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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
Click here for Part 1: Team Grades and Part 2: Player Grades
What the team needs heading into ICC WCL Division Four
Preparation: The following quote is taken from the report card that was written after the 2011 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in July.
“When the team went to Dubai in 2010 for the last World Twenty20
Qualifier, they got to play two warm-up matches against the UAE before
the tournament started and wound up finishing fifth after beating
Scotland and losing to Ireland and Afghanistan. They’ll need something
more significant in terms of preparation prior to leaving for Dubai to
have any hope of finishing in the top two in next year’s qualifier.
There is currently nothing scheduled for the men’s team between now and
March when the Qualifier is due to be held so making plans to fill that
gap in the calendar should be a high priority.”
If the USACA administration was able to arrange a four-match 50-over
series in Florida for the USA U-19 team against West Indies U-19 before
heading off to Ireland for last summer’s ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifier,
the administration should have been able to make a few phone calls to
organize some unofficial Twenty20 fixtures to be played in late December
or early January in Florida against some of the West Indian domestic
teams such as Jamaica, Guyana or Trinidad & Tobago for the USA men.
West Indies A played a series of unofficial matches against Bangladesh A
in November and something similar could have been designed for USA
against one of the islands during the gap in the West Indies domestic
calendar ahead of the Caribbean T20 tournament in January.
The administration failed to prepare the team for this tournament and
as a result the team was prepared to fail. In the seven and a half
months that followed USA’s second place finish at the ICC Americas
Division One Twenty20 tournament in July, next to nothing was done. USA
played three Twenty20s in Canada in August, but because USA was only
confirmed to participate a week before the start of the Etihad Summer
Cricket Festival, a B squad was sent to play in Toronto.
Of the players who participated for USA in the event against Canada,
Afghanistan and Trinidad & Tobago, only two of them were picked in
the 14-man squad to go to the UAE – Muhammad Ghous and Andy Mohammed –
while Japen Patel joined as an injury replacement. For the other 12
players in the team that went to the UAE this month, the only matches
they got to play together in a USA uniform between July and the first
match against Uganda were three warm-ups in Sharjah a few days before
the qualifier began.
Compare that to Namibia, who like USA is not one of the six ICC High
Performance Program teams. Like USA, they played their ICC Regional Qualifier
in July and finished second at the ICC Africa Division One Twenty20.
However, they had a plan in place that resulted in an undefeated 7-0
record in Group B. When Scotland visited to play an Intercontinental Cup
match and two 50-over games in September, Namibia arranged for them to
stay an extra week into October so they could play five unofficial
Twenty20s against each other. Scotland won four of the five, but the
preparation and familiarity with their opposition certainly helped
Namibia when they hammered Scotland at the qualifier.
Then, completely independent of any ICC tournament obligations
whatsoever, Namibia hosted Kenya for eight unofficial Twenty20 matches
in November. They won six matches and lost two, but most importantly got
to try out various combinations and roles to see what worked best.
Namibia also plays in South Africa’s provincial three-day and 50-over
competitions, but they specifically sought out Twenty20 practice matches
independent of that to get their players geared up for the qualifier
and it paid off.
Conversely, USA’s administration sat on their hands. As a result, the
coaching staff was trialing combinations and roles during the
tournament rather than ahead of the tournament. It cost the team badly.
Previous evidence shows that USA takes a long time to get into a good
rhythm when they enter an ICC tournament which takes place in the
northern hemisphere winter, outside of USA’s domestic club cricket
season. They needed all the help they could get ahead of this tournament
to get prepared. Instead, the administration thought that a three-day
selection camp in January followed by a series of weekly conference
calls before leaving on March 6 for the UAE would bring good results.
USA’s 3-6 tournament record demonstrates what a folly that was.
looking to make excuses for USA’s performance at the qualifier by
saying that it’s unfair to compare USA with the upper echelon Associate
level teams is doing just that, making excuses. Entering the 2012 ICC
World Twenty20 Qualifier, USA had beaten Scotland, Canada, Nepal, Italy
and Hong Kong in either 50-over or 20-over matches since the start of
2010. Scotland finished fifth and Canada sixth at the qualifier. Nepal
finished seventh, Italy 10th and Hong Kong 11th.
Image (right) - Aditya Mishra hits a six against Scotland in
USA's seven-wicket win. If they can finish comfortably on top against
Scotland, there's no reason USA can't stand toe-to-toe with any other
Associate. [Courtesy: ICC/Ian Jacobs]
USA’s talent matches up well with any of those teams. Scotland played
in the Intercontinental Cup final at the end of 2010. USA beat them
convincingly at the World Twenty20 Qualifier in 2010 and they beat them
convincingly at the World Twenty20 Qualifier in 2012. The fact is that
USA’s players are talented enough and capable of competing with any team
that was in the tournament, including Ireland and Afghanistan. However,
that can’t be done by standing idle for seven and a half months while
other countries are playing together regularly.
