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By Peter Della Penna
On June 10, the West Indies Cricket Board announced the introduction of a domestic Twenty20 competition. The announcement declared that the July event will include the seven regional first class teams in the Caribbean as well as one international team. The winner of the tournament will go on to participate in the Champions League Twenty20 scheduled for September in South Africa this year.
Over the weekend, Cricket Canada posted a message on their web site announcing that they will be the international team participating in the competition. Meanwhile, members of the USA national team that defeated Canada on June 6 to win the first ever ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 championship will be playing club cricket!
Full credit should go to Cricket Canada for swooping in and seizing a golden opportunity to not only give enhanced competition to their country’s cricketers, but also present them a chance to qualify for a lucrative global tournament.
Many people who were in Florida for The Pearls Cup believed that having USA play three matches against Jamaica was a great thing for the preparation of the team before the ICC Americas Division One Tournament, especially since the USA squad was going to have six new players heading to Bermuda the following week. With the unavailability of several of USA’s first choice players for the games in Bermuda, those same players were omitted from the games against Jamaica. The result was that USA was outclassed by a Jamaica team that cruised to a series sweep.
It would have been very interesting to see whether or not a full strength USA squad could have defeated a Jamaica team that will be one of the seven regional teams in this West Indies tournament. The fact that USA lost all three games might have created a stronger case for the WICB to consider Canada ahead of USA for inclusion in the event.
At the same time, Jamaica and by extension the WICB, may have taken into consideration the fact that USA didn’t field their best eleven. The approach on the field in those matches was that USA was treating the series as a set of warm-up matches before jetting off to Bermuda rather than approaching it as a truly live contest in which they were desperate to notch a win against a first class team. In the two games that USA won the toss, they elected to field first. It was a clear sign that they were not confident they could bat 50 overs or 20 overs and that it was more important to make sure the young bowlers would have an opportunity to bowl their full complement.
Make no mistake, USA was in all three matches. In particular, they were in a very good position after the first innings of each Twenty20 game against Jamaica to win both matches. USA batted last in all three games, but at no point did they look remotely interested in making a dash at the targets set. If USA didn’t have the most serious attitude towards giving their guest the most competitive games possible, why should Jamaica stump for the WICB to invite USA to the West Indies? Jamaica could afford to not have their best players participate if they wanted to win, USA could not.
Of course, there are challenges involved for USACA that do not exist for other boards in terms of organizing and selecting teams. Several players who missed out on the Bermuda tour could not go because they could not miss another week of work so soon after having taken a month off for the team’s February tour of the UAE and Nepal.
However, they surely would have been able to miss a day to play against Jamaica for a weekend of games. Obviously that would have deprived some of the players who would be going to Bermuda of getting a chance to gel in their new roles so it is a tricky balancing act figuring out what was the right course of action.
It would have been fresh in the minds of WICB administrators though that Canada fielded a full strength outfit when they played Jamaica and the West Indies in the Jamaica Cricket Festival this April. Canada also sent their U-19 squad to St. Kitts in December ahead of the ICC U-19 World Cup in New Zealand for matches against the West Indies U-19 squad.
It is crucial that USA’s players become contracted professionals as soon as possible, something which Canada has already started to do. USACA CEO Don Lockerbie stated in an open letter in January that he wants to do this. In an interview for Dreamcricket.com in February, he claimed that along with hiring a full-time national coaching staff, professionalization of USA players “should happen in 2010.” The year is almost halfway gone, and it is not clear if contracts for players will be offered anytime soon.
USA defeated Canada to be crowned the best Twenty20 team in the Americas for 2010. Canada, the second best Twenty20 team in the Americas for 2010, will be vying for a chance to go to the Champions League Twenty20 in South Africa when they participate in the West Indies Twenty20 tournament in July.
[Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.]