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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
Click here for Part 1 - Team Grades & Part 2 Player Grades
What the team needs heading into the 2013 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier
Reinforcements – The 14-man squad that was assembled in Florida last month was adequate for the purposes of qualification out of the ICC Americas region. However, an 8-0 record is a flattering depiction of their true abilities when measured up against the full strength units they’ll be matched up against in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah this November.
In its current form, the squad would struggle to go head to head with the ICC’s High Performance Program Associate & Affiliate teams that populate the ICC Intercontinental Cup and WCL Championship. Because USA’s players are not full-time professionals, it has always been a challenge to get the best 11 on the field when trying to bank enough time off work, especially for a two to three week tour like the one to the UAE.
However, now is as good a time as any to make a push for a top six finish in order to clinch a spot at the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. The squad that went 8-0 in Florida would stand no chance of finishing in the top six in the UAE but if quality reinforcements are brought in and the depth improved, there is no doubt that USA could secure one of the six berths available for the main event in Bangladesh.
At the top of the list of reinforcements is Sushil Nadkarni. He was the team’s leading scorer while captaining an inexperienced side at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in 2012, but struggled at times due to the excessive burden placed on him to score runs with the batting depth thin beyond him. Steven Taylor’s maturation over the 12 months since the last global qualifier eases that burden on Nadkarni, if he is available to come on the tour.
Akeem Dodson’s success in the top three last month presents USA with more options too. While Nadkarni and Taylor play in an identical style as boundary blasters, Dodson presented a good foil for Taylor as someone capable of turning over the strike and provided good support with lightning quick running between the wickets. Their chemistry was evident on the last two days of the tournament with a 68-run opening stand against Bermuda and a record breaking 155-run partnership against Cayman Islands.
Image (right) - Akeem Dodson's progress with the bat has opened up several possibilities for USA both in the batting lineup and behind the stumps. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
The tandem of Taylor and Nadkarni is USA’s undisputed best opening combo in 50-over cricket but it may provide more stability and depth for USA if Nadkarni comes in at number three in the Twenty20 team instead of opening. Nadkarni came in one down against Bermuda in Sharjah last year at the global qualifier to accommodate for the success that Taylor and Aditya Mishra had opening the batting together in USA’s win over Scotland in the previous match. Nadkarni top-scored with 48 off 30 balls in a 34-run USA win over Bermuda so batting at first drop wouldn’t be completely foreign to him and he may be open to the possibility of batting from there again.
Beyond the top three, bringing in Rashard Marshall and Timroy Allen would also do wonders for USA’s depth in the Twenty20 format. Allen’s 72 not out off 43 balls against Malaysia in a 50-over match at ICC WCL Division Four last September is fresh in the minds of USA’s fans, but perhaps less so is the stunning performance he turned in against the UAE in a warm-up match on the eve of the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier.
Allen entered in the 12th over with the score 67 for 6 after Aditya Thyagarajan and Rashard Marshall had just been run out on back-to-back balls. The target was 142 but Allen’s 32-run eighth wicket partnership with Usman Shuja turned the match around. The pair took 22 off the 16th over to get USA back into the game. Shuja was out on the first ball of the 18th and Saurabh Verma was out next ball for USA’s fourth runout of the match. USA needed 23 off 16 balls with one wicket in hand, but Allen did the heavy lifting in partnership with Imran Awan to take USA to a one-wicket win. Allen finished 57 not out off 26 balls coming in at number eight that day. It was a confidence booster for the whole team and set the tone for their six-wicket upset of Scotland two days later on the first day of the tournament.
Aside from his prodigious blasts with the bat, Allen’s versatility with the ball in being able to bowl medium pace or offspin is also immense to the team and having him in the starting 11 is like playing with 13 men on the field. USA also played the ICC Americas tournament without Muhammad Ghous, who tied for the team lead in wickets at the global qualifier in 2012 and was also the team’s most economical bowler at the event.
Image (left) - Timroy Allen's versatility is a valuable asset for USA and his inclusion in the squad for the 2013 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier would make USA a much more formidable opponent. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
In USA’s brief history of Twenty20 cricket since their first matches in the format at the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier, Ghous is USA’s leading wicket-taker with 19 scalps. Allen is tied for second at 17 with Abhimanyu Rajp while Ryan Corns is tied for fourth with 16. When analyzing their stats, each one brings something different to the table with Ghous the most economical (5.89), Allen the best average (15.59), Corns the best strike rate (15.38) while Rajp also is an aggressive wicket-taking option with a strike rate of 18.00. Having all four in USA’s squad for a tour to the UAE would be ideal, especially with the allround skills that Allen and Corns offer.
Another wildcard is the presence of Josh Dascombe, who will be eligible to compete for USA in the global qualifier. The 19-year-old US citizen residing in Brisbane, Australia is an intriguing prospect for the national team. Although he is used more for his bowling in Brisbane grade cricket, his batting and fielding would be of bigger value within the USA squad due to the glut of spin options already present.
