Ashish Bagai has risen from the Canadian junior ranks to the prestigious role of national team captain and wicketkeeper. ((Christopher Lee/Getty Images))

Canada is focused on its Cricket World Cup campaign after its Pakistan-born players were finally granted visas for India, knowing that it will need a spectacular performance to leave any kind of imprint on the world's premier cricket tournament.

The visa holdups meant four squad members missed out on a training tour of India late last year, hampering the young team's preparations for a tournament in which it has won just two of its 14 matches.

Canada has taken some heart from Ireland's victory over Pakistan in 2007, which allowed the Irish to emerge from the group stages — only the second time in the history of the World Cup that one of the so-called Associate nations has achieved that.

That performance has given hope to other countries where few follow the national team or even understand the rules of the game.

"Our goal is three wins," said Canada captain Ashish Bagai by telephone from Dubai, where the team enjoyed had mixed results in warmups with a morale-boosting four-wicket win over fellow World Cup minnows, the Netherlands, and a five-wicket loss to Afghanistan.

"Looking at the way they play, New Zealand or Pakistan are our best chances [of an upset]," he said. "They have been known to slip a game or two in tournaments like this."

Leaving aside Bagai's optimism for a moment, a cold-hearted look at Canada's recent form and Group A opponents — Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Kenya — suggests that victory against one of those two African countries alone would constitute a decent World Cup for the Canadians.

Aside from Bagai, only two other members of the team have World Cup experience: Ugandan-born fast bowler Henry Osinde, who failed to take a wicket in 2007, and veteran allrounder John Davison. Davison, now 40, blasted the World Cup's fastest century in 2003 during a match against the West Indies and will be key to the team's fortunes this time around.

India does not routinely grant visas to Pakistanis because of the two countries history of war and continuing poor relations. As the Canadians found out, it also makes it difficult for those who were born in Pakistan or even those with Pakistani heritage. Pakistan has similar restrictions on Indians or those of Indian descent.

"It is a political issue that went beyond cricket, but the whole team was pretty down for a couple of days," Bagai said of the visa holdups.

"It is the nature of the beast. The players were training indoors, but now they are raring to go."

With freezing conditions at home in January, the Canadian squad accepted an invitation to play a Twenty20 tournament in the Caribbean against mostly domestic sides. But it failed to shine, losing both its matches by heavy margins. The third match was a washout.

Canada and other Associate nations — those outside the 10 countries which have full Test status — are currently feasting on the high-tech facilities at the International Cricket Council's Global Academy in Dubai. Along with bowling and batting machines, the centre has pitches made from imported soil from the subcontinent, enabling players to get a feel of conditions they will encounter at the World Cup.

Cricket has a long history in Canada, as it does in many former British colonies. In 1844, the national side took on the United States in New York in what is regarded among the first international sporting engagements. But ice hockey has eclipsed cricket in popularity, and these days it has little local following aside from expatriates and immigrant communities.

A shortage of funds, facilities and a less than thriving domestic league explain the gulf between the world elite and countries like Canada.

"In the shorter form of the game, where a couple of good hours can turn a match, the gap is definitely getting smaller," said Bagai. "But in Test cricket, there's still a long way to go.

"It is not an overnight thing."

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