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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
USA’s quest to qualify for a third ICC U-19 World Cup begins on Monday at Maple Leaf Cricket Club in King City, Ontario, located in a Canadian prairie about 25 miles north of downtown Toronto, when they take part in the 2013 ICC Americas U-19 Division One Tournament. The winner of the double round-robin event featuring USA, Canada and Bermuda will advance to the 2014 ICC U-19 World Cup to be held next February in the UAE.
USA enters this week’s tournament as the reigning champion after going undefeated when the event was last held in Florida in February 2011. Canada has won the event three times overall and twice on home soil, in 2003 and 2009, however USA junior teams have a decent history in Canada.
Image (right) - USA U-19 captain Steven Taylor will have a heavy load on his shoulders this week keeping wicket, opening the batting and leading his team on the field in Toronto. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
USA stunned the region when they won the 2005 tournament held in Toronto to clinch USA’s first ever berth in any ICC World Cup event when they advanced to the 2006 ICC U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka. USA also finished second in 2009, earning a return visit later that summer to Canada where they finished fifth in the global qualifier, handing eventual tournament champion Ireland their only loss in the process, as USA advanced to the 2010 ICC U-19 World Cup in New Zealand.
After a runner-up finish in 2011, Canada will be big favorites to finish first on home soil. In 2012, they won the ICC Americas U-18 Match Play Camp in Florida and that was without the services of star batsman Nitish Kumar, who was away in England at the time. Kumar will captain Canada’s U-19 squad and his presence bolsters an already solid batting lineup that features Nikhil Dutta, Gurkaran Dhillon, Abrash Khan and Sudeepta Aurka.
Bermuda’s strength definitely lies with their spin bowling. Captain Joshua Gilbert has been a key off-spinner for the Bermuda senior team since making his debut at the age of 16 while 15-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner Delray Rawlins gave USA’s senior team plenty of problems when he came up against them this spring ahead of and during ICC WCL Division Three. Allrounder Kamau Leverock is also a key cog for Bermuda. A top order of Leverock, Christian Burgess and Tre Manders may be imposing but beyond them and Gilbert in the middle, the Bermuda batting is brittle.
USA’s U-19 captain is Steven Taylor, the best player and most prized wicket in the tournament. However, a large amount of pressure will be on him to perform consistently for USA because the depth behind him very thin. As a consequence of that, USA can be considered the underdog in this event. Unlike in years past, USA has no genuinely fast bowlers in this squad. A big worry is the physical toll wicketkeeping may take on Taylor if he has to stand up to the stumps for all 50 overs of each match as he did last year during the U-18 tournament. Saddle the burden of captaincy on top of keeping wicket and it will be a major challenge for Taylor to keep producing with the bat, especially as an opener. If Taylor isn’t making centuries in every game, the responsibility will fall on leg-spinner Ryan Persaud and vice-captain/allrounder Krish Goel to bowl USA to victory on the traditionally dry and spinning tracks on display at Maple Leaf CC.
USA’s first match of the tournament is on Monday, July 8 at 10 a.m. when they take on Bermuda at Maple Leaf CC. DreamCricket.com will have live updates sponsored by New Inning Foundation for every match at the tournament with coverage from Maple Leaf CC beginning at 9:30 a.m.