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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
Click here for Part 1 - Team Grades and Part 2 - Player Grades
Part 3 - Outlook for USA’s 50-over future
1. Sort out the coaching situation – According to multiple team sources, Robin Singh was furious when talking to the team over the phone from India after USA lost to Bermuda on the last day of round-robin play. It’s hard to understand why he was furious though. Was it because he took a bigger paycheck from the Mumbai Indians to be in India instead of with USA during the Division Three tournament?
Singh is understood to have spoken to the team or team management after every match in Bermuda. Coaching by conference call is no way to coach. At the U-19 and men’s level, USA’s only successes under Robin Singh and his crew have been a second-place finish last September at ICC WCL Division Four and against ICC Americas competition, which is the least competitive standard USA encounters in international play.
Image (right) - Robin Singh, pictured during a match-day training session at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in Florida, has USA way down the totem pole on his list of coaching priorities. Will he commit fully to USA or should USACA search elsewhere? [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
It is very hard to understand why Robin Singh is paid a princely sum for his services when the USA Cricket Association is an administrative pauper. A cash-strapped governing body certainly should be able to find a less expensive coaching option that will get them more value, specifically someone who is based in the USA and is willing to work with the players on a more consistent basis locally. Singh is paid to more or less be a chaperone on tours or as was the case in Bermuda, to consult by telephone rather than in person because he has higher priorities in India.
USACA needs to put their foot down once and for all to make Singh choose between coaching USA or sticking with his other commitments in Twenty20 franchise leagues around the world. If he wants to make more money coaching with the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League or the Khulna Royal Bengals in the Bangladesh Premier League then that's a perfectly normal decision. Coaching USA should be someone's first priority though, not their third, fourth or fifth.
2. Choose a new captain – Steve Massiah took over the role from Richard Staple as USA captain at the ICC Americas Division One tournament in August 2006. There are currently 42 international teams that USA has either played against from 2006-2013, been at the same tournament as USA in that time or are currently ranked above USA in the global 50-over rankings. Of those 42 teams, only three still have the same captain in 50-over cricket: Argentina (Esteban MacDermott), Papua New Guinea (Rarua Dikana) and Tanzania (Hamisi Abdallah).
It’s worth noting that not only has every ICC Full Member changed their 50-over captain in that time, but also every one of the High Performance Program Associate teams. Having a new captain is not necessarily a reflection of a regression in skills from the incumbent. It’s about having fresh ideas and fresh styles, trying something different when the status quo has not achieved desired results.
Image (left) - Steve Massiah, pictured batting against Uganda, has been USA captain since 2006, during which USA has failed to reach the ICC World Cup Qualifier in two consecutive World Cup qualification cycles. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
USA has effectively stood still in the global rankings since Massiah became captain. As a result of their 10th place finish at the 2005 ICC Trophy under Staple, USA was due to participate in 2007 ICC WCL Division Three in Australia before an ICC suspension dropped them down to Division Five. USA has since clawed back into Division Three twice. They were relegated from Division Three in 2011 and are now stuck there after a third place finish in 2013 instead of advancing to the 2014 ICC World Cup Qualifier. Prior to Massiah becoming captain, USA had participated in every single ICC Trophy, the former name of the ICC World Cup Qualifier, from 1979 through 2005. In seven years under Massiah's captaincy, no progress has been made and USA has arguably gone backwards after failing to reach the ICC World Cup Qualifier, let alone the main event, during two World Cup qualification cycles ahead of the 2011 and 2015 ICC World Cup.
Massiah is USA’s all-time leading scorer in one-day cricket and provided solid contributions at Division Three against Italy and Oman. However, his leadership has become stale and captaincy appears to have had some drain on his batting. He has not scored a century in tournament play since 2006. He doesn’t command a place in USA’s T20 team, let alone a spot as captain, with a T20 average of 11.00 in 14 games. So it’s conceivable that Massiah might not be a participant in any ICC tournament for two years when the next Division Three tournament is anticipated to take place in 2015. The time is right to make a change.
