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By Peter Della Penna in Kuala Lumpur (on Twitter)
Nineteen months after the heartache of a last place finish and relegation in Hong Kong, USA will attempt to reestablish a positive presence in 50-over cricket on Monday at 2012 ICC WCL Division Four in Kuala Lumpur, the next phase of qualifying for the 2015 ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. USA needs a top two finish to advance back into ICC WCL Division Three, which will take place next year in Bermuda from April 28-May 5.
USA captain Steve Massiah makes his return to the squad after missing the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier when his travel was restricted after a November arrest in connection with an alleged $50 million mortgage fraud scheme. Speaking publicly for the first time since November, Massiah said at the captains’ press conference on the eve of the tournament that he doesn’t feel he let the team down at all for having to miss the tour to the UAE.
“I don’t think I’ve let the team down,” Massiah said. “Due to certain personal circumstances I wasn’t able to make it. I’m here to do my best for the United States of America, do whatever it takes for us to achieve qualification.”
Image (right) - Steve Massiah at the opening press conference for 2012 ICC WCL Division Four in Malaysia. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
Two other players returning to the squad on this tour are Timroy Allen and Aditya Thyagarajan. Both players are making comebacks after injuries.
“It’s a pleasure to be back and first and foremost I must say I really do appreciate the selectors giving me this opportunity, helping the USA get back where we’re supposed to be. It felt really good to be back with my teammates,” Allen said. He also doesn’t want to go home regretting a missed opportunity and wants to get the event started with a win against Malaysia in the opening match at Bayuemas Oval.
“It’s a long flight here and I really don’t want to go back home without holding something so I’m really ready for this tournament. I have no doubt in my team that we’ll come out on top in this game because these guys are basically hungry for a win and we want to give all our spectators back home something to start off with and we don’t want to fall in a hole right off the top.”
Allen took 2 for 37 in 10 overs in the team’s warm-up match win over Denmark on Thursday. Massiah says Allen’s value to USA is immense because of the many ways in which he can be used.
“He performs a dual role for me in the sense that he opens the bowling and also I have the option of using him as a spinner if the wicket is conducive to it and he’s a tremendous lower order batsman,” Massiah said. “In my humble opinion he’s probably the most talented cricketer in America.”
Meanwhile, Thyagarajan top scored with 48 coming in at number four in the warm-up match against Denmark, his first match in a USA uniform since injuring his right knee at 2011 ICC WCL Division Three in Hong Kong, and says he’s looking forward to the opportunity to make his mark once more for USA.
“It’ll be a personal challenge playing six games in eight days first tournament after injury but I’m looking forward to it and positive that I’ll be able to get through it and hopefully do well for the team,” Thyagarajan said. Allen says he’s extremely happy to make a return to the squad alongside Thyagarajan.
“Aditya has always been a fighter for us,” Allen said. “It’s not like we’re gonna go out and depend on one batsman, but that’s one person you can really depend on. If he gets out, it’s not because of a crazy shot. He probably got a good ball. He’s patient and focused and I just love when he’s in the team.”
One player who looked noticeably slimmer during the team’s training session on Sunday was Sushil Nadkarni, who says he’s lost 10 to 15 pounds through a refined training regimen since the team returned in March from the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier.
“After the Dubai tour and working with Robin a little bit in that tournament, I kind of realized some of the things I needed to work on when I was putting my time in the gym,” Nadkarni said. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t putting time in the gym before, but I just realized after talking to him and others where I should be focusing or what are the different things I should be doing. So I’ve been focusing on a lot of sprinting, a lot of running. I’ve been doing some weight training as well so I’m trying to do activities that would help me optimize or maximize my performance on the cricket field.”
As far as the team composition for the first match against Malaysia, the tour management may have a difficult decision on their hands with key players Usman Shuja, Aditya Mishra and Steven Taylor all arriving in Malaysia on Sunday afternoon less than 24 hours before the start of the tournament. All three looked exhausted at the tournament’s opening ceremony just a few hours removed from more than 20 hours of flights from the USA. Massiah says their status will be assessed in the morning before a game-time decision is made.
Image (left) - USA's Akeem Dodson, Andy Mohammed, Abhimanyu Rajp, bowling coach Charlie Javed and Ryan Corns at the the tournament opening ceremony. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
“It’s the first game and we’d like to start on a winning note so probably we’ll go with our best combination for tomorrow because it’s important that we start well so this way we’re not behind the eight ball,” Massiah said. “We’ll make a game time decision tomorrow as to how they feel. But obviously it’ll take them at least two days for them to recover. Hopefully they can be fine. We trust their judgment and we’ll do whatever it takes to help the team so we just have to see how they feel.”
USA has gone through a similar situation in the recent past with poor results. At 2010 ICC WCL Division Five in Nepal, Nadkarni missed the first two matches while attending to some work obligations back in Texas, then flew in and was slotted back into the lineup straightaway against Jersey and Singapore for the third and fourth matches of the tournament. He made 1 off 7 balls and a golden duck respectively so Nadkarni is very aware of the challenge that lies ahead for Shuja, Mishra and Taylor.
“Talking about myself, it was tough,” Nadkarni said. “It was about a 25-hour flight and then a change in timings and everything. It was a little bit tough to get into the ground and play an international game the next day. Overall it does take its toll on your body and you might find yourself a little sluggish in the field because your body is trying to catch up to the time differences, etc.”
Thyagarajan knows this will be a tough event, but if they can grind out a top two finish, the path ahead will be easier in the spring at 2013 WCL Division Three where Bermuda, Italy, Oman and Uganda await the two teams that get promoted at the end of this tournament in Malaysia.
“I think this will be an extremely tough tournament,” Thyagarajan said. “This reminds me of the Division Five tournament in Nepal. Like I said then, if we get through Five, we’ll surely get through Four. I say the same thing here. If we get through Four, we’ll surely get through Three. Everybody needs to play really well.”
DreamCricket.com will have live coverage for all of USA’s matches at 2012 ICC WCL Division Four beginning with the team’s first match on Monday against Malaysia from Bayuemas Oval. Each match is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. local time, 10:30 p.m. EST and 7:30 p.m. PST the previous day in America.