USA Cricket: Player eligibility status needs to be more transparent

2011 Jan 11 by DreamCricket

While USA's national teams follow one set of eligibility guidelines for ICC tournaments, USACA uses a different set of guidelines for teams participating in domestic tournaments.

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In the last few months, the selection process for USA’s senior and U-19 teams has been put under the microscope for a litany of reasons. Much discussion was made on the comment section of this web site regarding the fact that none of the players from the North West Region senior team were invited to the 18-man selection camp for the tour to Hong Kong for ICC World Cricket League Division Three.

Atlantic Region captain Neil McGarrell was invited to the camp and was included in the 14-man roster submitted by USACA to the ICC. However, he was ruled ineligible for the Hong Kong tournament based on the fact that he did not meet residency requirements. Specifically, he did not fulfill 183 days of residency for four consecutive years prior to the date of the tournament.

Image right: Neil McGarrell was selected in USA's squad for ICC WCL Division Three, but later found to be ineligible. [File photo]

Last week, more consternation was made over the realization that both age and residency status restrictions were causing players to be removed from consideration for the USA U-19 selection camp that will take place later this month. According to Krish Prasad, chairman of USACA’s Cricket Committee, at least six to eight players were taken off a list of potential selections because they were found to be ineligible.

The problem isn’t so much that players who selectors may have wanted to pick for either the senior or U-19 teams were found to be ineligible. It’s that the selectors and/or USACA only came to the realization just days before they were trying to finalize a list of players to bring to Florida or send to the ICC. To be fair, the problem is not limited to USACA.

Cricket South Africa got itself into a bind last January when Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir was named in a 15-man squad for the fourth Test against England. However, he was withdrawn a day later when it was discovered Tahir was ineligible to play for South Africa based on residency requirements. He was forced to wait out all of 2010 before he was recently named in South Africa’s 14-man squad for the upcoming five-match ODI series against India.

While Tahir was ineligible to represent South Africa, he was free to play domestic cricket in South Africa. The same is true for players from other countries who must wait out their time before qualifying. Irishman Eoin Morgan played county cricket for Middlesex while he waited to qualify to play for England. South African Kevin Pietersen had to go through residency qualification playing county cricket for Nottinghamshire before playing cricket for England.

Likewise in USACA tournaments, if players are not eligible to play for USA that does not mean they should be prevented from playing for a regional team. It is helpful to selectors if they have a historical record of four years or more of a player participating in USACA domestic tournaments to know what they are capable of producing for the day when said player becomes eligible. In fact, one of the ICC’s other requirements for Associate players once they’ve reached four years of residency in order to be eligible is that they must have played 50% of games in national competition in any three of the preceding five years. However, there are several adjustments that USACA needs to make in order to promote and encourage players who are eligible right now.

ICC guidelines state that for Associate teams, a minimum of nine players in a playing XI must be classified as “nationals” – born in the country, citizens of the country, or permanent residents who have lived in the country for a minimum of 183 days in the seven years preceding a tournament. A maximum of two players are allowed to play under “deemed national” classification – a resident in the country for a minimum of 183 days in the four years preceding a tournament. In women's cricket, the rule for deemed nationals is residency for a minimum of 183 days in the previous two years and not four.

Right now, guidelines on USACA’s web site state that regional teams can consist of a minimum of five nationals, a maximum of four deemed nationals, and a maximum of two “open” status players – basically anyone who has been in the USA for at least one day but does not meet deemed national or national classification and is therefore ineligible to play for USA. Under this setup, the possibility exists for non-citizens to outnumber citizens in a starting XI for a regional team playing in a USACA tournament. Under the same premise, it means that in a regional team’s starting XI, as few as seven players could be eligible to play for USA at any given time – five nationals, two out of the four deemed nationals under ICC rules and none of the open status players.

Generally, rules are much more stringent in other countries starting from the lower levels on up. For example, according to the Playing Conditions for Sydney Grade Cricket in Australia, clubs are allowed a maximum of one overseas player in the 1st Grade starting XI and a maximum of three overseas players registered with the club at any given time for participation in any other XIs a club may have. This guarantees that citizens are encouraged to develop and get as many opportunities as possible while allowing for an overseas player to get local experience. At the same time, the overseas player can share his foreign knowledge with the local members.

The key word in that last paragraph is registered. When information about a player’s date of birth, residency and eligibility status is taken in at club level, it can then be relayed to the regional and national administration. At the moment, it is doubtful that most clubs or leagues in the USA care to register and process this kind of information, only for the blame to be placed on USACA later on. The only thing that most leagues take into account is that no new player can play his first match for a team past a certain cutoff date or that a minimum number of matches must be played by a player to be eligible for the league playoffs. They do not care to process information in regards to who is eligible for regional or national consideration.

