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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
One of the least experienced USA squads at international level in recent years will take the field this week in Florida at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament, yet the expectations remain as high as they would if the usual veteran faces were present. USA enters this week’s ICC qualification event with six players who have never participated in an ICC tournament and several more who only have one or two under their belts, but anything less than finishing in the top two in this event would be a colossal disappointment.
“We have a lot of young talent and at least on paper we should be the strongest team in the tournament,” allrounder Ryan Corns said over the weekend ahead of USA’s first match against Cayman Islands on Monday at 10 a.m. “I’m looking forward to playing some really good cricket and I honestly expect us to come out on top with the kind of talent we have.”
With Canada out of the picture having already qualified for the 2013 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE, USA and Bermuda are the favorites to come away with the two spots up for grabs in the Americas region for the 16-team global qualifier in November. Six players in this unit were part of the USA squad that participated in the 2012 World Twenty20 Qualifier and went through the grind of seven games in eight days during the group stage. They will be drawing on that experience to get through eight games in seven days in this event, including seven games in the first five days.
“I think that it’s going to be a challenge for some of the guys who probably haven’t played so many games of that level in such a short time but we have been following the training sessions and curriculum sent by coach already,” offspinner Abhimanyu Rajp said. “I know I’ve been working on it for the past couple of months and I hope everyone else who was selected is doing the same thing. If everyone has been working on it then it should not be a factor.”
Despite the fact that he is only 22, Corns is the third most experienced player in this team having played 15 games for USA since his debut in 2011. Only captain Orlando Baker and Steven Taylor have more matches at the senior level for USA within this squad. Corns says he’s looking forward to the added responsibility that could be placed on him in the absence of some of the familiar names who aren’t a part of this squad.
“With the likes of the regular players who’ve been playing a long time such as Sushil [Nadkarni], Aditya Thyagarajan and other players, they were players that the team always expected to be the mainstays of the team and always get runs but I guess now we don’t have those players to fall back on,” Corns said. “So for this tournament I’m guessing players that do have more experience such as myself, Baker, Steven Taylor and Elmore Hutchinson, I guess we’ll be the players that the new players will be looking at to perform well.”
Image (right) - Tall left-arm seamer Elmore Hutchinson will be tasked with leading the USA pace attack in this week's tournament in Florida. [Courtesy: ICC/Barry Chambers]
As for newer members of the squad, Corns says two players in particular caught his attention while playing alongside them in November at The Auty Cup against Canada. Left-arm paceman Naseer Jamali and left-arm spinner Danial Ahmed both made impressive debuts and Corns says he wouldn’t be surprised if they step up to have a big impact this week in Florida.
“I’m very excited to see how Naseer Jamali does,” Corns said. “He did play in The Auty Cup and he bowled pretty damn well in the two-day game. The Canadian batsmen were struggling quite a bit against him so I’m looking forward to see how he performs. A couple weeks ago we played in the Friendship Cup in Florida. I saw him play a couple games and he looks in pretty good form. Another player is Danial Ahmed. He played in The Auty Cup and I was pretty damn impressed with his consistency, his ability to just stop the runs and all the Canadian batsmen struggled a bit against him.”
Ahmed says that after opening the bowling in the second Twenty20 match USA played against Canada in November, he’s prepared himself for the possibility that USA may use him in that role again in this tournament. In the past, offspinner Muhammad Ghous has filled that role with success for USA and Ahmed said he has changed his training approach in the months since The Auty Cup to get himself ready for this challenge.
“There’s a very good possibility that I might be opening the bowling in some games,” Ahmed said. “If I do well I’ll continue to do that and I don’t mind doing that. At the top, batsmen are very reluctant to play a spinner who is bowling within the stumps. I don’t waste my balls by bowling outside the stumps. I just go for the kill.”
“I was not comfortable at all [opening the bowling] in The Auty Cup because I’d never done it before in my life. That’s the first time I did it with the new ball. In the East vs. West practice game before The Auty Cup, Robin [Singh] came up to me and asked me to bowl with the new ball to William Perkins and I said sure I’ll do it. That was the first conversation I ever had with Robin. So I bowled that game with the new ball but in The Auty Cup, my confidence was very high. I just came out of the two-day game against Canada and I said to myself I could do it because it’s not like they are out of this world batsmen. They are just like us. I can get them out. So I just bowled based on my confidence in that [Twenty20] game but ever since I came back… in practice I used to always practice with a very old ball but ever since The Auty Cup I’ve been practicing bowling with a new ball to work on my control.”
Ahmed has set himself a lofty goal of being the leading wicket-taker in the tournament. He says he gained a tremendous amount of confidence after playing in The Auty Cup and has set himself a target of taking 25 wickets, “three per game plus one more”, in this event.
“I think skill wise there are a lot more skilled spinners,” Ahmed said. “What matters the most at this level, what I’ve learned so far at this level it’s not so much what skills you have. It’s your mental ability to make sure you stay on top of your game and to be positive while you’re bowling. I think I have improved mentally as a bowler. I know when the pressure is on what needs to be done, how to make sure I’m in control of myself. I think that’s the most important thing for me and I’ve learned to control myself.”
On the batting side, the order is a complete crap shoot beyond Taylor opening. However, Corns had a very successful experience in the USA Friendship Cup Twenty20 earlier this month batting at number three for the US Tigers club side and hopes that may have opened the door for him to potentially get chances higher up the order for USA in this tournament. Corns entered at number three on his debut for USA against Italy at 2011 ICC WCL Division Three in Hong Kong, but hasn’t batted any higher than five since then for the national team.
“I felt like a million bucks in just about every game,” Corns said of his experience at the Friendship Cup, which was played March 1-3 inside the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, the same venue being used for the ICC Americas tournament. “I’m hoping I get the chance to bat up the order. In the previous tournaments when I’ve been given opportunities to bat I think I just put too much pressure on myself. In this Friendship Cup tournament, when I went out to bat I was completely relaxed. I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself and it was showing in my performances. I just need to, when I go out to bat, not put any pressure on myself and just go out and bat and play how I know I can play. I need to motivate myself because I know that I can be an attacking batsman although some people might not believe that. I have a feeling that in this tournament I will prove to people that I can be a Twenty20 batsman.”
Even though the tournament begins on a Monday, USACA elected not to fly the 14-man squad into Florida on Friday in order to give everyone two days to train together over the weekend before the first match. Hutchinson admits the lack of a team training session before the start of the tournament is a slight worry but said the players are experienced enough to not let it get to them.
“These guys have already played so they know what it takes and they know what they need to do,” Hutchinson said. “In anything we always need to stick together as a team so it will be a little bit tough but most of us can use our experience and the training we do. There’s a little concern but once we get out there I think everything will be just fine.”
DreamCricket.com will have live text commentary coverage for all of USA’s matches at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 Tournament, beginning with the first game against Cayman Islands on Monday, March 18. Coverage will begin at 9:30 a.m. EST with the first balls scheduled for 10 a.m. EST.