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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
For the first time, an ICC Americas U-19 squad has been assembled to take part in the West Indies Cricket Board Regional U-19 One-Day Tournament beginning August 19 in Barbados with 17 players from Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands and USA coming together to take on teams from Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Leeward Islands, Trinidad & Tobago and Windward Islands. ICC Americas Performance Officer Andy Pick believes this group of players has the ability to put in strong enough performances to earn the respect of the Caribbean nations and that it will hopefully open the door for an ICC Americas team to be a regular participant in the WICB Regional U-19 Tournament.
“One of the first things that Wendell [Coppin] and I took on when we came into the job, we needed to try and get more opportunities from our Full Member, the West Indies,” Pick said in an interview over the weekend prior to arriving in Barbados. “While in the past, they’ve invited individual countries, Bermuda, Canada more recently, the USA occasionally as well, we wanted to see if we could get some opportunities for the best players in the region to play at a higher standard. We’ve stressed to [the WICB] that we’re not looking for financial help. All we want is opportunities for our players and umpires and people like that.”
Pick says that getting an ICC Americas U-19 team to be a part of the WICB Regional U-19 Tournament was a two and a half year process and that Coppin, the ICC Americas Regional Development Officer, did much of the behind the scenes work to help make it possible.
“A huge amount of credit must go to Wendell,” Pick said. “It’s been ideal having him in the West Indies and we’ve forged closer links with the West Indies Cricket Board on the back of Wendell being there, being an ex-employee, knowing the people but also being on the ground and chatting to these people both formally and informally. Hopefully it’s the first of a few such opportunities whether they be at junior level or senior level. We sent a women’s team out to Trinidad as well.”
One of the reasons for making the case for a combined team was that Pick feels the group would be more competitive than having one of the region’s Associate teams participate on its own, with recent results at the senior level showing that individual countries have struggled. However, if the best players from each Associate nation in the region came together, it would give everyone a chance to help raise the profile of the players and the country they come from through good performances.
“We do have some talented players,” Pick said. “From an individual country point of view, yes, we’re probably not strong enough to put teams into those tournaments. But as a group, for me as performance manager, if I can get five or six of the best USA boys, five or six of the best Canadians, two from Cayman, do it the way we’re doing it, 17 boys are going to get an opportunity to play international cricket down there and have a chance to show what we can do. The hope is that we are successful on the field, that we conduct ourselves properly and that we turn up and show people what cricket is about in the Americas and that it will lead to future opportunities with a bit of luck.”
USA has six representatives in the team including Salman Ahmad, Cameron Mirza, Mital Patel, Gurpreet Sandhu, Hammad Shahid and Steven Taylor. Other notable players participating are Sacha de Alwis from the Cayman Islands, Canada’s Manny Aulakh, Nikhil Dutta and Nitish Kumar as well as Bermuda’s Kamau Leverock and Joshua Gilbert.
Image (left) - USA's Cameron Mirza will be one of the players in Barbados as part of the ICC Americas U-19 squad. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
“I’ll be looking to win as many games as possible,” Pick said. “I honestly think that if we play well, we’ll push a lot of these teams for sure and we need to. We’re certainly not turning up to be also-rans. We need to turn up and put on a good show so that hopefully there will be board members from other islands and they’ll raise an eyebrow. We might look for individual opportunities within individual islands as opposed to collectively all the time from the WICB. All of those things will hinge on how we carry ourselves and the image we portray both on and off the field.”
In addition to Pick and Coppin, the coaching staff will also be boosted by the presence of Chris Brown, an ECB spin bowling coach, and Philip Hudson, ICC Europe Performance Manager. Both Brown and Hudson are ECB Level Four coaches. The team arrived in Barbados on Sunday night for a week of preparation ahead of their first match against Barbados on August 19. Much of the focus will be on the approach players take and their performance within the practice sessions to determine who plays and who doesn’t.
“We’ll be looking for people who can apply themselves in different situations and show an understanding of some tactical know-how when it comes to trying to affect outcomes of games,” Pick said. “We’ll be looking for people that are prepared to play as a unit and as a team and are prepared to play a role within that team as opposed to it being all about themselves and their own performance. The biggest thing I’m looking for at this age is people who want to learn, who want to work. You’ll find that some people turn up and think it is some sort of a right to be there because they’ve done fairly well [in their own region] and everybody tells them what a great player they are. One of the things we’ve stated from the start is that we’ll select you on performance.”
Pick says special emphasis will be placed on match simulation during training sessions so that they can get plenty of repetitions for things they might encounter during the matches themselves. Another key advantage of doing simulations as opposed to practice matches is that if a player gets out first ball, you can re-insert him later on during a simulation so that he still gets a fair opportunity to show what he’s capable of.
“On one day we’ll have three and a half hours and during that time we’ll probably have the top four batters and three seamers and we will have maybe three gos at the first eight overs,” Pick said. “The first time we try it we might say to the batters, we’re gonna look to hit a boundary every over. That’s our target and then pick up singles. For the bowlers, it’ll be about keeping things tight, looking at different field placings. We might have our two catchers at slip and gully and people are gonna be in saving one. We’ll score that on the iPad and then for the second group of eight overs, we might say we’re gonna change the program. Same batters, same bowlers, but now we’re gonna look to score as many singles as possible. For the bowlers, we’re gonna have our two catchers in front, short extra and short midwicket and see if that makes a difference. Two blokes in there, everyone else can drop back on the ring because we’ve got two guys in front of the wicket that can hopefully stop the singles.”
“Then we might look at middle order. We might look at two spinners bowling two lots of 12. So we might look at two lots of eight, two lots of 12 in that three and a half hours. The middle 12, we’ll pick three spinners and we’ll have people batting from three or four down to six or seven. We’ll score of all that, we’ll keep all the stats together and then in the evening we’ll have a debrief meeting, have a look at the stats. We’ll look at what worked and what didn’t work, batter’s strike rates, bowler’s runs per over. Then the next day we might have a number five batting with a number nine and it’ll be the last six overs and they need 18. So the number nine has to bat and stay there and the number five has to score runs. That’s how it’ll be, short segments. We might do a power play and do five over segments. We have four afternoons and a morning dedicated to this. If somebody gets out first ball, there’s every chance they’ll get another two or three bats that day. So all the batters will get a good chance to bat, all the bowlers will get a good chance to bowl.”
One other thing Pick says he’ll spend some time on with the players will be educating them on their use of social media. With the role Twitter has played in controversies over the last couple of years such as Philip Hughes and Kevin Pietersen, Pick says that every coach should be having a discussion with their players on the ramifications and consequences of what they write and say using these platforms.
“Things like Twitter and Facebook, I think as a coach nowadays of this sort of age group especially you have to include some sort of education on that so we’ll be talking to players about just being careful about what they write and what they say and that ultimately people will be held accountable for things that they say, not necessarily by us but by their board,” Pick said. “It’s quite easy for us. If somebody steps out of line on an ICC Academy or something like that, we get guys to sign a code of conduct and there is due process within that code of conduct that gives us the opportunity to suspend people from games, sessions or if the offense is a bad one then we send them home. We don’t ever have to include them again and wouldn’t. We’re not going to pick people to take away for two and a half weeks if we know it’s going to be a battle to control them.”
ICC Americas U-19 team match schedule at 2012 WICB Regional U-19 Tournament in Barbados
August 19 – vs. Barbados
August 22 – vs. Leeward Islands
August 23 – vs. Guyana
August 25 – vs. Windward Islands
August 27 – vs. Jamaica
August 29 – vs. Trinidad & Tobago