I have personally experienced playing in matches in this country where fake names were used for players at the ground, and seen names of players appearing on web site scorecards who were never actually at the match, presumably done in an attempt to make sure certain players qualify to play in the league playoffs. This kind of sloppiness is unacceptable but it is often encouraged by people who are just looking to play for selfish reasons and have no vision of a proper future for cricket in this country. As a result, it leads to a guessing game later on when teams are picked to play for the region and the country: who is and who isn’t eligible?

It seems absurd that for a domestic tournament, a regional team could have non-citizens outnumber citizens in the starting lineup. In order to encourage more players to develop locally, more eligible players need to be given opportunities to play and that means more citizens too. The current 5-4-2 configuration for nationals, deemed nationals and open status players should be halved on the non-citizen front.

The resulting 8-2-1 configuration would achieve three things. First, an 8-2-1 configuration would be more closely aligned to the ICC’s 9-2-0 configuration for Associate teams. Second, it would allow for more citizens and thus more eligible players to play instead of being shut out. Third, by still allowing one open status or overseas player to be involved, a player who may potentially become eligible to play for USA down the line can get his feet wet by adjusting to domestic tournaments and give selectors something to mark down for future reference. An elite level overseas player would also help to raise the standard of play of his teammates.

Another part of this is making the eligibility status more transparent to stakeholders. Perhaps the one player from the 2010 North West Region senior team who should have been a slam dunk selection for the USA senior team based on merit was James Crosthwaite. He was the leading run-scorer in USACA tournaments this year. However, what many fans may not have been aware of is that the Australian-born Crosthwaite was an open status player who has been living in the USA for less than a year. He won’t be eligible to play for USA until 2013 at the earliest, and that’s if he keeps living here.

Should Crosthwaite have been allowed to participate in USACA tournaments this year? Absolutely. He helped North West win the national championship. His teammates, especially the younger players, probably picked up a few tips from him on how to better approach batting. However, if the North West roster was overpopulated with players like him who are currently ineligible to play for USA, that would do more harm than good as too many players would be held back from developing.

As for the confusion about the age restrictions regarding the U-19 players, this has happened as a result of a quirk in the ICC’s scheduling of events. Players who participated from regional teams in U-19 Eastern and Western Conference tournaments this year like Andy Mohammed and Zulkifl Nana were eligible to play for tournaments in 2010, but not in 2011.

The 2009 ICC Americas U-19 Division One was played in July in Canada with the USACA U-19 National Tournament played two months prior in May as a selection tool. This year’s ICC Americas U-19 was pushed back five months from the 2009 edition. As a result, U-19 players who were eligible as recently as December when the Junior Nationals were scheduled wouldn’t be eligible to play in ICC events for 2011 or 2012.

Things will get even more confusing when the qualification cycle for the 2014 ICC U-19 World Cup begins. The ICC has declared that all regional qualifiers must be played by December 31, 2012. In that case, a scenario could happen where players who are eligible to play in a domestic USACA U-19 tournament in 2012 would not be allowed to play in the 2012 ICC Americas U-19 qualifier due to the rule stating that only players eligible to play in the 2014 U-19 World Cup (or any future U-19 World Cup) are eligible to participate in any corresponding qualifying tournaments. It’s up to USACA whether or not they want to allow 19-year-olds to play in their domestic U-19 events for 2012, even though they’ll be 21 in 2014 and thus ineligible to be picked for USA’s U-19 team for ICC events in the 2012-2014 cycle. A 19-year old would be eligible to play in the 2012 ICC U-19 World Cup, but not the 2012 ICC Americas U-19 event later that same calendar year.

All of these things mentioned here need to be made transparent. The greatest transparency though needs to be made in terms of evaluating residency status. It is a serious consideration for USACA because of the unique structure of cricket in this country.

In USA’s 14-man squad for Hong Kong, there are zero American-born players. In USA’s 15-man squad at the 2010 U-19 World Cup, seven players, or less than 50%, were American-born. In the USA women’s team that won the Americas championship in Canada last July, there was one American-born player out of the squad of 14.

As long as expatriates and first-generation immigrants are relied upon to sustain cricket at all levels instead of a proper grassroots development system, more transparency will be needed in terms of eligibility in order to avoid last minute chaos and confusion regarding selection. The focus should be on evaluating who is good rather than wasting time trying to figure out who is eligible.

[Views expressed in this article are those of the author.]