There are a few players who are good candidates to be USA’s captain in both formats. Sushil Nadkarni has been USA's vice-captain for several years and served as captain of the T20 team in the UAE last year. Orlando Baker led USA well in March at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One T20 and has plenty of experience under his belt.
Image (right) - After leading USA to an 8-0 record in March at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament, Orlando Baker would make a good choice to become USA's captain across all formats. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
USA could also choose to go in a different direction and adopt policies that countries such as Hong Kong and Nepal have employed by naming a much younger player as captain to give them time to ease into the role. In that scenario, Steven Taylor would be the obvious choice. Taylor served as vice-captain to Baker in March during the ICC Americas tournament. He will most likely be captaining the USA U-19 team in Canada this July and has previously captained the USA U-15 squad in 2009 so he is already gaining plenty of experience in leadership positions. It might be good for Baker or Nadkarni to be the captain for the next few years though until Taylor or another up and coming player like Ryan Corns, who captained USA during one of the two T20s against Canada during the 2012 Auty Cup tour in November, is ready to take over the mantle.
3. Commit to a core squad, one with better balance focused more on specialist batsmen and bowlers instead of an overload of allrounders and one-dimensional sloggers– USA's selection snafus were chronicled on DreamCricket.com well before the squad took part in Division Three. Taking a much closer look at the composition of USA's squad, they went to Bermuda with only three specialist batsmen: Massiah, Nadkarni and Rashard Marshall. The rest of the 14-man squad was made up of two wicketkeepers, four allrounders and five bowlers. It is almost impossible to win a tournament with such an unbalanced squad.
Taking the field with only three specialist batsmen, USA was basically forced to pick all four allrounders - Baker, Timroy Allen, Barrington Bartley and Japen Patel - in their starting eleven every game during the round-robin phase. Several members of USA’s management touted the fact that USA could bat to number 10 with Neil McGarrell and Elmore Hutchinson down the order, but that meant nothing if the players taking up those spots throughout the order are bits and pieces batsmen rather than full-fledged specialists. The truth is that having so many allrounders created the illusion that USA's batting contained more depth than there actually was. It also meant that no matter what, it would be near impossible for Danial Ahmed or Naseer Jamali to get a game in place of one of the allrounders because it would make USA's batting even thinner.
The unbalanced squad selection came back to bite USA by the end of the tournament, especially when Nadkarni was out with an injury in the final round-robin match against Bermuda. USA was not a team playing with six specialist batsmen in their usual starting eleven, let alone did they have the luxury to call upon a reserve specialist batsman. When Nadkarni couldn't play, USA sent out a starting eleven consisting of two specialist batsmen, two wicketkeepers, four allrounders and three specialist bowlers. It should surprise no one that they lost.
This was why dumping players like Aditya Thyagarajan and Aditya Mishra ahead of the tournament was a mistake. Specialist batsmen who can dig in and rotate the strike rather than relying on fours and sixes to score all of their runs would have been very handy to have against Uganda and Bermuda but they were nowhere to be found.
Although Marshall is a specialist batsman and Allen an allrounder, they have similar batting styles as does Bartley. Marshall demonstrated against Oman that he can knock the ball around for singles, but all three are heavily reliant on clearing the ropes to score the majority of their runs and they sometimes struggle to adjust if the match situation calls for a different method of scoring. At most, two players who play in that style can afford to be in the middle order and not three. Japen Patel playing at number nine and not bowling means he is not capable of holding down a spot in the team on his batting or bowling alone, let alone as an allrounder. Two of those spots in the starting eleven could have gone to specialist batsmen or one each to a batsman and a bowler like Danial Ahmed.
Overall, USA made six changes to the squad that advanced from Division Four in Malaysia. Nepal, the Division Four champions, only made one change to their squad for Division Three in Bermuda. Changing almost half the squad that gained promotion for USA into Division Three was a radical maneuver and clearly didn’t pay off. Meanwhile, Nepal stuck to their core group and wound up Division Three champions.
