T20 World Cup cricket’s growing family tree is set to see the addition of the maple leaf. Canada breezed through the latter stages of the T20 World Cup Americas Qualifier in October to qualify for the 2024 men’s world cup, a first in their history.
The Sports Gazette caught up with all-rounder Harsh Thaker and head coach Pubudu Dassanayake, who shed light on the team’s rise, the cricketing culture in Canada, and the road ahead.
Back in 2018, the International Cricket Council (ICC) granted T20I status to all member nations. Additionally, next year’s T20 World Cup will be the biggest ever in terms of participation, with 20 teams set to play, thus giving more teams a chance to qualify. All of this, and more, is part of the ICC’s aim to grow the sport globally through the shortest format.
Getting to play in a World Cup in the sport’s most popular format, and that too, within the region itself is a big deal. The 2024 T20 World Cup is set to be co-hosted by the USA and the West Indies. Canadian cricket will now attract more global attention, and that is only expected to increase as the World Cup gets closer. In that regard, T20 World Cup qualification is a watershed moment for Canada’s men’s team. But is it the most important event in their recent history?
Importance of ODI status
Earlier this year, Canada participated in the 2023 ODI World Cup Qualifier Playoffs. While they fell short of the eventual aim of progressing to the Qualifiers, a top-four finish guaranteed the retention of ODI status after almost a decade. “That is a gamechanger,” 26-year-old all-rounder Harsh Thaker, who was one of the best performers of the T20 World Cup qualifying campaign, describes the achievement.
For associate teams, the perks of ODI status, which T20I status does not include, hold more relevance for growth. ICC funding is the biggest among those. In the case of Canada, the players received central contracts from the board as a result of additional funding for the board, meaning they can rely on cricket as a profession and devote the amount of time needed to excel at the highest level. Along with funding, support, and more attention, the team is also on a pathway that guarantees them a lot more international cricket in the ODI circle, with all roads leading to a chance of qualifying for the 2027 World Cup.
“What ODI status does is it gives us a plan for the next 3 years, the board gets a lot of funding because we are an ODI team now. T20 status doesn’t get you much,” Thaker expressed, on the importance of ODI status.
🚨BIG NEWS 🚨
We have now regained our ODI status after almost a decade and we are now confirmed to play ODI matches for next 4 year cycle!
— Cricket Canada (@canadiancricket) April 5, 2023
While there was some development, Canada had been without ODI status and its benefits for too long. Enter Pubudu Dassanayake, the man with a speciality.
A strong leader
“For Canada to hire me the main focus was to get ODI status back,” Dassanayake said on joining Canada last year for a second stint. The Sri Lankan coach and former national player has an impressive track record with associate nations. Dassanayake guided Canada to the 2011 ODI World Cup, their last appearance in a World Cup, and was instrumental in them getting ODI status before that. He also oversaw key phases of development for Nepal and the USA in the past decade, helping both teams earn ODI status.
Thaker highlighted how immensely Dassanayake’s return to the squad last year has helped.
“Him coming into the Canadian system has completely changed how the board looks at cricket, how the players look at cricket. He brought a more professional look,” Thaker stressed. “Credit goes to captain (Saad Bin Zafar) and coach. They pushed a lot for these contracts. They pushed us a lot for ODI status…The whole system changed with coach and then captain coming in.”
All the work put in so far has yielded key results. Cricket’s inclusion into the Olympic program post the 2024 Games will also play a helping hand with cricket now set to get more Sport Canada funding and government attention as an Olympic sport. But Dassanayake is cautious not to take his eye off the ball. Up to the U-19 level, the talent base in Canadian cricket is as good as some of the bigger cricketing nations, the coach believes. However, the system lacks a domestic and first-class structure that propels young talent to the international level. Building that is the coach’s priority, and he is positive that funding and added attention that has recently come, assist with that goal.
At the same time, he appealed to the West Indies for more assistance, as leaders of cricket within the Americas region. Dassanayake elaborated on that point by highlighting the Asia Cup as an event that provides associate teams with opportunities to lock horns with the big teams in Asia. Another example is the England Cricket Board (ECB) leading the way for it’s region.
From a player’s perspective, Thaker pointed out the importance of exposure to T20 leagues around the world.
“Even some of the players in the (Canadian) national team going into the big leagues and getting picked, like Afghanistan’s players did, that would be massive…The experience they would bring back, and then everybody will feel like we can do this too,” Thaker said.
The T20 World Cup in June-July next year will come as a great opportunity to showcase their talents on a world stage. The biggest they have had so far! But going forward, “never losing” ODI status is among the highest of priorities for the coach and his team.