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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
The oldest rivalry in international cricket resumes this week when USA travels to Canada to play for the Auty Cup. The trophy is solely associated with the two-day match that starts the tour and Canada remains the holders of the trophy after securing a draw with a first innings lead in Florida last November. The teams will also play a 50-over match followed by two Twenty20 matches as part of the tour.
After a 16-year hiatus, the bilateral series resumed in 2011 and despite the rivalry stretching back to 1844, the intensity doesn’t necessarily reflect the history involved. Canada has consistently picked more or less a full strength unit to compete against USA in each of the last three years. Not surprisingly, they have won all but one contest.
USA’s squads have been a hodgepodge of sometimes curious selections, none more so than 2011. It was only announced eight days before the first game that USA would even be traveling up to Canada and the result was a hastily gathered group of 15 players, seven of them never playing for USA before or since. Last year it helped that the fixtures were confirmed for USA months in advance and a little more thought was put into assembling a developmental 18-man group that eventually included 10 players who represented USA five months later during their undefeated run to the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 title.
It’s conceivable that half the group heading to Canada this week could also be in USA’s squad in November when they travel to the UAE to take part in the 2013 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. With the retirement of Timroy Allen following ICC WCL Division Three in May, at least one spot in USA’s best eleven is up for grabs. The injury in Bermuda to Sushil Nadkarni exposed USA’s lack of batting depth and several players will be jockeying for position in Canada to demonstrate they have what it takes to stand toe to toe with the likes of Ireland and Hong Kong in Dubai later this year.
Four players are locked into a battle for a prime batting spot in the full strength team: Karan Ganesh, Nicholas Standford, Timothy Surujbally and Ravi Timbawala. Despite limited appearances for USA, Ganesh was named vice-captain for USA on Tuesday in a vote of confidence for not just his leadership but his batting skills. It also means that barring injury he will most likely get a run in all four games, a luxury that the other three may be guaranteed to get.
Image (right) - Nicholas Standford, here against Suriname in March, has showed flashes of being a first choice player without fully cementing a spot. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
Standford and Surujbally performed adequately at the ICC Americas tournament in March. However, both struggled to cement their spot and failed to make the tour to Bermuda. Surujbally also managed to find himself in Robin Singh’s doghouse after a lazy runout against the Bahamas. Standford has a slight leg up in general because of his superior fielding skills, an area where Surujbally is a step behind both in catching and ground fielding.
Even though he’s only 24, Timbawala has been on the national radar for almost a decade after being a key part of USA’s U-19 squad that reached the 2006 ICC U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka. He came very close to breaking into USA’s senior squad as a 20-year-old in 2010, but couldn’t get ahead of Glen Hall and Clain Williams to make USA’s tour to Asia that February. Despite scoring heavy in Division One of the Southern California Cricket Association over the past few years, he remained on the outside looking in. Now that he’s finally been picked, he’ll be eager to show USACA what they’ve been missing.
Ryan Corns isn’t in the list above because he continues to devote himself to developing his all-round skills, but he is also keen to prove he can be selected for his batting or bowling alone. He was USA’s leading wicket-taker during the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament before being harshly overlooked for ICC WCL Division Three.
Image (left) - Ryan Corns was USA's leading wicket-taker at the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in March. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
He’s been spending the summer in England honing his skills in the Middlesex County Cricket League with Winchmore Hill CC and recently scored a century against an Oxford University Academy side. It’s up to him to make the flight from the UK to Canada worth it with runs and wickets.
Separate from those players, Akeem Dodson is looking to build on his performances from earlier in the year. He provided an excellent foil to Steven Taylor at the top of the order during the times they opened together in the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament. At ICC WCL Division Three, he was the only batsman to make a major contribution in the loss to Bermuda that kept USA from reaching the 2014 ICC World Cup Qualifier. He also needs to show he can establish himself as a genuine wicketkeeper-batsman in order to allow Taylor to focus on his batting.
On the bowling side, the games will be an opportunity for several players to demonstrate USA can count on them in the future, especially in the pace department with Allen no longer a part of the team. Naseer Jamali has been good in limited opportunities but needs to show he can be a consistent wicket-taker. Despite bowling at arguably quicker pace than Jamali, Mital Patel and Adrian Gordon were humbled by Canada’s batsmen last year and didn’t make the cut for any of USA’s squads in the first half of 2013. This week will be a good indication of the extent to which they’ve worked on their games to get back into contention for spots in Dubai.
Usman Rehman is a darkhorse candidate to move ahead of those previously mentioned in USA’s fast bowling queue. Players in the SCCA rate his pace skills very high, but it’s his first time bowling in international competition since the 2006 ICC U-19 World Cup and so he remains a bit raw heading into these matches against Canada.
USA’s spin stocks are in robust health and will give them the best chance to steal a few victories. In addition to the allround options provided by captain Timil Patel and Corns, USA has included Danial Ahmed and Abhimanyu Rajp in the squad as specialist spinners.
Image (right) - Danial Ahmed has performed well when given an opportunity, but has been stuck in line behind senior players. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
Ahmed drew the short straw in Bermuda and despite solid performances leading into ICC WCL Division Three, he was forced to ride the bench for most of the tournament behind Neil McGarrell as USA’s preferred left-arm orthodox tweaker. Ahmed is 28, but that’s still young by USA’s historical standards and so he shouldn’t have too much trouble carving out a niche in the national team.
Abhimanyu Rajp burst onto the national team in 2012 by tying with Muhammad Ghous for most wickets on the team at that year’s ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. However, he’s stagnated somewhat since then and has seen other players pass him by. Ghous is USA’s premier offspinner, but Rajp is desperate to show he can be 1A.
Canada will be favorites to win the series once again, particularly with the return of Ashish Bagai. The former captain hasn’t played for Canada in more than two years after he took a break to pursue an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Now that he has that out of the way, he’s free to help Canada make a run at the top six in the World Twenty20 Qualifier in November as well as a top two finish in the World Cup Qualifier early next year.
Despite their youth, players like Ruvindu Gunasekera, Nitish Kumar and Usman Limbada are far more experienced than the players in USA’s squad. Canada’s fast bowling depth is also superior with Henry Osinde, Harvir Baidwan and Rizwan Cheema in the team. USA will have trouble against them throughout the series, but if they can manage to pull out at least one win in either of the Twenty20 fixtures, it would be a confidence booster ahead of November’s tour, during which USA and Canada are rumored to be paired together in group play.
After rain and flooding played a major role two weeks ago at the ICC Americas U-19 Division One tournament, conditions are expected to be much clearer this weekend for the Auty Cup. The weather forecast for the next four days at Maple Leaf Cricket Club is mostly sunny in the mid 70s although scattered showers are possible for Saturday. Play for the two-day match on July 25-26 and the 50-over contest on July 27 is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. The first Twenty20 on Sunday, July 28, is scheduled for an 11 a.m. start while the second Twenty20 is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. DreamCricket.com will provide daily reports from Canada sponsored by New Inning Foundation.