Image (left) - Aditya Thyagarajan is one of several veterans whose presence was sorely missed in Bermuda at 2013 ICC Division Three. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
The respective squad selections by USA and Nepal from 2012 ICC WCL Division Four to 2013 ICC WCL Division Three are a microcosm of a much deeper issue. From 2008 ICC WCL Division Five in Jersey - the first tournament that USA and Nepal ever played against each other - to 2013 ICC WCL Division Three in Bermuda, Nepal has used 26 players in 81 games in 50-over and T20 cricket. Meanwhile, USA has used almost three times as many, 67 players, across 90 games in 50-over and T20 cricket (see list at end of section three). The list of 67 does not include four other players - Abhijit Joshi, Glen Hall, Hemant Punoo and Josh Dascombe - who either toured with USA's senior team without appearing in a starting eleven or played for USA in unofficial/warm-up matches. USA has picked 52 players that have appeared in 50-over and/or 20-over cricket plus an additional 15 players who have appeared solely in 20-over cricket. Nearly half of those players, 30, were picked for a single tour in that timespan. This means that USA has used more players for a solitary tour experience than Nepal has used for all of its tours combined from 2008-2013.
Those numbers, 67 total players and 30 one-and-dones, are absolutely staggering figures. It can’t be blamed on lack of availability for players to get time off from work or school classes either. It simply comes down to USACA’s lack of vision and planning, with almost no continuity from tournament to tournament.
USA only had five players in their squad for Bermuda that participated in the previous Division Three tournament in Hong Kong in 2011. Clearly, experienced hands like Thyagarajan and Shuja were missed more than anyone in Bermuda, but the services of others who were part of the team in Malaysia such as Mishra, who was USA’s T20 vice-captain in 2012, and Corns were also missed. More continuity and faith in a core group could have led to better results.
Looking elsewhere, a model Associate Member like Ireland has more or less used the same core group of players over the last few years which unsurprisingly has been a recipe for success. From the 15-man squad that was picked to go to the 2011 ICC World Cup, 11 were named in the squad that will play two ODIs against Pakistan later this month. The four who weren’t – Andre Botha, Nigel Jones, Boyd Rankin and Albert van der Merwe – are absent because all four have retired from international cricket. Regardless of the fact that the majority of Ireland’s players are contracted professionals and USA’s are amateurs with either classes or jobs to attend on a daily basis, Ireland’s administration has shown faith in a core group of players and stuck with them.
From the start of the 2011 ICC World Cup, Ireland has used a total of 19 players in ODIs and T20s. Essentially, Ireland has had 11 core players from 2011-2013 and has committed itself to developing four players to replace the four who retired since the 2011 ICC World Cup. Meanwhile, USA has used 50 players in official one-day and T20 matches from 2011-2013. Ireland and Nepal's consistent selection policies have been rewarded with on-field success while USA's fluctuating fortunes are a reflection of their inconsistent, mercurial, haphazard and scatterbrained selection policies.
