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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
With roughly 12 months to go before USA’s next engagement for a junior level squad with the 2013 ICC Americas U-19 Division One Tournament, there were a few things to be encouraged about for USA’s future. However, for all the positives there are even more warning signs that may cause fans and administrators to worry about the state of junior cricket in the country. The following is a synopsis of USA’s performance at the 2012 ICC Americas U-18 event earlier this month in Florida analyzing the good, the bad and the ugly for USA.
Positives – USA turned in the highest team score and highest individual score of any squad during the week of matches in Florida, both coming in the same game against Canada. USA’s total of 218 for 7 was even more impressive in that it came in just 45 overs after five overs were shaved off due to time constraints.
Image (right) - Steven Taylor file photo. Taylor was the leading scorer in Florida this month at the 2012 ICC Americas U-18 Match Play Camp, but lacked support from other players. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
Steven Taylor turned in the highest score of the week for any player when he notched 102 off 117 balls in that match. Taylor was also the leading scorer in the event with 159 runs. With Taylor at the crease, America will always stand a chance of victory no matter the opposition in an Associate level tournament.
Negatives – The next best score for USA in the four live contests against Bermuda and Canada was 28 from Amarnauth Persaud in the first match against Canada. USA also had eight innings of scores between 15 and 25, indicating that players don’t know how to push on after getting a decent start. Each of those scores between 15 and 25 came from someone batting in the top seven.
Of particular concern are USA’s struggles at the start of the innings. The bonus point structure for the event awarded one point to the batting side if they could make it to the 15 over mark with less than three wickets down. If the fielding side had taken three wickets by the 15 over mark, they would take the bonus point for that stage of the match.
USA failed to claim that bonus point in four opportunities while batting. It was inexcusable to miss out on the bonus point in their second match against Bermuda when they only had to make 61 to win but managed to lose four wickets inside of 15 overs before scratching across the target in 19.3 overs. By contrast, Canada claimed the bonus point at the 15-over mark three out of four times while batting, a sign that they always had a good foundation to build on in their innings, something that helped them finish in first place at the end of the week with two wins and a no result.
The failure to string together decent partnerships was also a major problem. USA only had one partnership of 50 or better in their four live matches. By contrast, Bermuda had three half-century stands and one century stand despite only getting three opportunities to bat.
USA’s field awareness was also absent at the crease. USA’s batsmen had an uncanny knack of drilling the ball as hard as they could straight at a fielder in the circle at times when there were only four men inside the ring. It didn’t appear they knew how to rotate the strike by placing the ball into gaps, particularly when the field is spread after the first 15 overs are finished. This was a major problem for the USA U-19 squad that finished seventh at the 2011 ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifier in Ireland and doesn’t seem to have improved with this crop of juniors either. One over in particular stuck out when a USA batsman allowed a maiden to occur by hitting all six deliveries in the over back to Canadian leg-spin bowler Trevor Manoosingh when there were only four fielders in the circle. That should never ever happen.
Scores in the teens and 20s will cut it at club level, but not at international level. USA must be able to find junior level players who can occupy the crease, rotate the strike and build partnerships if they are to have any chance of qualifying for the 2014 ICC U-19 World Cup.
Positives – As has been the case traditionally with USA’s age group teams, USA’s strength was their spin bowling, which accounted for 18 out of the 33 wickets taken by USA in the field. Ryan Persaud and Zahib Tariq provided a good contrast, one a wicket-taking leg-spinner with flight and the other an economical off-spinner darting the ball in flat to choke the runs and build pressure. These two will be vital to the USA U-19 squad’s efforts to win the ICC Americas tournament in 2013.
Negatives – Pace bowlers struggled to take wickets, mainly because they had no pace to offer. The ball might be bouncy in club cricket when playing on artificial or matting strips, but bowling on turf is a different challenge altogether, one they did not seem well-equipped to handle. If the seam bowlers who were in Florida want to stay in the squad for next year’s U-19 Americas event, they need to commit themselves to a serious strength and conditioning program to get up to pace of international standard.
Positives – USA completed the most run outs in the field of any team, racking up seven in four games. Their ground fielding was adequate in this regard.
Negatives – USA dropped nine catches on the week and had a missed stumping. Arguably seven of the nine drops were straightforward chances, with most of the drops coming from spilled chances at mid on or mid off whether they were fielding on the circle or on the boundary. When players are contributing in other ways, some coaches might overlook a fielding weakness. However, this squad had players who were deficient in all three facets of the game which makes the fielding gaffes much harder to accept.
Several players who were part of the USA U-18 squad in Florida this month just won’t cut it at the U-19 international level. Coaches and captains can’t afford to have passengers in a traveling squad who serve as ballast instead of batsmen and bowlers. It’s up to USACA to organize an U-19 national tournament next spring ahead of the 2013 ICC Americas U-19 Division One Tournament so that deserving players who missed out this time around can be identified on merit and given an opportunity to contribute to the national team.
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