The first part of the post-tournament evaluation for USA's overall team performance at the 2023 ICC Women's U19 T20 World Cup, including markers in the disciplines of batting, bowling, fielding, fitness and finally squad selection & tactics.
Photo credit: Peter Della Penna
By Peter Della Penna (Twitter @PeterDellaPenna)
The batting problems with USA are not just a collective but an individual issue. The USA Women’s U19 squad had a total of five tours over the past year: playing a four-match series against Windward Islands in St. Vincent, the CWI Rising Stars Women’s U19 Championship in Trinidad, a five-match bilateral series against West Indies in Florida, a five-match bilateral series against the UAE in Dubai, and the ICC Women’s U19 T20 World Cup. Across those five tours, there was only one player who scored a half-century for USA when Snigdha Paul made 81 not out off 53 balls against Leeward Islands. One half-century across the team over the course of five tours is not a recipe for major success. By comparison, opposition players against USA have scored four half-centuries and one century across those same series. The lack of match-winning contributions in key situations was highlighted in the final match against Scotland when Katherine Fraser made 59 whereas several USA players could not convert starts into bigger scores.
USA passed 100 twice in the tournament, in their last two matches. USA’s core batting deficiencies are two-fold. Lack of power-hitting to be able to consistently hit fours and sixes, and conversely an inability to get singles to rotate strike and alleviate dot ball pressure. USA had 267 dot balls in 455 deliveries faced in the tournament, a dot ball percentage of 59%. This does not include the 27 extra deliveries they missed out on due to being bowled out in 15.3 overs by Australia. If those are included as deliveries not scored on, USA’s dot ball percentage jumps to 61%. This is evident in the overwhelming number of USA batters who either refused to try or simply have not developed the ability to manipulate the field by using their wrists to work the ball around.
Arguably the only two players who could be seen successfully manipulating the field at any stage of the tournament were Snigdha Paul and Geetika Kodali. Paul’s manipulation was sparked by using her feet far more than any of her teammates during her final two innings against Bangladesh and Scotland and as a result she forced a number of changes in the field by the opposition captain. The same goes for Kodali when she employed the use of a sweep shot over backward square leg which similarly sparked fielding changes. For Kodali, it meant that she had the second lowest dot ball percentage (40%) of anyone on the team who faced a minimum of 20 deliveries across the tournament.
As for the strategic batting approach, the Powerplay continues to be a mystery for USA in which they are reluctant to make use of the fielding restrictions. USA’s average score in the Powerplay was 30 for 1, but also included an average of 25 dot balls. They’re not scoring off 69% of their deliveries in the first six overs. It results in them being backed into a corner behind the eight ball for the rest of the innings.
Looking at the batting approach at the death, USA had a reasonable finish to their innings against both Bangaldesh and Scotland. They scored 34 off the final 30 balls against Bangladesh, losing a wicket off the final ball. They scored three boundaries in those final five overs, which is good by the broad innings standard set by the team but also indicates an unwillingness to be more adventurous and take risks for higher value shots in a situation where they had seven wickets in hand. More than anything, it highlights the team felt they did not have much depth behind them to make it worthwhile to take such risks.
That is borne out by what happened in the first match against Sri Lanka, when USA only managed 20 runs in the final five overs and lost four wickets in the process. Specifically, they only scored eight runs across the final three overs while losing four wickets within that narrow sequence. Had they even managed something as simple as scoring at a run a ball in that three-over stretch, the extra 10 runs could have been the difference between a win and a loss considering Sri Lanka won the match with six balls to spare. That included a wicket maiden in the 18th over bowled by Sri Lanka spinner Dewmi Vihanga.
USA scored 47 runs in the final five overs against Scotland for the loss of four wickets. They hit their only six of the tournament in this stretch, courtesy of Kodali, and scored three other fours as well in the sequence. They started that sequence at 100 for 3. Again, it begs the question of whether or not they could have gone harder earlier considering how many wickets in hand they had on what was an outstanding batting wicket and also highlights how many deliveries were wasted by chewing up dot balls when the wicket was full of runs. In particular, USA used valuable time in the first two overs sizing up the pitch when they had chosen to bat first and only scored 2 runs. It would have been understandable and justifiable if they were trying to size up the wicket after losing the toss and being asked to bat first. But they won the toss and chose to bat first, so the timid approach that contrasted the outward signal of opting to bat first was perplexing. By comparison, Scotland reached 15 for 1 after two overs. USA had 14 dots in the first 18 deliveries, and it would have been 15 dots had Scotland not committed a wild overthrow that resulted in four free runs.
