Despite being robbed of large portion of its star power two days prior, the cricket all-star Twenty20 match in Toronto was entertaining and did not lose its competitive spirit.
The crowd at Rogers Centre in Toronto was much smaller than expected but those who came out were treated to an exciting match that saw the Asia/Canada XI defeat the International XI squad by three wickets on Saturday afternoon.
The disappointment of six Pakistan’s national team players being no-shows was evident in the fan turnout but five Canadians stepped up to fill the void and showed that all belonged alongside some the sports best players.
Former Canadian national team captain Ashish Bagai and his old teammate Rizwaan Cheema were slated to play for the international side but changed sides when it was confirmed that the Pakistanis would longer attend. As organizers scrambled for replacements fellow countrymen Hiral Patel, Ravindu Gunasekera and Jimmy Hansra were added at the last minute and suddenly the Asia team was transformed into the Asia/Canada XI.
The International XI batted first and put up 164 runs for six wickets in the opening 20 overs. The squad was led by West Indies batsman Devon Smith who smacked in a match-high 69 runs off 63 balls including nine fours but non sixes.
But Asia/Canada XI, for the most part, had very little trouble chasing down its target with a great start in the second innings and finished with 167 runs with a full over to spare.
Sanath Jayasuriya walks back to the dugout after being caught out by Prosper Utseya of Zimbabwe in the sixth over. He led his squad with 41 runs including seven fours and one six
Team captain Sanath Jayasuriya led the winning side with an incredible 41 runs off just 24 balls including seven fours and a six. Close behind was Patel but he needed 32 balls to hit for 39 runs which included four fours.
“When we start the game I thought the touchline was very good and then they were a better side,” said Jayasuriya after the match. “I’ve always realized that we can do well, we can bowl well and we believe ourselves and we can do it and I think that’s the key.”
“I never thought the bowlers would bowl like that early on because they got a class batting lineup. So I think I’m very happy with how the bowlers bowl and keep them at 164 and we batted really well and had a good start.”
The pitch did not look ideal for cricket as the match was played on the same artificial pitch that the Toronto Blue Jays play on and second base was clearly visible directly behind the south stumps. The balls were bowled on matting that seemed to produce an odd bounce but some adapted while other struggled.
The Asia/Canada XI arrived in the city before its counterparts and as a result had more time to practice on the pitch.
“I think it was difficult we get to bat but I didn’t get a chance to practice anything to get a feel of the wicket but I think our patience was the key,” said Smith. “I think they played well and I think they are accustomed to the wicket so they come out there and played freely.”
“I think it was a learning experience. I’m willing to come back here again I think it was a nice atmosphere. I just hope everybody enjoyed.”
Missing in Action
Smith smacks the ball for one of his 69 runs while wicket keeper Bagai jumps up in anticipation of a missed ball
Up until Friday night the match organizers, Toronto-based Kat Rose Inc., were still negotiating with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)on the release of six players from its national team that included captain Misbah-ul-Haq, Saeed Ajmal, arguably best spin bowler in the world, and Shahid “Boom Boom” Afridi, one the most popular players in the game today.
The Pakistani players were not released for the match because the players did not complete the required process of seeking permission in writing. Instead they had received verbal assurances of their release but were then told it was not enough.
Another issue at the heart of the matter was the fact the Pakistan national team was to begin a training camp on the same day as the Toronto friendly. The PCB was unwilling to release the players for a meaningless match on the other side of the world when it was preparing for an upcoming tour of Sri Lanka taking place in a few weeks time.
Despite the absence the match was well contested and came down to the very end for the winner to be decided. The Asia/Canada XI had a hot start and continued that form well past its first 10 overs. With five overs remaining the squad had 143-2 and needed just 22 runs to win.
Patel kept his consistent pace while Cheema had an explosive but short stint at bat hitting for 20 runs on 13 balls including two 6’s and one 4. He skied the ball high into the air to be caught on the first ball of the 16th over.
On the very next ball Tino Best bowled out Patel as the Canadian deflected the ball into the wickets. Patel produced 39 runs on 32 balls with zero 6’s and four 4’s.
South African and International XI captain Mark Boucher (left) celebrates with West Indies bowler Tino Best (right) after catching out Nasir Hossain of Bangladesh
Bagai and Danuka Pathrana partnered to only make another 15 runs in the following three overs. With 12 balls remaining the Canada/Asia XI needed only seven more runs.
Bagai hit for the boundary on the first ball of the 19th over to inch closer to victory, but on the very next ball he was caught out by Smith.
Then incredibly on the very next ball and his very first after coming in, Jimmy Hansra hits it right to Stuart MacGill for another wicket and a golden duck. With that the International XI had some hope.
The next ball hit towards New Zealander Jacob Oram but he failed to pick off the ball for what would have been a hat trick of wickets. Then Pathrana hit for the boundary to clinch the T20 match by three runs – a total of 167 runs with six balls to spare.
Although he has not been active in international cricket since 2004 Saqlain Mushtaq enjoyed the experience and believes he can still play the game he loves.
“Yeah definitely but, unfortunately, the last couple of years I was busy studying as well,” said Mushtaq, the only player representing Pakistan. “But I would love to play T20, I like that atmosphere and I think I still have cricket in me.”
“We had a great time and the boys played really well. It was a good pitch for the spinners and that’s why I’m pretty OK.”
He also praised the Canadians who played especially well and were a big factor in the match.
“The have a lot of potential,” said Mushtaq. “We worked before this match as well and they are quite keen. They have a love of the game, they’re passionate and definitely they have a good future.”
“Unbelievable, it’s great atmosphere and a beautiful ground as well and definitely we’re going to enjoy.”
Smith is handed a cheque in honour of being named Man of the Match
Man of the Match: Devon Smith hit for 69 runs before being stumped in the first innings and caught two wickets in a losing cause.
Most 4’s: Devon Smith nine fours
Most 6’s: Brendan Taylor hit three sixes
All-Star T20 Lineups:Asia/Canada XI
• Ashish Bagai (Can) Replacing Mohammad Hafeez
• Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)
• Nasir Hossain (Bang)
• Hiral Patel (Can) Replacing Hammad Azam
• Ravindu Gunasekera (Can) Replacing Umar Akmal
• Danuka Pathrana (SL) Replacing Misbah-ul-haq
• Rizwaan Cheema (Can) Replacing Shahid Afridi
• Chanaka Welegedera (SL)
• Saqlain Mushtaq (Pak)
• Sunil Joshi (India)
• Jimmy Hansra (Can) Replacing Saeed Ajmad
• Brian Lara (WI) (Did not play)
• Grant Flower (Zim) Replacing Rizwan Cheema
• Prosper Utseya (Zim)Replacing Ashish Bagai
• Mark Boucher (SA)
• Brendan Taylor (Zim)
• Jacob Oram (NZ)
• Devon Smith (WI)
• Stuart MacGill (Aus)
• Tim Southee (NZ)
• Tino Best (WI)
• Kyle Mills (NZ)
Aman Dhanoa is a Toronto sports beat reporter covering games live and bringing Digital Journal insights from within the locker room.This article was originally published on Oye! Times