It hasn’t been a very good year for Cricket Canada. The senior team has been reeling since February, following a paltry performance at World Cup qualifying in New Zealand and recent poor form at the World T20 qualifiers. Considering Canada have competed on the world stage in the last three World Cups, failing to qualify for these tournaments meant things had to change swiftly. As a result, Cricket Canada fired its coach, as well as its CEO and president.
Last month, former first class cricketer Mukesh Narula was officially hired as Canada’s head cricket coach and has been tasked with turning around the program. He recently ran two high-performance camps in Vancouver and Calgary where he spent four days in each city observing local cricket, conducting video analysis and fitness tests, and operating simulated cricket matches with 35 recruits short-listed for the national squad, including national captain Jimmy Hansra and youth provincial players.
“I spent a lot of time watching the local cricket, finding out what the level of cricket is like here that’s being played. I was very impressed,” Narula said. “Half of cricket is in the mind. These players need more confidence to be able to play at the world class level.”
Toronto will host similar high-performance camps in October when the Toronto District Cricket Leagues complete their playoff and championship rounds. On the other side of that, there will be a handful of national squad camps and regional training for squad members in their respective provinces as they gear up for the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 2 Championship being held in Namibia, January 2015. The top teams will earn promotion to the four-day ICC International Cup and Championship Division.
There are two important takeaways for Canada if they earn a promotion: the first is, if they are promoted to Championship, they can compete for a spot in World Cup events; secondly, they will get more funding from the ICC which will assist with development and further high-performance training.
“It’s going to be intensive. This is the way I’ve always played my cricket. There is no other way to improve and get better,” the 52-year old said. “Once the weather prevents us from training outdoors, we’ll move indoors. There is a lot of potential here, but we need to raise the bar.”
Narula was born in Delhi, India, and spent 12 seasons at Baroda Cricket Club, in a city that was 400 kilometres from the bustling Mumbai. During the scorching summers, Narula sharpened his all-round status by belting 2,373 runs from 88 innings and claiming 104 wickets bowling at medium pace on dry, grassless wickets. In the mid-1990s, Narula moved to Ireland as a professional cricketer and played for Drummond Cricket Club, scoring more than 9,000 runs accompanied with 350 wickets.
It wasn’t until 2008 when Narula hit his coaching straps when he signed on to lead the club’s fresh crop of U-19 cricketers through the prestigious Cooch Behar Trophy. Baroda won it that year, the first time in 70 years of the tournament’s history that the club had won the trophy. This achievement lead to a slew of coaching positions for Narula: batting consultant for the Mumbai Indians in 2009; head coach of Baroda, who were facing relegation with a young squad, in 2010. After taking Baroda to runners-up that season, Narula was offered an academy-coaching job in Canada managed by the Canadian Professional Cricketers. Later in 2011, he coached the U-19 team at the World Cup qualifiers held in Ireland, but Canada didn’t qualify.
Narula is quick to point out the Canadian teams that took part in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups rarely changed. Not only did the line-ups not vary at all, but performances steadily declined which coincided with injuries and an aging list.
“We want to move beyond that. We want to focus on getting the younger players World Class ready,” Narula said. “We’re also seeing a lot of good mature players migrating here from other cricketing countries that will help fill the experience.”
Some of the younger talent that Narula keeps referring to include but not limited to: a 16-year old by the name of Emanuel Khokhar Jr., who scored 1,000 runs (junior and senior combined) in the Toronto District Cricket Association; all-rounder Nikhil Dutta who was part of a 14-man ICC Americas U-19 squad in August; and Abraash Khan, who led Canada’s U-17 team against the United States a few weeks ago. But the younger they are, the harder it is to develop the mental part of their game, admits Narula.
“I’ve seen a lot of cricket. These players don’t lack talent. They lack self-belief. If they are playing a match and get out, it’s like the heavens have fallen. This is the biggest challenge,” he said. “We want these young guys to be playing in the 2019 World Cup. They will be middle aged by then and more than ready. Can these guys play at World Class level? Absolutely. They have it in them. It’s all about the mental game.”