Now, you can get all the USA Cricket updates via Facebook. Also follow us on Twitter via @dreamcricket
By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
After the USA U-18 team lost their first two matches in Florida last week at the 2012 ICC Americas U-18 Match Play Camp, getting bowled out for paltry totals of 84 and 112 in the process, a parent of one of the players approached me to ask a question. “In your journalistic opinion, what did you think of the preparation this team had ahead of playing these matches?” I responded, “Preparation? What preparation?” The parent then nodded before walking away.
Benjamin Franklin is credited with bringing a copy of the Laws of Cricket to the USA from a trip to England in the mid 18th century. That shouldn’t be the last contribution he is credited with for cricket in America. Current administrators might want to heed a quote that is attributed to him. “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
This has yet to register with the USACA brain trust though. The administration has a well-established habit of failing to do what it can to prepare USA teams adequately for international tournaments. As a result, USA has had a succession of failures at recent ICC events: 6th out of 6 teams at 2011 ICC WCL Division Three, 7th out of 10 teams at the 2011 ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifier, 8th out of 10 teams at the 2011 ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier, 12th out of 16 teams at the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier.
The last place finish of USA’s U-18 squad at the ICC Americas event last week was another example. The tournament was organized with the goal in mind to gauge where each country is at heading into next year’s ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifier for the Americas Region. USACA has not held a national U-19 tournament since August 2010 and has never held a national U-17 tournament. Most of the players who were on this squad last played in a national level tournament at the U-15 level which would could have been 12 months ago for some players and 24 months ago for others.
Players in the 15 to 19 age bracket can experience drastic physical and skill changes in a 12-24 month time span. With no junior national tournament held for 12 months, selection at the very least can turn into a crap shoot, but more often it becomes a political free-for-all as different regional administrators jockey for position to get as many of their players, who sometimes double as their sons, selected as possible. The result of zero preparation ahead of that tournament was on full display when USA lost by 115 runs in their first match and again by six wickets in the second before the team started to find its feet. It’s very clear based on the stats coming from that event that more than a few players did not merit selection in the first place.
There hasn’t been any USACA men’s national tournament in 13 months and there hasn’t been a USACA 50-over men’s tournament since November 2010. The last time USACA organized something for senior men’s players as some form of preparation was a fitness and selection camp in January prior to heading to the UAE. After USA’s last place finish in Hong Kong at 2011 WCL Division Three and again after they failed to reach the knockout stage of the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier, it was clear that they suffered from a lack of preparation.
Images (above) - Clockwise from top left Steve Massiah, Aditya Thyagarajan, Rashard Marshall and Timroy Allen. Could they be making a return to the USA squad for ICC WCL Division Four in Malaysia this September? [Images of Massiah, Allen and Marshall courtesy of ICC/Daniela Zaharia, image of Thyagarajan courtesy of DreamCricket.com/Peter Della Penna]
Yet, the USACA administration has sat on their hands for the last four months and done nothing to get a squad ready to play in what will be a very difficult tournament in Malaysia at 2012 WCL Division Four this September. The hosts along with Singapore and Nepal possess spin heavy attacks which will present problems for any team, but especially a team that is grossly underprepared. If there was ever a time where a selection camp or national tournament was needed ahead of a crucial ICC promotion and relegation event, this was it.
What’s most puzzling of all is why there haven’t been any domestic USACA tournaments for over a year now. In 2011, several tournaments were postponed or canceled and the fallback excuse was that it was for “financial” reasons, meaning a lack of funds. How can USACA cry poor in one breath while using the next to huff and puff about the millions of dollars that are flowing in as a result of signing their deal with New Zealand Cricket and other investors to form Cricket Holdings America? USACA President Gladstone Dainty said in December 2010 that USACA would be receiving $2 million dollars per year as part of the deal. This doesn’t include the money that USACA gets for being an Associate member of the ICC. Where is all this money going? What’s it being used on?
USACA announced on July 5, a day after the ICC officially announced that WCL Division Four would take place from September 3-10, that USACA would “shortly be announcing a preliminary short-list squad from which the final 14 will be selected. It is anticipated that Team USA will depart on August 26 for pre-tournament training and acclimatization.”
At the time, rumors were circulating that 32 names had been slapped together from different regions for a selection camp in Florida in order to help pick a squad. In typical USACA fashion, the administration dragged its feet and nothing happened. All ICC Tournaments require that the final 14-man (or 15-man depending on the event) squads must be submitted 30 days prior to the first match, which would mean Friday, August 3 for this tournament. With no camp scheduled for this weekend or next, it’s expected that rather than have any sort of fitness and selection camp with an extended list of players ahead of August 3, USACA will instead skip straight ahead to announce a 14-man squad.
If there is no camp or camps prior to this 14-man squad leaving for Malaysia on August 26th, they won’t arrive until late on the 27th or early on the 28th. They will then have at best six days but more likely five days of practice before the first match. With no national tournament, selection camp or group training sessions held at any point in the weeks and months prior to a team being selected and leaving, five days of practice before the first live match is not good enough from the administration and it’s not fair on the players who are saddled with such a heavy responsibility of representing the national team on the field.
There is also the matter of building or rebuilding team chemistry. Rumors are circulating that there could be several much needed changes made to the squad as veteran players may be making a return to boost the strength and depth in the squad, particularly in the batting department, that was missing in the UAE in March. Steve Massiah, Aditya Thyagarajan, Timroy Allen and Rashard Marshall are all being discussed as additions to the USA team according to numerous sources. Having players of this caliber return will definitely improve USA’s chances of being promoted to Division Three in Bermuda, but it is not a foregone conclusion that they’ll finish first or second in Malaysia just by showing up.
Without having adequate preparation ahead of a tournament, the evidence from the UAE in March showed that it took USA until their fifth match before they finally started to hit their stride and notched their first win. If it takes them that long in Malaysia, they will already have secured relegation to Division Five and will have missed out on participating in an ICC World Cup Qualifier for the second consecutive time. Conversely, a top two finish will send them to Division Three in Bermuda and a top two finish at that event in 2013 will propel them to the 2014 ICC World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand.
It’s up to the USACA administration to prepare the USA national teams for success, first by picking the best 14 players possible and second by giving them the tools to succeed. If USACA fails to prepare the squad adequately for WCL Division Four in Malaysia which starts in just over six weeks, then fans, followers and stakeholders of the USA men’s national team should prepare for the team to fail.
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author. 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.]