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Canadian cricketers ready to bowl under new coach; world T20 qualifier ahead

01/08/2012 12:25 EST | Updated 03/09/2012 05:12 EST
Canada opens play at the Caribbean T20 cricket tournament this week, looking to impress its new coach and gear up for a key world Twenty20 qualifying tournament in March.

The Caribbean T20 10-team competition starts Monday with two games in Antigua but Canada doesn't play until Wednesday when it takes on the Windward Islands.

Other teams in the Canadian group are Guyana, the Leeward Islands and defending champion Trinidad and Tobago.

Canada went 1-3 at the last edition of the event, scoring an upset win over English county side Hampshire and coming with one ball of beating Trinidad.

With newly installed Australian coach Michael Dighton at the helm, the Canadian team prepared for the tournament last month with a 10-day camp in Barbados where it played seven T20 games against Barbados and a Combined Campuses and Colleges side.

"This is a format we've been concentrating on the last few months and training for it and we just can't wait to get out there and dance under the lights," said Canadian captain Jimmy Hansra.

The 26-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., was a structural engineer with Armtec, an infrastructure and construction materials company. But he stepped away before the World Cup last February to become one of six players currently under contract with Cricket Canada

"I miss wearing my suit and going to an office where I can be served coffee once in a while," he joked. "But obviously I put on my sweats and go sweat it outside in the gym. I guess that's my office now.

"It is a big change for me. It's very different. It's two different professions but I'm enjoying it so that's the reason I put my job on hold. My company's been more than accommodating enough."

He made more as an engineer but couldn't turn down the opportunity to play high-level cricket.

"It's one of those sacrifices you make for cricket in an associate country like Canada," said Hansra, who is single. "But to be able to play at the highest level and to be able to play against the players that you grew up looking up to, it makes it all worthwhile at the end of the day.

"To me right now, I love it. Money's not the only thing in my life at the moment even though it is important to survive."

Plus Armtec has told him he can reapply for work when he finishes with cricket.

Hansra, a batsman who can also provide some offspin bowling if needed, has made the most of his cricket opportunity. At the World Cup, he was Canada's second-highest scorer.

His 70 against Kenya helped Canada to its lone win at the tournament. He scored another 70 against New Zealand and 43 against Pakistan, taking a pair of wickets as well against the Pakistanis.

"Once in a while I sit down and think about those moments," he said. "I'm hoping I can make more in the coming future."

The World Cup was particularly special for Hansra in that it took him back to cricket-crazy India, the country he left at 14 for Canada.

The Canadian cricketers have been busy since the team has stayed busy since. In the summer, Canada played touring sides from Afghanistan and Ireland as well as Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S.

After Dighton was named Canada's coach in late September, most of the team gathered in Toronto for two months indoor training.

Dighton played in Australia, England and the Netherlands. He was head coach of the Cricket Australia National Emerging Talent Squad, batting coach for the Tasmanian under-23 side.

Most recently, he was assistant coach for the Netherlands at the World Cup.

"He's amazing," Hansra said of the former Tasmanian batsman. "He's a young coach, he's 35 years old. He's got a lot of enthusiasm. He's still a player and I think I like that because he's played cricket recently and he knows about the new trends of cricket. And he understands the game really well in terms of T20 because he was a captain as well for the longest time for the Tasmania side back in Australia.

"And his kind of new approach, his Aussie mentality, has been really working for us here in Canada. A lot of the people, all the players respect him for that."

They also respect that the coach has been working out and running with them.

"That really makes it a whole lot easier to get along with him."

Hansra points to young talent like Hiral Patel, Usman Limbada, Hamza Tariq and Ruvinda Gunasekera as reasons for Canadian cricket optimism.

Patel turned heads at the World Cup with a swashbuckling 43 against Australia that featured five fours and three sixes.

Hansra will be looking to veteran Henry Osinde to spearhead the Canadian bowling attack, along with former under-19 player Manny Aulakh.

Like many of his teammates, Hansra has had to sacrifice friends and family to play cricket for Canada. Most of the team is in the East, so he and other non-Ontarians have to travel to join them.

He's been doing it for 18 months, now with camps in advance of the World Cup.

"I guess at this point you could say I'm getting used to it. But at the end of the day, yeah, I am away from family most times and my friends have kind of just moved along and they're working somewhere. And I'm a traveller with two bags.

"But I like it. I do it for the game and I enjoy it."

Hansra has spent the last few months living in a rented home north of Toronto with four other out-of-town teammates.

In March, Canada will be one of 16 teams at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2012. Only two will move on to the World Twenty20 2012 championship in September in Sri Lanka.

The Canadians are in a qualifying group that features Afghanistan, Bermuda, Denmark, Hong Kong, Nepal, the Netherlands and Papua New Guinea.

The other group is made up of Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Namibia, Oman, Scotland, Uganda and the U.S.

The Twenty20 game is the shortest form of the game, with each team batting for one 20-over innings.

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