By Peter Della Penna
The USA Under-19 National Tournament, which took place from May 22-25 in Brooklyn, N.Y., provided a great platform for the nation's youth to showcase their talent and enhance their reputations. It also provided the best chance for USA's selectors to identify hidden talent. Possibly the biggest gem, literally and figuratively, that was unearthed over the four days was Ryan Corns.
"The first time I saw this kid, because he's almost my height, 6'5", I thought he was a bowler," said Franklyn Rose, coach of the South West team. Rose found out very quickly though that there is more to the 6'3" Corns than meets the eye. In his first match of the tournament for Central West, Corns put the South West bowling attack to the sword for a blistering 97. Corns fell trying to reach his century and finish the match at the same time with a six. "The only chance he gives is whenever he gets out. His concentration is very long and strong," said Rose.
The South West coach wasn't entirely wrong with his first observation of Corns though.
"He came in [to the tournament] as an all-rounder," said Arun Vittala, coach of the Central West. While Corns did bowl his share of left-arm orthodox spin during the tournament, Vittala said that he clearly established himself as a better batsman than a bowler.
While Corns and his family have resided in Houston since 2002, his cricketing roots are in South Africa.
"I must have been about four years old when my dad put on the TV, watching South Africa play cricket," said Corns. "When I was about six, my dad bought me my first cricket kit. From then on, I've been in love with the game ever since." The 18-year old, who bats right-handed, counts Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener as two of his idols from the 1999 World Cup.
"He's always had this ball of talent," said Noel Halgreen, Ryan's father. "He's just got that natural sports talent. The thing that in his case made the difference is he became passionate about it. If you have that natural talent and you actually love what you're doing, it really goes a long way." Corns certainly came a long way in the tournament, from the relative obscurity of Memorial Cricket Club in Houston, to perform on a grand stage on the outskirts of the Big Apple.
Ryan Corns in action
"I've seen two innings from him and they were spectacular and he's not a bad bowler either," said Zamin Amin, former captain of the US National Team. "His batting is a cut above the rest, head and shoulders above the rest. He is a junior playing like a senior."
Rose was present for all three games that Corns batted in, which also included an 82 against Central East, and he holds the same view as Amin. "He's on a different level from the other kids," said Rose.
Vittala is not shy about heaping praise on Corns either. "He's got a very sound technique, a very good head on his shoulders, things that you need as a batsman," said Vittala, who sent in Corns to bat at number three in every match during the tournament. "You need the temperament. He really knows how to play this game, something I haven't seen in a very long time."
Corns certainly sounds like a star in the making, but he still lives in relative anonymity among his American friends back in Houston.
"They don't really know what cricket is," said Corns. "They think it's weird. They don't know much about it." The obscurity among his social circle is something he has in common with the location of the nearest available playing facility in Texas. "In Houston, their club ground from where we live is 27 miles out. It's in the middle of nowhere," said Halgreen.
Cricket is also not really played in the local school community in Houston. Corns just graduated high school, but he hopes there will be change for kids in the future. "They have a cricket league in the schools in New York," said Corns. "So if they've got it here, surely you can do it in other states. It will just take time to develop."
Ryan Corns bowling
Corns has room to develop his overall game as well. While his bowling could use some adjusting, Vittala thinks that fitness is a more pressing issue. According to the coach, Corns mentioned he was having a slight hamstring problem on the third day of matches. He typically plays only one 40-over match a week for Memorial CC during the season.
"To play three and four days of 50-over games is not easy, but it's the same for everybody," said Vittala. "Suddenly, you're playing three days or four days and it's not something that will come naturally to you. I have talked to him and told him that he needs to work on [his fitness] a lot more if he wants to play at the highest level."
However, the highest level for Corns could come sooner rather than later. Corns was one of 14 players named a first team All-American from the just completed Under-19 Tournament and will be trying to help the US qualify for the Under-19 World Cup in Kenya in 2010. But at least one former player thinks that won't be the only team he'll be picked for in the near future.
"It's a possibility that he will probably be looked at for the senior team as well, in my opinion," said Amin.
However, the first path for Corns to take is through the Under-19 squad, which will need to do well enough in qualifying rounds in Canada later this year before they can make it to Kenya. Hopefully, Ryan Corns will be a vital cog in the machine.
(Peter Della Penna can be contacted through Twitter @DPMilGaya.)