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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
In less than a week, USA will field seven first-time representatives at the senior level for during Canada’s tour to Florida as part of The Auty Cup. Danial Ahmed, Naseer Jamali, Timil Patel, Hammad Shahid, Saami Siddiqui, Nicholas Standford and Timothy Surujbally will all be traveling to Fort Lauderdale to put press their claims for a permanent spot in the USA lineup and give the selectors something extra to think about when they select teams in the spring for the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament and ICC World Cricket League Division Three.
“It was always a dream of mine to play for the country,” Standford said after being selected for the matches against Canada. Standford first came to New York from Barbados in 2004 and received his citizenship in 2011. He wants to leave an impression on US cricket in these matches in order to prevent it from being just a one and done assignment. “I’m picked now. I want to carry on. I’m 25. I’ve still got a lot of time to play some cricket. Hopefully this is the first of many tours.”
Siddiqui is another player holding the same sentiment. “I know I’ll be happy once I go there and do well,” Siddiqui said. “For me, just getting picked isn’t the end of the story. Real happiness is gonna come if I go and do well.”
Siddiqui previously represented the USA at the junior level as a wicketkeeper at the 2010 ICC U-19 World Cup in New Zealand. During USA’s qualifying phases in Canada, Siddiqui earned a Man of the Match award in a win over the Netherlands when he completed a catch, three stumpings, teamed up for a runout with Saqib Saleem and scored 18 with the bat in a 33-run win. The bond with his USA U-19 teammates is still strong as Siddiqui initially found out he’d been picked for the matches against Canada after receiving a text message from Ryan Corns, who will also be in the USA side against Canada in Florida.
Off the field, Siddiqui graduated last December from the University of California, Berkeley, after completing a double-major in Computer Science and Political Economics. He’s now working for a startup company in Silicon Valley. Balancing cricket with work is a lot easier than it was as a student for Siddiqui and he’s hoping that will allow him a chance to seriously push for a spot in the men’s side.
Image (right) - Naseer Jamali bowling against India with Saami Siddiqui keeping wicket during a 2010 ICC U-19 World Cup warm-up match in New Zealand. Two two have been picked to represent the USA men's side for the first time against Canada next week. [Courtesy: Daniela Zaharia]
“I don’t have to miss practices because of group projects or mid-terms and don’t have to miss games either,” Siddiqui said. “My schedule is more stable. It’s more manageable than it was. Also my club was about 45 minutes away from Berkeley so my time was limited.”
Of all the new players, the one who brings the most experience to the table is Los Angeles resident Patel. The 28-year-old played 38 first-class matches, scoring a century and taking two five-wicket hauls for Gujurat in India’s Ranji Trophy competition. In this year’s SCCA Division One regular season, he scored 500 runs at 62.50 with five half-centuries. Only USA batsman Aditya Thyagarajan and former Nepal U-19 captain Kanishka Chaugai finished higher on the runs list. Patel’s leg-spin accounted for 47 wickets at 9.77 in 16 matches for Vijayta CC as well. The next best bowler claimed 33 scalps.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Patel said about being picked. “My performances have paid off. It feels really good to be in the squad.”
Ahmed, 27, makes his way into the USA squad after being the leading wicket-taker in the Washington Cricket League in 2012. A left-arm spinner, Ahmed took 38 wickets at 5.89 in only 13 matches. The two players who finished behind him, former Atlantic Region U-19 player Haris Ilyas and former USA national team member Naseer Islam, took 31 wickets in 19 and 16 matches respectively. Ahmed feels that fitness will be a key aspect of the performances with USA playing four matches in four days.
“I’m very excited, ready to go, working hard in the gym, practicing hard every day,” Ahmed said.
After just missing the final 14 and being named a reserve player for USA’s last two tours, Surujbally finally cracked the 14-man squad for this event. The Trinidad native came to Florida in 2007 and has been captaining International CC in the SFCA, spending much of his time batting alongside club, league and regional teammate Steven Taylor. After dismantling bowling attacks together at the lower levels, Surujbally is hoping he’ll get the chance to work in tandem with Taylor in a USA uniform.
“I love playing with Steven Taylor,” Surujbally said. “We destroy a lot of people here. I always saying to him, one day me and him, I want to open with him on the USA team. We open bat for our club, we open bat for south Florida, we open bat on so many occasions. I think both of us, we have a good chemistry together.”
With USA’s fast bowling depth going thin since the departure of both Imran Awan and Kevin Darlington from the national team, Shahid and Jamali have been given an opportunity to develop their games and test themselves against a very good Canadian batting unit. Shahid has two campaigns under his belt with the USA U-19 team and plays in the very competitive SCCA Division One. After going to New Zealand in 2010 with the USA U-19 team, Jamali was on the fringes of selection for the USA squad that went to the UAE to the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. He spent the past summer playing league cricket in Middlesex, England for Uxbridge CC where he took 25 wickets, second most at the club in 2012 while bowling the most overs for Uxbridge.
Most of USA’s first choice players are missing for The Auty Cup due to work obligations. USA will play Canada in a two-day match for The Auty Cup beginning on November 14 followed by a 50-over match on November 16 and two T20s on November 17.