Canada's new cricket captain just getting started
For a kid from a family which doesn't play sport, Jimmy Hansra has done alright. For a kid who didn't play cricket seriously until he got to university, Canada's new captain has made exceptional progress in a short space of time.
Hansra, a 26-year-old middle order batsman and occasional offspin bowler, has succeeded his teammate Ashish Bagai as skipper of Canada's national team.
After enjoying a successful Cricket World Cup earlier this year, Hansra has just returned from Lauderhill, Fla., where he led Canada to victory in the ICC Americas Championship. Impressive stuff for a player dismissed for a second-ball duck in his Canadian senior debut less than two years ago.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Hansra's rise in cricketing circles has been anything but conventional.
"I made a thousand runs with a $3 bat," he laughed, remembering his formative years in the game. For a man born in the northern Indian city of Ludhiana, where he lived until the age of 14, when his family immigrated to Canada, it is mildly shocking to hear cricket was not his first love.
"I played soccer and basketball," Hansra recalled of his high school days in Penticton, B.C.
"Nobody knew anything about cricket. They thought I was talking about insects!"
Hansra was a useful striker and leading scorer for Pen High before the big city beckoned.
He remembers "padding up" for the first time as recently as 2004. Hansra had moved to Vancouver to study structural engineering at UBC. Cricket was a weekend sport with Abbottsford CC that slotted conveniently with his academic work.
It didn't take long for his talent to catch the eye. Hansra rose through the ranks of the league and provincial teams before joining the national team in 2009.
"Four years ago, I was playing Division 3 cricket in Abbottsford. Today, I'm captain of Canada!" he enthused, as though he can hardly believe it himself.
Certainly, Hansra enhanced his credentials at the recent Cricket World Cup. He made 43 versus Pakistan and followed that with successive knocks of 70 against both Kenya and New Zealand. When Bagai decided to stand down as captain after the tournament, Hansra's name was at the top of a very short shortlist.
"I'm honoured more than surprised,' he said. "Playing cricket full time is a dream come true."
Hansra is determined to help raise the standard and profile of the sport in Canada, believing there are many others who can follow in his footsteps.
He is encouraged by the International Cricket Council's decision to overturn its ban on smaller cricketing nations, like Canada, competing in future World Cups. Cricket Canada and the ICC's other associate members now get the chance to qualify for the next edition in 2015.
"We have to do much better," Hansra insisted. "It's a new chapter in Canadian cricket," a reference to the talented crop of younger players who have the time to mature before the next World Cup.
There is plenty to keep Hansra and his team occupied between now and then. Afghanistan and Trinidad and Tobago are due in Canada next month before Hansra leads his team to Dublin in September for an Intercontinental Cup series against Ireland. It will leave him little time to indulge his other sporting passion. As a man who knows his soccer, Hansra is a big fan of European champions FC Barcelona.
The $3 bat is long gone. But not the ambition and passion which has helped Hansra rise to the top of Canadian cricket. At this rate, it surely won't be long before he winds up on the Wall of Fame back at Pen High.