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By Peter Della Penna
USACA’s newly appointed Cricket Committee, chaired by Central West regional representative Ahmed Jeddy, has received positive reviews from players after this past weekend’s men’s selection camp in Fort Lauderdale. The 28-player camp, which was led by Jeddy, was used to select a preliminary 18-man squad for the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE from March 13-24.
According to multiple sources at the camp who requested to remain anonymous, players were extremely satisfied with the way the weekend was organized. For each day of the three-day camp, players were brought from their hotel to the Central Broward Regional Park for an 8 a.m. start inside the cricket stadium at the Lauderhill complex.
On the first day, players went through a fitness test which focused on speed, agility and endurance and lasted approximately four hours. After a break for lunch, four of the national selectors – chairman Selwyn Caesar, Kuldeep Patel, Dawood Ahmed and Barney Jones – separated the players into two sides for a 20-over trial match. Day two included two more trial matches inside the stadium followed by a final trial match on artificial turf outside the stadium on the last day.
According to one player, it was the best run camp since December 2009 when coaches Hamish Barton and Dipak Patel arrived from New Zealand for a weekend of training ahead of the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier and 2010 ICC U-19 World Cup.
“Well, first of all as a board member of USACA, I’ve never attended the previous camps, but all we used to hear through the media was that this went wrong and that went wrong,” said Jeddy. “This time around we wanted to make sure everyone was in sync. We had a program that every player received about 10 days before the camp. Every day we had a bus at the hotel. The players were taken to the ground at 8 a.m. sharp. We made sure lunch was served on time. We made sure we had ample fluids for the players.”
Speaking after the camp, many players felt that this was the first camp in which an overall fitness examination was taken seriously as a tool for selection purposes. At the camp in December 2009, Akeem Dodson and Ryan Corns were the only two players who passed a mile and a half run within the allotted time required to pass the test. Neither player was selected to go on tour with the senior team the following February.
This time around, players had to complete five laps around the stadium within a specified time in the initial phase of the test. Sources indicated that Naseer Jamali turned in the fastest time of anyone at the camp. Jamali was included in the preliminary 18-man squad for the tour to the UAE. Jeddy says that things like this are a sign that the new Cricket Committee is determined to employ a new philosophy when it comes to team selection. Everyone must earn their way into the squad and will not be handed a spot on reputation alone.
“Experience doesn’t really matter if you do not have the body and legs to support it,” said Jeddy. “When you add enthusiasm, energy, passion that this team has, we might not have experience but we are not going to be outrun by every Tom, Dick and Harry. In essence I think this team has a lot. Yes, this team is short on experience, but we have players with experience to make up for some of the nervousness or inexperience that might be there with some of the younger players.”
In the past, USA’s teams at many tournaments have struggled badly with their fitness, particularly when playing a second match on back to back days, which is how most ICC tournaments for Associate level teams are scheduled. Several players at the camp believe that with a younger, fitter and hungrier squad, there will be much less of a chance of that happening and are genuinely excited about the talent that has been assembled by the selectors. Jeddy hopes that the way this team was organized will be the way forward for USA’s squads at all levels.
“Our biggest problem has been our fitness and that goes to the fact that we as USACA did not do what it should have done. We wanted to make that correction,” said Jeddy. “The previous teams did not do that. There was a lack of fitness, lack of commitment. The management was not as committed as probably this one. Those guys brought a lot of good results for us. Those guys also brought a lot of bad results for us.”
“Unfortunately lack of planning, lack of management skills has probably cost us a lot. We have started now on a positive note. We expect a good result.” When asked how he would define a good result for the USA squad at the qualifier, Jeddy responded, “Winning it and qualifying for the World Cup is a good result for us.” Players received instruction at the camp from head coach Mark Johnson, assistant coach Asif Mujtaba and Nasir “Charlie” Javed, who reportedly served as a bowling coach at the camp.
“I would personally like to thank every player who gave their weekend to be a part of this camp, all the selectors and coaches, [General Manager] Manaf [Mohamed], the Broward County Stadium and officials,” said Jeddy. “I want to thank all of these people and appreciate what they’ve done.”
While Sushil Nadkarni was named captain at the conclusion of the camp, several players were given opportunities throughout the trial matches to serve as a captain or vice-captain for the split-squad games. According to sources, those players included Usman Shuja, Orlando Baker, Aditya Mishra, Gowkaran Roopnarine and Corns. The fact that Corns was given a chance to be in a leadership position is a sign of how serious the new selectors are in providing younger players a chance to be major contributors.
In terms of the 18 that have been selected into the preliminary squad, there are many young faces like Jamali who made an impact on their fellow players and selectors over the course of the weekend. Sources at the camp were unanimous in their praise of Andy Mohammed and Elmore Hutchinson. The 21-year-old Mohammed consistently produced impressive batting displays during the trial matches to earn a spot in the 18 and in all likelihood will make the cut for the final 14 as well.
Image (right) - Andy Mohammed at the 2010 ICC U-19 World Cup [Courtesy: Daniela Zaharia/USACA]
Hutchinson also seems a shoe-in for the final 14. The tall left-arm seamer, who plays his cricket at Woodley Park and around the Los Angeles area in the SCCA, was equally impressive. According to one source, Hutchinson and Shuja were in a class by themselves in the fast bowling department at the camp.
As for the spinners, Asif Khan received excellent reviews for his efforts on the weekend. The 32-year-old left-arm spinner won plaudits not just for his bowling, but also for his batting and fielding. Off-spinners Muhammad Ghous and Abhimanyu Rajp could present an interesting decision for the selectors. Ghous solidified his reputation as an economical off-spinner. Rajp is more expensive but also a bigger wicket-taking threat.
One player whose stock appeared to rise significantly during the weekend was Adil Bhatti. While he doesn’t possess intimidating pace with the ball, Bhatti is clever in the way he mixes deliveries to keep batsmen off balance. In last year’s USACA Twenty20 Nationals, Bhatti had several solid performances with the bat coming in at number three behind Mishra and Roopnarine for the champion Atlantic Region team. The 27-year-old is considered an all-round option by the selectors and appears to be battling with Japen Patel for a place in the final 14. However, several sources said that the two players impressed everyone so much with their batting, bowling, fielding and fitness on the weekend that there is a chance both may squeeze into the squad.
Sources at the camp were also very impressed with Timothy Surujbally. The 27-year-old has been a part of the South East Region squad on multiple occasions but has struggled to turn in big scores at national tournaments. However, many observers came away with a strong opinion of Surujbally after last weekend and feel he can contribute with the bat if given the opportunity.
Corns and Steven Taylor are another pair of youngsters who showed encouraging signs over the three days. As usual, Taylor caught everyone’s attention for his powerful striking ability. While Corns has always been rated very highly for his batting, his mental strength was a highlight of the camp. Sources indicated that Corns endured a rough outing in the first trial match on the Friday, but came back to light up the scoreboard during the pair of trial games on the Saturday.
The final 14-man roster must be submitted to the ICC by the second weekend in February and Jeddy hopes that USACA will be able to organize one more camp for the players before decisions have to be made. The squad is tentatively scheduled to depart for Dubai on March 6 and will have a week to acclimatize to conditions.