Players USA has used in official matches since 2008 listed in alphebetical order
Note - Players who only appeared in a single tour from 2008-2013 are listed in bold italics
George Adams, Danial Ahmed, Quasen Alfred, Timroy Allen, Imran Awan, Orlando Baker, Barrington Bartley, Adil Bhatti, Ryan Corns, Robert Cresser, Lennox Cush, Kevin Darlington, Jignesh Desai, Sudesh Dhaniram, Akeem Dodson (wk), Dennis Evans, Durale Forrest, Karan Ganesh, Bhim George, Muhammad Ghous, Adrian Gordon, Hussain Haidar, Elmore Hutchinson, Moazzam Imtiaz, Naseer Jamali, Nasir Javed, Howard Johnson, Ritesh Kadu (wk), Asif Khan, Bilal Khan, Rahul Kukreti (wk), Rashard Marshall, Steve Massiah, Neil McGarrell, Ashhar Mehdi (wk), Stu Mills (wk), Aditya Mishra, Masood Mohamed, Andy Mohammed, Shahid Munir, Nauman Mustafa (wk), Sushil Nadkarni, Kumar Nandalal, Amir Nanjee, Japen Patel, Mital Patel, Timil Patel, William Perkins (wk), Steve Pitter, Abhimanyu Rajp, Gowkaran Roopnarine, Saqib Saleem, Greg Sewdial, Niraj Shah, Samarth Shah, Hammad Shahid, Usman Shuja, Saami Siddiqui (wk), Charan Singh, Nicholas Standford, Timothy Surujbally, Steven Taylor (wk), Aditya Thyagarajan, Anand Tummala, Clain Williams, Carl Wright (wk), Saurabh Verma.
4. Find at least one sponsor for the national team – USA and Oman were the only two teams in Bermuda not to have a sponsor on their jerseys. The USA jerseys themselves were flimsy, with the lettering on the jersey of at least one player falling off halfway through the tournament. Last year, USACA apparently had a brief arrangement with Reebok to have their jerseys provided but that deal has since dried up. It’s hard to believe that a USA national team in any sport has to pay for their uniforms instead of being paid by a major apparel sponsor to wear that sponsor’s logo, but that is the situation USACA continues to find itself in.
Although USACA cleverly presents several business entities as “USACA Partners” on their web site, USACA doesn’t have any genuine sponsors. An ideal business tie would be with one of the many domestic airlines in the USA. Since 2011, USACA has had two board members who are employees at a pair of major airlines, United and American. Such a sponsorship might help defray costs of flying players in and out of Florida for camps, trials and domestic tournaments.
One of former USACA CEO Don Lockerbie’s failures was in not securing any sort of sponsorships in the five to six-figure range. Lockerbie overestimated USA’s market value and kept seeking million dollar deals which never appeared. Although he played a major role in linking USACA with New Zealand Cricket and other investors to form Cricket Holdings America LLC, that partnership has so far done little to advance cricket in the USA financially or developmentally.
Image (above) - Uganda had a sponsor, Mehta Group, at 2013 ICC WCL Division Three. Meanwhile, USA was without corporate support for yet another international tournament. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
There’s no reason why USACA should not be able to find a bank sponsor, airline sponsor, hotel sponsor, automobile sponsor and/or a beverage sponsor in addition to a separate corporation or business as a title sponsor for all of its endeavors. Securing sponsorships is supposed to be Darren Beazley’s calling card. USA’s stakeholders will see over the next few years if he lives up to his billing in that regard.
Reaching the 2014 ICC World Cup Qualifier might have made it easier for Beazley to secure a sponsorship and finishing in the top four would have almost made it a slam dunk because USA would have then qualified for the ICC High Performance Program, which would have carried admission into the Intercontinental Cup as well as ODI status. USA would have then had a guaranteed number of fixtures each year outside of ICC tournaments. Another domino effect of that would have been an incentive to give a handful of USA’s younger players such as Taylor, Allen and Muhammad Ghous central contracts with any sponsorship funds that could have flowed in.
Instead, USA will now be without a 50-over ICC tournament until at least 2015 and if USA doesn’t finish in the top six at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in November, USA will not participate in a single 50-over or 20-over ICC tournament in 2014. It’s nearly impossible to award a USA player a central contract when they may only be playing a handful of games a year. It’s also hard to secure sponsorship when a team has only a handful of non-televised fixtures to display a sponsor’s logo on a jersey on the field, meaning the opportunities are limited for the sponsor to get exposure and a return on their investment. That makes Beazley’s job much harder, but not impossible.
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author who was present at all of the team's matches at 2013 ICC WCL Division Three in Bermuda. If you have differing views or opinions, we respect those views and urge you to provide your feedback - both positive and negative - in the comments section.]