Selecting players for roles: One of the most amusing
things to go back and read on the forums after the end of a match are
comments left by fans and supporters that say something along the lines
of, “Player X opens for his club/league/region team. Why is he batting
at number seven for USA?” One of the only players who bats in the same
role for his club/league/region as he does when he has played for the
national team is Aditya Thyagarajan. Not surprisingly, Thyagarajan has
had success playing in the middle order for USA because he is familiar
and comfortable there due to the fact that he fills the same role for
Every other player picked for USA opens or bats at number three for
their club/league/region. Then they come to play for USA and are asked
to bat at 5, 6, 7 or 8 and have no situational experience to draw upon.
They are used to starting the innings and dictating the course of play.
For the most part, they have no concept of how to respond when they
enter at 30 for 4 or 40 for 5 when playing for the national team because
they’ve never had to do it at club/league/regional level. They struggle
and the team struggles as a result. More attention needs to be placed
on picking players for roles. USA is guilty of this at U-19 level as
well as senior level in terms of squad selection. It makes no sense
picking eight opening batsmen when only two can play in that position
for the national team.
Get people playing regularly on turf wickets: The vast
majority of USA’s squad had limited international experience prior to
this tournament. The vast majority of them also had limited experience
playing on turf wickets. Two players who play on turf wickets on a
weekly basis at Woodley in Los Angeles – Abhimanyu Rajp and Elmore
Hutchinson – were two of USA’s most impressive players on tour despite
the fact that they were making their debuts for USA. That’s no
coincidence. USA’s batsmen in particular struggled and part of those
struggles can be pinned on failing to adjust to turf wickets after
playing virtually year round on artificial surfaces. It will continue to
be this way until the administration makes infrastructure development a
Hire a full-time coach/team director: This was discussed in November,
but it’s worth revisiting here. Just about every player had positive
things to say about Robin Singh and his involvement with the squad.
Singh was with the team during the warm-up and group phase, then flew
back to India after USA’s final group match against Scotland. Everyone
felt they learned something from him over the course of their time with
However, USACA is wasting precious funds by just throwing money at
him to show up for two weeks and disappear again. USACA must bring him
on board full-time and have him work with the various regions on a
regular basis by developing programs geared to get everyone on the same
page and he has to work with the national team inside the USA ahead of
tours as well. It’s no use having him just show up at tournament time.
He needs to be on site on a regular basis.
Hire a proper physio: Throwing a first aid kit bag over a USACA
board member’s shoulder doesn’t count. The person USACA has been
sending on every tour to be the team physio is licensed in the state of
Illinois to be a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). He is not licensed to be a Physical Therapist (PT). According to the Illinois Physical Therapy Association, there is a very big difference between the two.
“Physical therapists must graduate from an accredited educational
program with a master's or doctoral degree. After completing your
education, you will be required to pass a licensure examination before
you can work as a PT. Coursework includes biology, chemistry, and
physics, as well as specialized courses such as biomechanics,
neuroanatomy, human growth and development, manifestations of disease,
examination techniques, and therapeutic procedures.”
Physical Therapist Assistant
“Physical Therapist Assistants graduate from a 2 year program,
earning an associates degree from an accredited physical therapist
assistant program. PTAs also must pass a licensure examination to work
as a PTA. PTAs perform a number of physical therapy treatments and
procedures as determined by the supervising physical therapist.”
There are plenty of 27 and 28-year-old newly licensed physical
therapists fresh out of completing a master's or doctoral degree at university with the latest training methods in
sports medicine who would give their right arm for an opportunity to
work for a few weeks on tour for a USA national team in any sport. Many of them would probably
do it pro bono as long as their expenses were taken care of. The
selectors showed in January that they were keen to find some fresh blood
to represent the team. With that spirit in mind, the same should be
done for the next tour by bringing along a new fully licensed, freshly
trained physical therapist.
A healthy Aditya Thyagarajan: If USA’s middle order man
for all crises can return to full fitness after more than a year away
from the national team, he would provide priceless stability to the
batting. To give fans a reminder of what USA has been missing, here’s a
look at some of Thyagarajan’s highlights in a red, white and blue
November 27, 2008:
Enters match at 114 for 4, builds 119-run partnership with Rashard
Marshall for the sixth wicket. Finishes second top score behind Marshall
with 42 in total of 254 for 7 before eventual 86-run win over Bermuda.
Image (left) - Aditya Thyagarajan in action against Canada in 2008. [Courtesy: ICC]
November 29, 2008: Enters match at 59 for 4, builds 105-run
partnership with Orlando Baker for the seventh wicket. Top score of 84
not out in total of 201 for 8 in USA’s eventual 81-run win over Canada.
February 10, 2010: Enters match at 11 for 5 in fourth over,
builds 99-run unbeaten partnership with Orlando Baker for the seventh
wicket. Top score of 72 not out in 78-run loss to Ireland at ICC World
February 23, 2010: Enters match at 55 for 5 in 23rd over,
builds 118-run partnership with Carl Wright for the sixth wicket. Builds
80-run unbeaten partnership with Rashard Marshall for seventh wicket.
