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By Peter Della Penna
The first ever USACA Twenty20 Nationals takes place this weekend in Newark, New Jersey. The following is a brief look at half of the teams scheduled to compete in the tournament.
Atlantic – Atlantic had a strong showing in the USACA Senior Nationals event last year, falling short of the 50-over title after they lost on the second day to North West, a match that was cut short due to bad light.
The host region will once again be captained by former West Indies Test player Neil McGarrell (pictured right). Aditya Mishra, who played two Twenty20s for USA against Jamaica in Florida last year, is the vice-captain. Four other players on the roster have represented USA at the senior level – Naseer Islam, Muhammad Ghous, Gowkaran Roopnarine and Imran Awan – while former West Indies speedster Jermaine Lawson will ply his trade with the region for the second straight year.
The most notable addition to this year’s team is Stuart Mills, a former first-class cricketer from New Zealand who played for the New York Region last year. Mills was one of three wicketkeepers in the New York squad, but will now have a chance to stake his claim as first choice gloveman for his new team.
Atlantic squad – Neil McGarrell (captain), Aditya Mishra (vice captain), Imran Awan, Adil Bhatti, Muhammad Ghous, Naseer Islam, Jermaine Lawson, Siddharth Mehta, Stuart Mills, Junaid Rasheed, Gowkaran Roopnarine, Damaine Sangster, Charan Singh, Sean Stanislaus.
Central East – The region that finished as national runner-up in 2009 crashed back down to earth at the USACA Western Conference in 2010 as Usman Shuja and Amit Kumar were no longer part of the squad. However, they still possess a fair amount of talent to be competitive and will look to bounce back in this year’s Twenty20 tournament.
Former USA wicketkeeper Ashhar Mehdi will captain the squad while Akhil Pathan (pictured left) serves as vice-captain. Medium-pacer Pathan performed very well in 2009 with a pair of five-wicket hauls and had a strong showing at USACA trials in November that year but was passed over by selectors. A solid weekend in New Jersey could make him a darkhorse to make the short list of candidates for USA’s squad at the ICC Americas T20 next month in Florida.
Mehdi and Pathan are joined by left-arm orthodox spinner Asif Khan, who was one of the few bright spots on USA’s tour to Hong Kong in January. Young talents Fahad Babar and Saminda Siriwardena will be responsible for getting Central East off to a good start at the top of the batting order.
Central East squad – Ashhar Mehdi (captain), Akhil Pathan (vice-captain), Adnan Ali, Fahad Babar, Praveen Bangara, Asif Mehmood Khan, Hansraj Meena, Darshan Patel, Syed Fawad Raza, Venugopal Reddy, Manpreet Singh, Kamran Syed, Saminda Siriwardena, Syed Airaj Wahan.
North West – The reigning national champions in 50-over cricket will be looking to sustain that form in Twenty20 cricket for 2011. However, they’ll have to do it without leading scorer James Crosthwaite, who is rumored to have returned to live in Australia after less than a year on the US domestic scene. Also missing from the squad is the twin leg-spin duo of Saurabh Verma and Saqib Saleem, who represented USA at the senior and junior levels respectively in 2010.
The team is captained once again by wicketkeeper Nauman Mustafa (pictured right) who turns 37 in August but despite his age is still looking to force his way into the USA squad and has been one of the most consistent performers in domestic tournaments over the last few years. Vijay Beniwal from Microsoft Cricket Club in Seattle is the team’s vice-captain.
Batsman Rishi Bhardwaj and all-rounder Shantanu Divekar joined Mustafa and Crosthwaite on DreamCricket.com’s All-Tournament Team at the 2010 Senior Nationals and they will be back to provide a solid foundation for success. Other key players include Arjun Thyagarajan, Samarth Shah, Srinivasa Santhanam and Syed Fareed Ahmad, who fetched the highest bid for any player at the recently concluded IPL-style auction for the NCCA 4th of July Twenty20 tournament.
North West squad – Nauman Mustafa (captain), Vijay Beniwal (vice-captain), Syed Fareed Ahmad, Rishi Bhardwaj, Shantanu Divekar, Naseer Jamali, Santosh Leslani, Nilesh Rane, Srinivasa Santhanam, Samarth Shah, Ashok Singh, Sunny Singh, Srikanth Sundaragopalan, Arjun Thyagarajan.
South West – The region has been hit hard by injuries and by finances relating to this tournament, but is still turning out to give it their best shot. National players Aditya Thyagarajan and Ritesh Kadu are missing due to injury. According to a source, three other players will not be coming to New Jersey despite being selected because the cost of flying from Los Angeles to Newark on short notice was prohibitive. Instead of a 14-man squad, South West will only be sending 12 and it is also believed they will be traveling without a coach or manager due to budget reasons.
However, the 12 are a very promising bunch and could still contend for the title. They will be captained by Mehul Dave, quietly one of the top performers in domestic cricket in the last few years. Ravi Timbawala will keep wicket in place of Kadu.
Former first-class Ranji Trophy players Amit Sood and leg-spinner Timil Patel are back for the second year in a row. Fast bowlers Elmore Hutchinson and Hammad Shahid form a potent pace attack. They’re joined by the leading wicket-taker in USACA tournaments for 2010, off-spinner Abhimanyu Rajp (pictured left).
South West squad – Mehul Dave (captain), Nitesh Anandan, Elmore Hutchinson, Timil Patel, David Pieters, Abhimanyu Rajp, Hammad Shahid, Ricky Singh, Amit Sood, Marcus Stewart, Ravi Timbawala, Peshan Wedanarachchi.