“Ashish Bagai, Rizwan Cheema help Canada open World Cup account,” screamed the headline of a leading newspaper a day after cricketing minnows Canada overpowered Kenya to earn their maiden victory in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
For someone who does not follow the game religiously, the names mentioned above could lead to confusion whether it is in fact Canada which the report is talking about or some team from the subcontinent.
The Canadian team has, at best, fought for survival in the ongoing multi-nation tournament as they struggled to compete against some of the biggest powerhouses of the cricket world. However, the team representing Canada in the 2011 Cricket World Cup is much more than just a bunch of inexperienced cricketers. It is, in a way, a dream come true for umpteen cricket fans.
The tragic events of 1947 that led to the partition of India also resulted in heartbreak for millions of the country’s cricket lovers. The division of the nation into India and Pakistan crushed the dreams of millions who had wished to watch some of the best cricketers play together and rule the cricket world.
Imagine what it would have been like to watch a team comprising greats like Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad, Polly Umrigar, Hanif Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad and Intikhab Alam, who ended up playing for different countries, play together as a world beating unit.
But, Alas! It wasn’t meant to be.
As years passed by and the former greats were replaced by the new age maestros such as Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram, Anil Kumble and Waqar Younis, the one question that continued to intrigue cricket followers of both the countries, remained. Can we ever have an Indo-Pak cricket team playing together?
Although the idea of watching Zaheer Khan open the bowling with Shoaib Akhtar might remain an unfulfilled dream forever, the Canadian team has in a way achieved the improbable by bringing together players from both the countries.
Ashish Bagai, who is the captain of the Canadian cricket team, was born in New Delhi on January 26, 1982 before moving to Canada at the age of 11. Bagai has a healthy average of 38 in one-day international cricket and has played the most number of ODIs by any Canadian player.
Rizwan Cheema is another mainstay of the Canadian cricket team, who traces his roots to the subcontinent. Cheema was born on 15 August, 1978 in Gujranwala, Pakistan.
A relatively new addition to the team, Harvir Singh Baidwan is a vital cog that makes the Canadian side a competitive unit. The lanky all-rounder hails from Chandigarh, India and is playing in his first World Cup.
People who follow Indian domestic cricket would be well aware of the name Balaji Rao. Rao, who was born in Chennai on March 4, 1978 has played a lot of cricket for Railways and Tamil Nadu and has captured close to 100 first class wickets.
20-year old Parth Desai idolizes Sachin Tendulkar as his cricketing hero and fondly remembers India lifting the inaugural T20 World Cup. Desai is a short slow left arm orthodox bowler who was born in Navsari, Gujarat.
Middle-order batsman Jimmy Hansra extends the list of India-born players playing for Canada. Hansra is a utility cricketer, who was born in Ludhiana, Punjab on December 29, 1984.
Khurram Chohan is Canada’s first-choice opening bowler, who before migrating to Canada, had played domestic cricket in Pakistan and had also represented the Pakistan under-19 team.
Canada’s stand-in wicket-keeper Hamza Tariq was born in Sindh, Pakistan and likes to bat aggressively like his hero Adam Gilchrist.
All these cricketers not only represent Canada at the international level, but also display a rare show of unity and harmony that is so deeply missed back home.