It's been a really tough couple of years for Canadian cricket and things don't really look to be getting any better for the game in North America. Canada were one of four nations stripped of their one day international (ODI) status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) following a string of poor performances, culminating in a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign. Along with Kenya, Namibia and the Netherlands, Canada have been forced to watch on as the UAE, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea joined Ireland, Afghanistan and Scotland as the ODI Associate nations for the next four years.
Fall from grace
In the 2014 Cricket World Cup qualifiers, Canada knew they needed a top-four finish to secure their ODI status until 2018, with the top two making it through to the 2015 World Cup. But Canada failed to make it through the group stage and ultimately finished eighth overall, resulting in one of the Associate nations’ more consistent teams facing four years in the wilderness. While morale is currently at an all-time low, there are signs that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Previously the envy of countries across the cricketing world, Canada's highlight came in the 2003 World Cup. After beating Bangladesh to record their first ever ODI win, the north Americans put up a memorable performance in the defeat to the West Indies, with all-rounder John Davison smashing 111 from just 76 balls to record the fastest century in World Cup history at the time. Since then, however, things have gone from bad to worse, and recent years have seen Canada perform horribly when it comes to qualification for the World Cup and T20 World Cup.
The likes of Oman and Hong Kong are instead set to appear at the 2016 World Twenty20 in India while Canada watch from home. The tournament, in which the hosts are at the time of writing priced at 5/2 to win with 32Red Canada and others, will be another reminder to these players just what they are missing and how far they have to go before being able to mix it with the world's elite at the major events.
As well as their on-field issues, off the cricket pitch hasn't been a happier affair for Canadian cricket, losing their main sponsor, Scotiabank, at a time when the ICC had already cut their funding following the loss of their ODI status. But the chance to raise some much needed funds as well as attract some of the game's biggest names to Canada soon presented itself, with local entrepreneur Roy Singh behind plans to launch a T20 league that received the backing of Chris Gayle, one of the game's best players. While those plans finally look set to be coming together, in some shape or form, it took Cricket Canada more than enough time to make up their mind regarding the league.
While the introduction of top-level T20 cricket to Canada would certainly have a positive impact on the national team in the long term, it won't help them in the immediate future. With the team looking to use the next three years as a chance to get back to the level they were once at before trying to get their ODI status back, head coach Mukesh Narula is hoping to start putting together a winning team. Despite the presence of a number of very decent players, there is no doubt that what Canadian cricket needs is a star, someone capable of leading this team back to into the big time.
Could Dutta be that man?
One man who could have the potential to give Canadian cricket fans reasons to feel positive heading into the future is 21-year-old Nikhil Dutta.
The Kuwait-born spinner made his Canada debut in 2013 against Kenya, but it's been his recent performances on the T20 circuit that have seen the youngster make a name for himself. Dutta somewhat burst on to the scene playing for the St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the 2015 Caribbean Premier League, taking the wicket of English superstar Kevin Pietersen.
The off-spinner, who was raised in Toronto, most recently appeared in the Bangladesh Premier League for the Barisal Bulls, making the most of his opportunity to claim 3/18 and scoring nine not out with the bat. The tournament was won by the Comilla Victorians, who had become popular with 32Red and Betway punters following an explosive start to the event, featured some of the game's best players, and Dutta's call-up showed just how highly he is thought of in the Twenty20 world. Playing with the likes of Chris Gayle, Zimbabwe's Brendan Taylor and Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Sami will only help Dutta's game and, if managed correctly, Canada could have a potential top level player on their hands.