In the same vein as Dascombe, it remains to be seen if USACA will pursue the services of former Sri Lankan Test batsman Jehan Mubarak, who was born in Washington, D.C. Mubarak last represented Sri Lanka in June 2009 at the ICC World Twenty20 in England. If the 32-year-old maintained US citizenship from birth, he would be eligible to play for USA by the middle of this summer having not represented Sri Lanka in the last four years.
There’s also the possibility for Mishra, Shuja and Thyagarajan to all fight for regaining a place in the squad as well. Mishra had two half-centuries for USA at the global qualifier last year while Thyagarajan’s 72 not out against Ireland in 2010 was the USA T20 record until Taylor broke it last month. Shuja has been an experienced performer for a long time too. Their removals from the USA squad over the last few months were harsh but demonstrated that no one can take their spots for granted. The competition for places in a 14-man touring party has gotten more intense.
A favorable draw – It’s not just having a power packed lineup that will allow USA to compete for a spot in the top six at the global qualifier in the UAE. USA will have their fingers crossed about being placed in a group during the initial round-robin stage that will give them matchups that play to the strengths and against the weaknesses of the USA team.
Among the teams that finished in the top six at the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier, USA should feel confident about their chances in a one-off fixture against three of the sides: Scotland, Namibia and Canada. USA has not only beat Scotland both times they’ve played them at the global qualifier, but done so in fairly convincing fashion by six and seven wickets in 2010 and 2012 respectively. Namibia went undefeated in the group stage last year, but USA ran them very tough through the first 15 overs of their chase before ultimately losing by 17 runs. Canada is a side that continues to slip into decline and a developmental USA squad split a pair of T20s last November at The Auty Cup in Florida against what was essentially a full strength Canada team.
USA is guaranteed to have to face one of the top two Associate & Affiliate sides – Ireland and Afghanistan – in group play, but if they get a favorable draw with two out of Canada, Namibia and Scotland also in their group, USA’s prospects for a top three finish within group play will brighten. The retirement of Ireland fast bowler Boyd Rankin from international competition will also make USA’s batsmen breathe a sigh of relief since he was their chief tormentor in the contest between the two sides last year when he bowled a spell of 4 for 9 in four overs with a maiden.
Image (right) - USA had no answer for express pace they faced at the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier from the likes of Ireland's Boyd Rankin. [Courtesy: ICC/Barry Chambers]
Rankin’s success was a harbinger for USA’s struggles against top flight pace bowling elsewhere in the tournament. The only other times USA looked truly out of their depth were against Kenya and Hong Kong. Kenya’s Nelson and Nehemiah Odhiambo took a combined 5 for 30 in 7.2 overs while Hong Kong’s Aizaz Khan claimed 5 for 25 in his four-over spell against USA. The speed those bowlers generate is something that most players in the USA never see at the domestic level and are ill-equipped to deal with at the international level.
Pace in the 130-140 kph range is USA’s kryptonite and avoiding teams that possess it will be key to USA’s chances of success. If USA was given the option of facing an Afghanistan attack featuring Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran and Hamid Hassan or an Ireland attack minus Boyd Rankin, Ireland’s current bowling unit will always be seen as the lesser of two evils. It’s worth noting that in the only two T20 matches between Ireland and USA, Ireland’s left-arm orthodox spinner George Dockrell had spells of 4-0-42-0 and 4-0-20-0. USA’s approach to world class spin is better than its approach to world class pace.
If the ICC sticks to the same tournament format used in the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier of two eight-team groups playing seven round-robin matches apiece with the top three in each group advancing to the next phase, a draw USA wouldn’t mind having in November would be Ireland (1st in 2012), Namibia (3rd in 2012), Canada (6th in 2012), Nepal (7th in 2012, runner-up at 2013 ACC T20), Papua New Guinea (8th in 2012, winner of 2013 ICC East Asia-Pacific T20), Uganda (14th in 2012, runner-up at 2013 ICC Africa T20) and one of the two qualifiers from Europe. Conversely, a draw of Afghanistan (runner-up in 2012, 1st at 2013 ACC T20), the Netherlands (4th in 2012), Scotland (5th in 2012), Kenya (9th in 2012, 1st at 2013 ICC Africa T20), Hong Kong (12th in 2012, 4th at 2013 ACC T20), UAE (host country, 3rd at 2013 ACC T20), and one of the two qualifiers from Europe would be an absolute nightmare for USA to deal with.
Before all that happens though, USA will at the very least have a pair of Twenty20 fixtures against Canada this July during The Auty Cup tour. It would be very beneficial for USA if something else can be organized to fill the three to four month gap in the calendar between that tour and the start of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in November.
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author who was present at all of the team's matches during the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in Florida.]