consider this as a job done. Our end goal is the tournament in March and getting the ODI status.”

The emphasis on achieving the ODI status is well-founded given the financial upshot it would bring with it.

A greater share of ICC funding would allow Cricket Canada to distribute more money to improve facilities, expand the player pool and give the players greater financial security to play the sport. Currently, none of the players are contracted on a full-time basis and get paid only when they are touring.

There’s only so much that club cricket can pay the players, who try to find a balance between following their passion and doing their salary-paying day jobs.

Wijeyeratne works as a mortgage agent. Nikhil Dutta, the off-spinner, is an insurance underwriter, while Harsh Thaker and Shreyas Movva ply their trade in the software industry. Some even run their own businesses.

“At the moment, it’s difficult to make a living out of cricket,” Wijeyeratne said. “But if there were contracts for the players, it would make it better for us to focus on cricket all year round and potentially be better cricketers than now.”

Special to The Globe and Mail