Top score of 83 not out in USA’s 66-run win over Jersey.
February 26, 2010: With USA needing 163 to win in 50 overs,
enters chase at 112 for 5 in 29th over. Builds 47-run unbeaten
partnership with Sushil Nadkarni for the sixth wicket. Scores 18 not out
in five-wicket win over Nepal amidst crowd rioting.
May 28, 2010: Enters match at 91 for 4, builds 213-run
partnership with Orlando Baker for the fifth wicket. Top score of 159 in
total of 347 for 6 in USA’s eventual 119-run win over Argentina.
June 6, 2010: With USA needing 101 to win in 20 overs, enters
chase at 60 for 4 in 10th over. Builds 37-run unbeaten partnership with
Carl Wright for the sixth wicket. Top score of 27 not out as USA wins
ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 title over Canada by five wickets
with nine balls to spare.
August 20, 2010: Enters match at 17 for 5 in fifth over, builds
84-run partnership with Lennox Cush for the sixth wicket. Builds
205-run unbeaten partnership with Rashard Marshall for the seventh
wicket. Scores 102 not out in total of 306 for 6 before eventual 196-run
win over Argentina.
Call him the Iceman, the Insurance Policy, the Stick of Glue… call
him whatever you want, Thyagarajan was USA’s middle order. USA hasn’t
been the same since he went down with a dislocated right knee against
Denmark in Hong Kong more than a year ago at ICC WCL Division Three.
He’s progressed enough in rehab to be playing club cricket for Hollywood
CC in the SCCA, but he needs to get 100% fit and back into a USA
uniform for ICC WCL Division Four. USA is a different team with him in
the lineup and the younger players can learn a huge amount by observing
him and the way he approaches each innings.
The return of Steve Massiah: Massiah has never been a
good performer in Twenty20 cricket so it’s doubtful he would have caused
a change in fortunes for USA had he been with the squad in the UAE.
However, he still offers value to USA in the 50-over format. Now that
his legal matter has been resolved, it opens the door for him to come
back and bolster USA’s middle order for WCL Division Four.
With Massiah and Thyagarajan in the lineup, USA should feel more
confident about its chances of progressing from Division Four - where
they'll be up against Denmark, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore and Tanzania -
back into Division Three. The four teams in Division Three awaiting the
two sides to get promoted from Division Four are Bermuda, Italy, Oman
and Uganda. On paper, Division Four is going to be more difficult than
Division Three. USA will need all hands on deck to progress out of
Division Four and Massiah will be one of the players who has to step up.
Finding a wicketkeeper: Since 2010, USA has used Carl
Wright, Orlando Baker, Ashhar Mehdi, Steven Taylor, Ritesh Kadu, Akeem
Dodson and Nauman Mustafa in the specialist position. Taylor was forced
into the role on this tour when it wasn’t the original plan, but he is
not a long term solution and should only be used to keep wicket in
emergency situations. Otherwise, Taylor should be playing as a
USA’s handling of Mustafa on this tour was reminiscent of their
handling of Durale Forrest in Hong Kong. The coaching staff killed
Mustafa’s confidence by dropping him and handing the gloves over to
Taylor rather than show faith in Mustafa after a rough first game behind
the stumps against Uganda. Forrest didn’t even get the benefit of a
game before his confidence was shattered. He had to watch as a
46-year-old assistant coach was added to the roster and walked right
into the starting XI before he could even make his debut.
USACA has also done wonders to put a major dent in Akeem Dodson’s
development. The 24-year-old won the Best Wicketkeeper Award at the ICC
Americas tournament in July, but USACA sent invitations out to a
half-dozen other wicketkeepers for January’s selection camp. Mustafa
succeeded in knocking the incumbent out, but couldn’t cement his
position once on tour and that caused a major headache for the squad
during and after the tournament. It's highly likely that USA will be
going back to the drawing board once again for a different wicketkeeper
when WCL Division Four comes around after Mustafa's underwhelming
performance in the UAE.
The bottom line is someone needs to step up to fill the role ahead of
WCL Division Four. The wicketkeeper position figures to be one of at
least two roster spots in the team up for grabs heading into the senior
team’s next international commitment. Adil Bhatti might be able to fight
off a few challengers to remain in the squad, but if Timroy Allen or
Rashard Marshall show interest in recommitting themselves to the
national team, they would be too difficult to pass up. Here’s a
projected lineup for USA at Division Four with two roster spots left
1. Steven Taylor
2. Aditya Mishra (vice-captain)
3. Sushil Nadkarni (captain)
4. Steve Massiah
5. Aditya Thyagarajan
6. Orlando Baker
7. Wicketkeeper - Up for grabs
8. Elmore Hutchinson
9. Usman Shuja
10. Abhimanyu Rajp
11. Muhammad Ghous
12th man: Ryan Corns
13th man: Asif Khan
14th man: Up for grabs
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author who was
present at all of the team's matches. If you have differing views or
opinions, we respect those views and urge you to provide your feedback -
both positive and negative - in the comments section.]