USA had two 50-plus partnerships in the tournament. One came in each of the final two matches. Though they were productive from a raw score standpoint, they were also marked by lengthy stretches of dot balls and stunted momentum within the partnership itself. The first partnership between Disha Dhingra and Snigdha Paul had 42 dots out of 66 balls and produced 57 runs. The second was between Dhingra and Laasya Mullapudi which had 37 dots in 63 deliveries while generating 75 runs. It is highly unusual for a pair to be together for a partnership stretching more than 10 overs on both occasions and have more than 50% of their deliveries together be dot balls. If the ratio had been reduced to even 50% by converting the surplus dots into singles at a minimum, it would have meant nine more runs in the Bangladesh match and six more runs in the Scotland match. Six extra runs against Scotland could have arguably been the difference between a win and a loss while nine more runs against Bangladesh would have at least put a little more pressure on them down the stretch.
The biggest downgrade for USA’s batting performance though was their running between the wickets. They finished the group stage with seven runouts, the most of any team in the tournament, and ended with a total of eight after notching one more against Scotland. It showed their lack of game awareness in many aspects: poor ability to judge what is and is not a run inside the ring, poor recognition of opposition fielder footspeed to the ball, poor recognition of throwing arm strength and weakness of various fielders both inside the ring and on the boundary. There is also a trend in the team of non-strikers being firmly anchored to their crease – or even worse, leaving the crease by a few yards after the ball is delivered but then freezing for several seconds after the ball is in play without making a confident and immediate decision on a yes, no or wait call for a run – which contributed to several of the runouts.
Another bad habit seen in an overwhelming number of players is completing the first run, but then not turning for a second run until their partner agrees to a call. Instead, all body momentum comes to a halt. Rather than turning to at least begin the motion for a possible second run by taking a few strides and then confirming a yes or a no call, the runners become static after the first run and seemingly have to restart their running momentum from a stand still position. Or alternatively, a faster runner completes the first run well ahead of their partner, but then similarly stands still and waits for their slower partner to resume running before they opt to begin contemplating a second run. Generally, good body mechanics should allow for a lateral shuffle to sustain momentum and gain a few steps down the wicket when deciding on a second run while not burning excess energy by beginning full blown forward sprint that might have to be halted afterward. But a lateral shuffle in these circumstances is never ever seen out of this team. These are subtle body mechanic athletic patterns that need to be taught and developed at local level (and ideally are developed by playing a number of other sports to gain and develop the accompanying agility and athleticism) but have been totally neglected. Until they are corrected, USA will continue to be behind their age group peers.
The other domino effect of the runouts is that the pendulum would swing the opposite way to cost runs in the sense that quite obvious singles became dots by players petrified of running and becoming the next runout victim. There was also the effect of singles not being turned into twos, or twos into threes, because of many of the things mentioned above including poor recognition of which were the weak fielders that could be picked on for an extra run. Weak fielder/defender recognition is one of the easiest things to learn and identify in any team sport because it comes from mental awareness. Point guards in basketball can identify a mismatch to distribute a pass to the right teammate for the best possible shot. Quarterbacks in football can immediately identify when a weak defender is overmatched by a skill player and will pass to a receiver who is in such a favorable matchup, or will identify when an unbalanced defensive alignment opens the door for a play to be audibled to one side of the field where the protection or blocking is stronger and thereby can attack a weak spot in a defense. Baseball/softball hitters and runners know before the ball is put into play where they can try to advance an extra base if the ball goes to a particular outfielder who has demonstrated a weak throwing or relay arm. Baserunners study and know what their chances of success are at trying to steal a base on a weak-armed catcher and by how quickly or slowly a pitcher delivers the ball to home plate. Frontline volleyball hitters pick their angles to spike the ball based on where the shortest/weakest defender is who tries coming up to the net in an effort to make a block.
Identifying defensive strength/weakness is a core aspect in any successful team sport strategy. It was virtually non-existent from USA on tour when it came to the batters while running between the wickets. That needs to change going forward and needs to be taught individually and collectively.
USA’s bowlers took 14 out of a possible 40 wickets. However, that does not tell the whole story. In the Australia match, they were tasked with defending a target of 65, which was tracked down inside of nine overs. In USA’s other matches, the bowlers created a total of 14 additional chances that were not capitalized on. Imagine being a bowler in a team where you only have a literal 50/50 probability of a chance being converted?
