Reed: No regrets for Captain Canada
It has been on his mind for a while. The decision was not an easy one, but it was the only one. At the tender age of 29, Ashish Bagai has walked away from the biggest job in Canadian cricket.
His decision to step down as captain comes as a surprise to many. Bagai was seen as the youthful, multicultural face of the Canadian game, capable of leading the team for years to come and inspiring the next generation of Canadian cricketers.
He may still have a role to play in that department. Bagai wants to play on, but he tells me it's time for someone else to carry the baton. He admits the responsibility of leadership has been "pretty draining," but he leaves the post with no regrets.
Bagai recently returned from his third Cricket World Cup. Canada failed to advance beyond the group stages, but the tournament had its highlights. A comfortable win over Kenya allowed Canada to return home with its pride just about intact.
There will be no fourth World Cup for Bagai, not unless the International Cricket Council reverses its earlier decision to exclude the smaller nations — Canada included — from the next two editions of the tournament.
The debate is back on the agenda. The ICC executive is being urged to reconsider its stance in the wake of strong protests from cricket's minnows, who argue development will be stunted if they are denied the chance to play against the Test playing nations.
Bagai, though, is moving on. Next month, he'll begin studying for his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania – an intensive two year course which will leave him little time to focus on cricket and the burdens of captaincy.
His body needs a break and he knows it. He's been playing through the pain barrier for nearly two years after injuring his left knee in Sri Lanka in late 2009. Only constant treatment and regular painkillers got him through the World Cup.
Bagai, who immigrated to Canada from New Delhi at the age of 11, believes now is the best time to relinquish the captaincy. The decision was all but made before the World Cup and he says it takes time for players to get used to a new captain and vice versa.
Bagai describes his own time in charge as "a great learning experience." Being the 'link' man between the players and the administrators was clearly arduous, but he sees it as a valuable life lesson — one he believes he can transfer into life after cricket.
Understandably, Cricket Canada is keen for Bagai to carry on playing. How often that is possible remains to be seen, but the new captain would be foolish not to seek advice from Bagai from time to time as he grows into the role.
'Done what I've wanted to do'
Bagai is also a pretty good player. You don't get to be Canada's all-time leading run scorer in one-day internationals without knowing how to wield a bat. In addition, he's an accomplished wicketkeeper known for his agility and glove work.
Twelve years after making his international debut as a raw 17-year-old, Bagai has a kitbag full of memories. The century he made to help Canada successfully chase down a 300-plus target to beat Ireland in 2007 tops his personal list of favourites.
He took great pride in leading his country and has completed his mission.
"I've done what I wanted to do," Bagai affirmed.
There's a hint of relief in his voice. Despite his love for the game, he knows there's a whole world beyond cricket's boundaries.
I recently had the chance to work alongside Ashish. He's smart, articulate and opinionated and, if he's half as much fun in the middle as he was in the studio, Canada is losing a captain with a strong sense of responsibility and a great sense of humour.
Essential ingredients for any successful leader.