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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
Veteran allrounder Orlando Baker says he’s ready for the opportunity to captain a young USA side at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament, which begins next Monday in Lauderhill, Florida at the Central Broward Regional Park. USA kicks off the tournament against Suriname at 10 a.m. on March 18 and Baker says he’s ready to take on more responsibility, not just as a captain but by bringing his talents to the fore with bat and ball as well.
“It’s a good feeling. It’s always a pleasure when you’re captaining your country so it’s an honor,” Baker told DreamCricket.com. “I’m looking forward to leading from the front. I’ve been around for a while now and I know a lot rests on my shoulders. I’m looking forward to take this opportunity to really showcase my talent and show what I can do. It’s always a challenge but I’m just going to go ahead and put my right foot forward and keep working hard.”
Image (right) - In 2010, Orlando Baker combined with Aditya Thyagarajan to produce the highest partnership for USA in Twenty20 matches, an unbroken 99-run stand for the seventh wicket against Ireland in Abu Dhabi. [Courtesy: Daniela Zaharia/USACA]
Baker previously captained USA in 2008 at the West Indies Cricket Board Cup 50-over tournament in Guyana. USA failed to win a game in that event, but the tournament provided opportunities for non-first choice players to get exposure such as Timroy Allen who made his USA debut against Barbados and took 1 for 26 in eight overs. Baker says he wants the players to enjoy themselves on the field and not feel pressure but at the same time they’ll need to adjust quickly to the demands of an ICC qualifying tournament that features eight games in seven days for USA.
“As you know, Twenty20 cricket is not a game that you have too much time,” Baker said. “I think new guys who are coming in, they have to learn pretty fast. There’s a few senior players – myself, Elmore [Hutchinson], [Barrington] Bartley comes back into the team – and then you have Ryan Corns there, Japen Patel, guys who have been around. I think myself and those guys have to really carry the bulk of the work in this tournament. A lot is gonna depend on me as a senior player and the captain but maybe one or two guys will rise to the occasion.”
With several first choice players missing out on this tournament in order to have enough time off work for 2013 ICC World Cricket League Division Three next month in Bermuda, USA’s Twenty20 squad includes a few fresh faces competing in an ICC tourney for the first time and one in which their endurance and conditioning will be severely tested. The top two teams out of Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Suriname and USA will advance to the 2013 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE. Only six out of this 14-man squad were part of the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier squad that played a grueling nine matches in 11 days in the UAE.
The fast bowling department looks particularly thin for USA without Allen and Usman Shuja. With only 14 caps, Hutchinson is the senior fast bowler in the squad and as a result, fellow left-arm seamer Naseer Jamali is expected to get plenty of opportunities after debuting in The Auty Cup last November. However, there are no specialist pacemen besides them in a spin heavy bowling unit.
On the batting side, Steven Taylor is the only man in the squad who has been a significant contributor with the bat over the past year and the absence of Sushil Nadkarni, USA’s leading scorer from 2012, creates a big hole to fill. Rather than be worried about the overall inexperience, Baker says this is a chance for younger players to push for a regular spot and increase the level of competition within the national team.
Image (left) - Steven Taylor will be looking for a good foil at the top of the order in the absence of Sushil Nadkarni. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
“There’s a lot of guys there,” Baker said. “You can’t really say someone will fill Sushil’s role. It’s just that somebody has to open with Steven. There’s a lot of guys, Timmy [Surujbally] who has come in as an opener. You have Ryan [Corns] who has batted up the order for the US before. You have young [Nicholas] Standford, even myself. When we get to Florida with Robin [Singh] the coach and the management staff, I think we’ll get to that point when we get there.”
“I’m not worried about the depth,” Baker said. “I think guys have been waiting for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to guys standing up and try and grab the opportunity, try and push the players in the squad for Bermuda. That’s the challenge these guys have ahead. They have to come here and perform. They’ve been given a chance. A lot of people have been calling for younger guys in the US team. You look at this team and it’s a really young team. This is their chance and they have the opportunity to showcase themselves and push their claims.”
The format of the ICC Americas tournament was a single round-robin event in 2011, but that has been revised in the region as a result of Canada not participating in this year’s tournament due to automatic qualification for the World Twenty20 Qualifier after a top-six finish in the same event last year. Instead of a six-team ICC Americas event with everyone playing each other once across six days, this year will see five teams all playing each other twice for a total of eight matches per team crammed into seven days. Although it will be taxing, Baker says there is a silver lining with more players getting more chances to show their stuff on the field and have as much time as possible out in the middle.
“It’s gonna be really tough. There’s going to be a lot of cricket. I think the players themselves have gotta take care of themselves,” Baker said. “If you look back at the  tournament in Dubai, it was really tough. We’ve been getting a program. Robin sent out a program over the last couple of months for guys to be working on physically so I’m expecting everyone to be ready come March 17. I welcome the opportunity. It’s a challenge but I welcome the opportunity to play more games. At least you get to see more players. Players get more opportunities so I welcome the challenge. It’ll be tough but as I said if each individual player is following the training program, the physical program, they should be ready come March 17.”
“I’m not feeling pressure. I’ve played a lot of cricket over the years for the US and outside of the US before I became a member of the team. I’m just looking forward to the challenge. I like challenges. It’s something that I always look up to. I think when I have challenges, that’s when I get the best out of me. I’m looking forward to it. I’m not worried about pressure or worried about senior guys who aren’t there because at the end of the day we all have to perform.”
DreamCricket.com will have live coverage for all of USA’s matches at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament beginning with the opening contest on Monday, March 18 against Suriname. Coverage begins at 9:30 a.m. EST with the first ball scheduled to be sent down at 10 a.m.