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By Peter Della Penna
Heading into last week’s ICC Americas U-19 tournament in Florida, the
overriding opinion from coaches, administrators and observers was that
this U-19 team was not as talented as the squad that made it to the 2010
U-19 World Cup. That team featured some special players, including five
who have played at the senior level for USA either before or after
going to New Zealand.
As such, it was believed that this group might have a harder time
than their predecessors getting past both Canada and Bermuda to reach
the U-19 World Cup Qualifier later this summer in Ireland. That was
proved wrong in emphatic fashion with a first place undefeated 5-0
record for USA’s U-19 team.
The biggest improvement in the team compared to the previous squad
came in the pace bowling department. USA’s U-19 squad struggled for
early breakthroughs in each of the three international tournaments they
played in 2009 and 2010. Generally speaking, the team used 10 overs of
pace at the top of the innings and then five overs at the end when the
opposition took the batting power play. The rest of the overs were eaten
up by spinners. There just wasn’t a reliable third pace bowling option.
Almost the exact opposite turned
out to be the case in Fort Lauderdale. Salman Ahmad took a total of 8
wickets over three tournaments with the 2009-10 USA U-19 team, but the
South West Region product has shown remarkable improvement over the last
18 months. Not many players have worked harder at developing their game
than Ahmad and it showed as he became the undisputed spearhead of the
USA U-19 attack in Florida, finishing with 11 wickets at an average of
5.55 and an economy rate of 2.18 in a team high 28 overs.
Image (right) - Salman Ahmad (right) gets a high five from
captain Abhijit Joshi after removing Bermuda's Christian Burgess. Ahmad
finished second on the team with 11 wickets. [Courtesy: Peter Della
Ahmad teamed up with Hammad Shahid and Mital Patel to form a very
incisive pace trio. At the same event in 2009 in Toronto, USA’s pace
bowlers took just 12 wickets as opposed to 33 by the spinners. In Fort
Lauderdale, USA’s fast men claimed 27 wickets while 17 were collected by
the spinners. At the ICC Americas U-19 in 2009, the opposition had
opening stands of 1, 12, 66, 62 and 14 runs. In 2011, USA’s opponents
produced 0, 6, 6, 0 and 32 runs for the first wicket.
Not that USA’s spin bowlers were slouches in Florida. It’s just that
they had less work to do. Leg-spinner Gurpreet Sandhu still managed to
tie for the tournament lead with 12 wickets at an average of 3.67
despite bowling just 18 overs. Meanwhile, left-arm spinner Shayan
Abdulghani took five wickets in 20 overs but had a remarkable 1.58
economy during the week. Arguably his best effort was one in which he
went wicketless, finishing with 0 for 15 in 7.2 overs against Canada.
The team also has highly regarded off-spinner Pranay Suri waiting in the
wings, ready to make a contribution with the ball down the road after
getting only one over in Florida.
A large part of the precision and focus was passed down to the team
by new head coach Robin Singh. While 10 of the players were playing for
USA for the first time, they all looked like well drilled veterans by
the end of the week. After each of the first four games, Singh took the
players back out onto the field for one to two hours to engage in a
series of demanding practice sessions, utilizing all of the time he had
available with the team. During matches, he would take the three players
not in the starting XI, make them run sprints and do other training
activities instead of allowing them to sit on their hands for three
hours. It paid off with the end result.
only area of concern appears to be the batting unit. Cameron Mirza was
the tournament MVP and formed a potent opening combination with Steven
Taylor, but what followed after them is a cause for worry. While the
middle order only got two chances to bat, they collectively failed both
times against Argentina and Canada. The only noteworthy contributions
were Ahmad’s scorching 62 at number seven against Argentina and a
fighting 34 made by Suri at number six against Canada.
Image (left) - Cameron Mirza receives his Tournament MVP award
from former West Indies Test spinner Lance Gibbs. [Courtesy: Peter Della
If Greg Sewdial returns to 100% fitness this spring following a
second ankle surgery in December, he figures to be a shoe-in for the
squad going to Ireland. The team needs someone with plenty of experience
to strengthen the lineup. He had a subpar tournament at the U-19 World
Cup Qualifier in Toronto in 2009, but finished as USA’s leading scorer
at the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand and that was with a damaged ankle
that became progressively worse with every match he participated in.
He originally injured it prior to the 2009 USACA U-19 National
Tournament. Now that the problem has hopefully been corrected, Sewdial
can focus on getting fit and back to his best form. With him in the
squad, USA’s chances of advancing to the 2012 ICC U-19 World Cup are
USA will be joined by Canada from the Americas for the 10-team ICC
U-19 World Cup Qualifier. They’ll be taking on Kenya and Namibia from
Africa, Afghanistan and Nepal from Asia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu
from East Asia-Pacific, as well as Scotland and hosts Ireland from
Europe. USA will play nine matches in the round-robin format event that
will take place from July 28-August 9.
Should USA finish in the top six in Ireland, it appears that
Australia will be the final destination for the 2012 U-19 World Cup. It
was reported on January 6 in a Sa’adi Thawfeeq article on ESPNcricinfo
that Australia will be hosting the event. Several other sources have
indicated the same. However, no official confirmation or announcement
has been made by the ICC.