Bagai is Canada's cricket chatterbox
There was a constant chatter heard each time Canada took the field in the recently completed Caribbean Twenty20.
Instructing fielders, shouting words of encouragement, congratulating players, being the emotional compass of the team — all while pestering opposing batsmen as they set up for every bowl.
The chatterbox was Canada's captain and wicketkeeper Ashish Bagai trying to rally the squad and rattle adversaries.
"I might do it a bit more [than others]," Bagai said. "I enjoy it. "It's part of the job for the keeper to be a bit more vocal. Keepers are generally regarded as the leaders in the field, in terms of the amount of energy and noise they create [and] the fielders feed off that.
"The more vocal you get, the more you feel like you're in the game. It helps me stay focused."
Along with keeping teammates — and himself — engaged in the match, the 29-year-old veteran uses his words as a tool against opponents. His effort against Trinidad and Tobago was a prime example of this as he taunted batsmen into free swinging for catch outs.
It's the same tactic employed by baseball catchers, who chat up batters in the hope of influencing them — essentially, getting in their head or under their skin.
As Bagai explained, the psychological battle is the final combatant against top-level competition, and knowing when to use such methods is a skill in itself.
"It's a mental part [of sport], especially against when you play against good players," he said. "They're not going to give their wickets away easily.
"[You] try to get in their heads. Before that, you need to know which players to talk to because some players thrive on it … so the art is to know which players it's going to affect in the wrong way or in a good way for you."
No other player has played in more one-day internationals for Canada than Bagai, an Indian-born batsman who has suited up in 54 ODIs. The only Canadian ODIs he hasn't played in were the three held before he was born.
And while overseeing Canada's performance in the field is Bagai's primary responsibility as a wicketkeeper, his overwhelming experience gives him other duties as captain.
"It just gives me additional responsibility to ensure the team performs," Bagai said, refuting the notion that his captaincy and extended tenure with the team merits a sense of entitlement.
The reason for such a modest approach could be Bagai's gradual progression through the Canadian junior ranks. He began his international career at the inaugural Under-15 Cricket World Cup in 1996, in which he was voted the tournament's top wicketkeeper, and established himself as a standout batsman on Canada's Under-19 World Cup teams in 2000 and 2003.
'Young guys around is good'
With four players on Canada's current World Cup roster directly drawn from the 2010 Under-19 World Cup squad, Bagai sees the vital role youth plays on clubs.
"Having so many young guys around is good," he said. "There's always energy [on] the team, so there are always people with new perspective and enthusiasm when they come in."
But with youth comes inexperience, and that's where the captain steps in.
"The coach has a job, but sometimes the players need an informal chat which only a player can give," Bagai said. "My role is very much a mentor, friend, occasional coach, a teammate and a captain, so I put on a lot of different hats when I go out there."
The ability to balance responsibilities on and off the field exemplifies the makings of a leader, along with being able to put matters into perspective. Recently returning from the Caribbean T20 tournament, where results weren't the best for Canada, the former banker equated that competition to be more of a training tour for the upcoming World Cup than anything else.
"Our bowling department did exceptionally well in that tournament," Bagai said. "It gave me a clear sense of how to approach the World Cup in terms of strategy, using our sense of bowling.
"Obviously, the batting order needs to be finalized, but that's part of the process. We'll have two weeks in Dubai to figure that out."