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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
Aditya Thyagarajan, USA’s leading scorer in the 2010 calendar year with 612 runs at 55.64 in 50-over matches and 150 runs at 30.00 in Twenty20 matches, is hopeful of making a return to the senior team for 2012 ICC WCL Division Four in Malaysia from September 3-10. Thyagarajan has not played for USA since suffering a dislocated right knee against Denmark in the second group match at 2011 ICC WCL Division Three in Hong Kong just over 18 months ago.
“I’m very hopeful I will be,” Thyagarajan said when asked about his chances of selection for the tour to Malaysia. “I’ve been able to come back to full fitness and I’ve been scoring in the league so I have my fingers crossed I’ll be named in the final 14.” Thyagarajan missed most of the Southern California Cricket Association season in 2011, only making five appearances out of 16 matches in the 45-over competition and scoring one half-century.
However, he is among the leading scorers in the SCCA Division One competition for Hollywood CC in 2012, notching 350 runs in eight innings at an average of 50.00. His current form is superb, with three half-centuries (91, 83, and 78) in his last four innings playing on turf wickets at Woodley Park in Los Angeles. Thyagarajan credits the return to form on an improved training regimen after a frustrating rehabilitation process.
“I think the most difficult part of the process has been trying to come back to full fitness without having a dedicated trainer or a dedicated program to follow and that’s one of the pitfalls of being an amateur cricketer in the United States,” Thyagarajan said. “The rehab process turned out to be longer than expected.”
Image (right) - Aditya Thyagarajan in action vs. Jersey at 2010 ICC WCL Division Five in Nepal. [Courtesy: ICC/Daniela Zaharia]
“For about a year or so I was not able to do heavy cardio in the gym or play to my full potential, but the good signs have been in the last two to three months where I’m spending two hours in the gym and doing spin classes four days a week for an hour. In terms of playing for Hollywood, I’m also seeing a lot of improvement. I’m able to bat long. I’m able to bat a full quota of overs without a break. Most heartening is being able to go and field in the outfield. One of the other main things was over the last three months I’ve lost 10 pounds of weight.”
“My wife has been the most instrumental in helping me and motivating me to come back. She has really pushed me hard to go to the gym every day and she makes my meals and all of them are made with the intention that I lose weight. A lot of salads, baked and steamed food, cutting down on the curry and fried food.”
Thyagarajan had been using a brace at all times on the field to protect his knee when he first made a return to club cricket for Hollywood in 2011. It had been causing some problems initially but after almost a year of using it at all times, Thyagarajan decided a few months ago that his knee was stable enough to go without it while fielding and now only uses it while batting.
“To set things straight, when I field and I bowl I don’t play with a brace, I play only with a sleeve,” Thyagarajan said. “I started doing that about one and a half months back and the reason I did that is that with the brace there is some restriction in terms of fielding. Now there is no brace, there is only a sleeve, a sock like material on top of my knee. With that I definitely saw a lot of improvement. The reason I played with a brace for awhile was I just wanted to make sure I had the required stability before removing it.”
“When batting was when the injury happened so while batting I’m wearing a rubber brace on top of the sleeve and I don’t even feel it because I’m wearing pads and what not so in terms of batting that’s when I’m wearing a rubber brace which is really flexible and I’m able to run between the wickets and bat like how I used to prior to the injury. From a mental standpoint, it’s not in my mind anymore and it’s been like that for six or eight weeks now where I just don’t think about it.”
While Thyagarajan has been able to bat without any issues for Hollywood this season playing one match a weekend, the next test is seeing how his body will hold up playing on back-to-back days, which is how the World Cricket League tournaments are structured. Thyagarajan believes he will be able to manage without any complications because the stiffness that initially appeared last year after playing in matches in the early stages of his comeback has now stopped.
“I’m extremely confident of playing back-to-back days,” Thyagarajan said. “I’ve tried my best to simulate that scenario. I played a Twenty20 tournament with back-to-back games so I haven’t faced any issues. I think the main thing is the stiffness after games is absolutely gone now and that’s the key indication.”
“I’ve been able to bowl and bat well that I think is directly proportional to the weight I’ve lost in the two hours a day I’ve been able to dedicate to the gym for the last six weeks. That’s what I think has caused a tremendous improvement in terms of stamina and being able to bat and bowl for long periods of time. Another key observation I’ve had in the last six weeks is that there has been absolutely no pain after the game. For any injury when you come back and start playing there is slight stiffness the next day in the morning. Now that stiffness is entirely gone. So these are small things which I’ve been pretty happy with.”
Thyagarajan expects that USA will field a strong team for the tour to Malaysia and the potential return of veteran players like himself and Steve Massiah will be vital to USA’s chances of gaining promotion to Division Three, which is projected to be held next year in Bermuda. Massiah missed the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in March after his travel was restricted during ongoing legal proceedings surrounding an alleged $50 million dollar mortgage fraud scheme involving Queens real estate broker Ed Ahmad. The U.S. government dismissed a case that was being built against Massiah and two others after sources claim that the three men agreed to a plea deal. Massiah now has his passport back and is free to travel outside the USA to play for the national team.
“I think the addition of Steve Massiah will be really important,” Thyagarajan said. “I think the opposition is really strong. Any time you have multiple teams from Asia, in my experience those teams have not been easy to play against. Not discounting Denmark and Tanzania one bit at all, but I think our major challenge will be against Malaysia and Singapore and this will be the third tournament where our game against Nepal will be really important.”
A top two finish for USA in this tournament would mean advancing to Division Three where they would face off against Bermuda, Italy, Oman, Uganda and another qualifier from Division Four. A top two finish at Division Three would clinch a spot at the 2014 ICC World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand. That would also open up the door to participate in the next ICC Intercontinental Cup four-day competition. However, failing to finish in the top two in Malaysia would be the end of their 2015 ICC World Cup qualification hopes.
“There is absolutely no scope for any mistake,” Thyagarajan said. “The tournament is so tight that any mistake can be the difference between going up, staying in the division and even going down. We have experienced ups and downs in 2010 and 2011. We have gone up a couple of divisions and then after beating eventual Division 3 champions Hong Kong in Hong Kong, we’ve also had the experience of going down. I think one of the things which is in our favor is that we have the experience of having gone through this and I think everyone understands there is no scope for a mistake. There will be pressure but I would still think USA will be the strongest team entering the tournament.”