Ashish Bagai (batting in picture) was a regular member of Canadian squad for a longtime © Getty Images
Born on January 26, 1982 in New Delhi, Ashish Bagai was a cricketing hero for Canada over 15 years. Bagai announced his retirement in December 2013, thereby ending a phenomenal career. Abhijit Banare looks back at some of the key highlights of Bagai’s career.
62 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), scoring 1964 runs at an average of 37.76 isn’t a career record to be celebrated for any major cricketing nation. In fact, you might well be criticised for a talent gone wrong. But Ashish Bagai’s above mentioned record gave Canada a hero to look up to in the sport.
He was a regular face in the Canadian U-15 and U-19 cricket teams. In his second U-15 World Cup match against England in August 1996, Bagai scored an unbeaten 91. Through the years, a remarkable innings was missing, but he scored consistently which has been a hallmark of his 15-year long international career (with interruptions). With a successful outing in the U-19 World Cup further enhancing his reputation and ensured that he was going to be the player, the senior team could bank upon. In the 2001 ICC Trophy, he scored a half-century against Ireland. His agile wicketkeeping was another asset for the team. When he made his debut against Bangladesh in ICC World Cup 2003, Canada had played just three ODIs and that was in the 1979 Prudential World Cup.
Though it wasn’t a memorable tournament for Bagai with his bat, but under his captaincy, Canada started that World Cup campaign with a famous win over Bangladesh. Despite notching up a modest total of 180, they managed to bundle out Bangladesh for just 120. But that was the only victory for Canada in that tournament, as they crashed out of the World Cup. While he was establishing himself as a cricketer, Bagai also completed his graduation from the University of Western Ontario in 2006. The same year, Bagai scored his first international half-century in the tri-series against Netherlands and Bermuda.
But the career-defining performance came just before the ICC World Cup 2007. In the World Cricket League (WCL), Bagai scored 137 against Scotland. It was his career-best and the highest ever runs scored by a Canadian, a record which is still intact. Bagai followed it up with another ton against Ireland in the same tournament scoring 122. But that didn’t help much, as Canada ended up with yet another dismal performance in a World Cup. He was nominated for the Best Player from Associate Nations that year.
His career though seemed to have come to a brief halt in 2007 when he opted for a job as analyst with the Union Bank of Scotland. Bagai managed to shuffle his careers making a comeback in 2008 and continued to play till the ICC World Cup 2011. His impressive half-century against Kenya helped Canada win their only match of the tournament. Bagai was in top form scoring 84 against New Zealand chasing 359. He also scored a valuable 39 against Australia. It seemed to be the last time Bagai was playing for Canada, as he left playing professional cricket to complete a management program at Wharton School. He joined McKinsey and Company and worked alongside with Rogers Sportsnet as analyst.
After almost two years, the Canadian cricket management convinced to bring back Bagai in to the scheme of things. With 14 years of cricket behind him, Bagai was once again ready to be the man friday for Canada. “Fortunately, the timing has worked out well as I just graduated from the MBA program at Wharton in the middle of May and have a seven month window before starting employment with McKinsey & Company in February 2014. Canadian cricket means a lot to me and I am excited to play a role in helping Canada qualify for both of these events once again. I know the recent results have not been great, but there are some promising aspects that we can build on during the upcoming summer. It’s going to require a lot of commitment and character from the players and I am confident that the guys will rise to the challenge,” Bagai was quoted as saying by Sandhira.com.
Ashish Bagai’s impressive record gave Canada a hero to look up to
However, Bagai’s presence didn’t help much as Canada not only failed to qualify for the ICC World T20 2014, but for the ICC World Cup 2015 as well. Even in the T20 qualifiers though, he scored two half-centuries.
He finally announced his retirement on December 22, 2013. “Been an honour to represent Canada over the last 15 yrs. Wish the boys all the best going forward. Will miss this game!,” Bagai tweeted thanking his fans.
Like many associate teams who have risen through the years, their success has been laid by two or three warhorses who have performed consistently over the years and kept them in the hunt. Yet, the poor supply of talent needed for a team to survive in the long run doesn’t help and all those herculean efforts are back to square one. Bagai’s retirement along with another key player John Davison has further dragged back Canada. In an era where many other associate nations have been making more noise with their performance, one fears whether Canada will be left behind in the race. Hope someday Bagai plays a key role in resurrecting and assisting Canada probably as a coach to help them become a regular competitor in World Cups.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)