Winter and the pandemic complicated Canadian preparations for the ICC Under-19 Men's Cricket World Cup in the West Indies.
But captain Mihir Patel says spirits are high as the Canadians prepare for their opening match Saturday against the United Arab Emirates in Basseterre, the St. Kitts and Nevis capital.
"The mood is great in the team," said Patel. "Everyone's really excited and ready to go. We've had a few good practice sessions and a couple of useful practice games."
The 19-year-old from Markham, Ont., admits it was a different story in Canada.
"Leading up to the tournament, It wasn't ideal for us with our COVID situation back home. We weren't able to practise for the two, three weeks leading up to our departure from Canada," he said. "But that's not an excuse. We've been playing cricket our whole lives."
The Canadians held a domestic camp for close to 10 weeks that was halted "probably when we need it the most, the last two or three weeks."
The team arrived in the Caribbean on Jan. 3, serving a three-day quarantine before being able to train in small groups.
Canada is making its fifth straight appearance — eighth overall — at the tournament. It has yet to make it past the first round with an 11th-place finish in 2010 its best showing.
Canada was beaten by the Emirates in the group stage at the 2020 tournament in South Africa but avenged that defeat in the 13th-place playoff. Patel scored 90 runs off 105 balls in the eight-wicket loss to the Emirates.
The 16 teams have been split into four groups with the top two in each advancing to the Super League and the remaining sides moving on to the Plate playoffs. The competition runs through Feb. 5 across four Caribbean countries.
The Canadians, who beat out Argentina, Bermuda and the U.S. to get to the tournament, face stiff competition with defending champion Bangladesh and England also in Group A.
In the opening day of play Friday in Georgetown, Guyana, in Group D, Australia defeated the West Indies by six wickets and Sri Lanka downed Scotland by 40 runs.
Patel, who says Canada's strength is its depth, both batting and bowling, says the 2020 tournament was a valuable learning experience.
"I realized we're not too far off from the actual cricket-playing countries who have full (ICC) status and who are able to play all year-round," he said. "I just think whenever we're put under the pump, whenever the pressure's on, we tend to crumble. And I think that's what's cost us a lot of games in the past."
"So I just told them to enjoy themselves and to understand whatever the situation is, try to raise the best of your ability," he added. "And understand that different skills are required at different times. You don't always need to play a certain way."
Canada will be looking to fast bowler Parmveer Kharoud to do some damage.
A second-year finance student at York University, Patel says he will be combining school work and play during the tournament.
Bangladesh defeated India to win the 2020 tournament. Left-arm spinner Rakibul Hasan, part of that winning team, is back as captain.
England, making its 14th tournament appearance, won the title in 1998 and finished third in 2014. It placed ninth last time out after facing a tough group that also featured Australia and the West Indies.
English spin bowler Archie Lenham played for Sussex in 2021 at the age of just 17.
The Emirates features two returning players: all-rounder Alishan Sharafu, a full international who captains the side, and 17-year-old wicket-keeper Kai Smith, who was just 15 when he played in the South Africa tournament.
Group B features India, Ireland, South Africa and Uganda while Group C comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe.
New Zealand withdrew from the competition, citing domestic quarantine requirements. That opened the door for Scotland to join the field. Four Four Zimbabwe cricketers tested positive last week and were self-isolating in the West Indies. The virus has also ruled out Pakistan batsman Abdul Bangalzai.
Afghanistan's group schedule had to be revamped after the side was late arriving due to visa issues.
Canadian Arnold Maddela is one of the tournament umpires.
Canada Under-19 Cricket Team
Mihir Patelb (capt.), Sahil Badin, Anoop Chima, Ethan Gibson, Parmveer Kharoud, Siddh Ladd, Yasir Mahmood, Sheel Patel, Gavin Niblock, Mohit Prashar, Harjap Saini, Jash Shah, Kairav Sharma, Gurnek Johal Singh, Arjuna Sukhu.
Reserves: Yash Mondkar, Ramanvir Dhaliwal, Ashir Zamir, Eran Maliduwapathirana, Ayush Singh.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press