USA’s spinners stood out as the core of the bowling attack on tour, claiming 10 of the 14 wickets. Aditi Chudasama was USA’s most economical bowler with a 4.61 economy rate. That is not quite as jaw-dropping as some of the leading bowlers in the tournament, who have economy rates under 3 per over, but still very respectable.
The pace bowlers on the whole were not nearly as effective, taking just four wickets combined. However, they also suffered plenty from drops. Captain Geetika Kodali underbowled herself due largely to the nature of the spin-friendly conditions on the Willowmoore Park B Oval. She only sent down six overs in four matches and took one wicket for 31 runs at an economy rate of 5.16. However, she also had four chances put down off her bowling.
USA only conceded two half-century stands during the tournament. The first was an unbroken 54-run fourth-wicket partnership by Sri Lanka that took them to victory. The second was a 68-run partnership by Scotland for the fourth wicket. On both occasions, it’s hard to fault the bowlers for letting each stand grow because both partnerships featured two dropped chances which could have nipped the opposition’s progress in the bud and handed momentum to USA.
There’s no way to sugarcoat how poor USA’s fielding was. One ICC tournament official did not mince words when commenting at the innings break on the final day against Scotland, “For a country that produces the world’s greatest athletes, it’s ironic that USA has the least athletic team in this entire U19 World Cup.” Keep in mind, that comment was made before USA missed nine chances in the field over the course of the next 90 minutes against Scotland.
USA has no fielders who can reach the wicketkeeper on the fly, unless the throw is being made from a shorter distance boundary at deep third man or deep fine leg. But if the throw is coming in from the square boundaries, it generally arrives to the wicketkeeper on anywhere from one to five bounces, depending on who is throwing. In terms of ground fielding, whether in the infield or outfield, USA’s fielders often fail to collect the ball cleanly on the first attempt. It is often bobbled, if not outright missed which happened on numerous occasions when singles hit to boundary fielders wound up turning into fours.
On the whole, it means that opposition players are constantly stealing extra runs on USA. This was never more evident than in the Bangladesh match when their captain Disha Biswas successfully ran for a pair of twos on deliveries that barely left the infield circle when the ball was hit to a side of the ring that was actually being patrolled by multiple fielders. That should never ever happen at any level of cricket and was a major indictment of the level of respect that she had for USA’s throwing arm strength and accuracy, not to mention the ability to collect the ball cleanly before turning to throw. Add up all of these factors and it’s not hard to understand why USA was only one of three teams out of the 16 in the tournament not to convert a runout in the field at the time of their elimination.
USA also consistently gave away runs by taking poor angles in which they failed to cut off runs. This is most often seen at short fine leg and short third man, but also happens in other places on the field, whether in the ring or in the outfield. It’s a product of poor anticipation before the shot is played, followed by a poor first reaction step and poor recovery footspeed to the ball. Once the first domino falls, more follow.
USA’s weakness in the field was also highlighted by how frequently captain Geetika Kodali signaled for one fielder to swap places with another weaker fielder, generally after a dropped chance or misfield had just been committed. This is discussed in more detail later on but the frequency with which it was done was startling.
On the whole, USA missed 16 chances in four matches (14 dropped chances and two missed runouts), which cost USA a total of 134 runs after the first missed chance and an average of 16.75 runs per missed chance after the first miss, if a player was dismissed at all. Interestingly, USA’s opponents also missed 16 chances, but those chances only cost 92 runs and an average of 8.36 runs after the first missed chance. Based on the average, it means that USA’s missed chances in the field were twice as costly as the ones their opponents offered. Looking at the raw number of missed chances by USA vs their opponents, one might attempt to argue that USA’s fielding was no worse than their opponents. But the reality is that their opponents also created 50% more chances than USA and converted their chances at a rate of 64% whereas USA’s conversion rate was 47%. Another way to look at it as well is chances per over in the field. USA spent 64.5 overs in the field and missed a chance every four overs. If they spent a full 20 overs in the field each match (instead of allowing Australia to chase their target in 8.4 overs, and every other chase finishing early as well), USA on average would be projected to miss five chances per match.
It's clear that fielding mechanics and principles are not practiced nearly as often as necessary for USA to close the gap with other teams. It’s totally understandable for USA to be behind other teams in the batting and bowling skills departments. But there is no justifiable reason for USA to be so far behind other teams when it comes to fielding and fitness, which are the easiest things to develop and correct because they have little to do with cricket specific skills and more to do with overall athletic training habits cultivated at local level all the way up to national level.
This mainly has to do with several factors. USA’s quickness and agility in the field is poor, well behind the other teams. Their footspeed to the ball is glacial and it results in other teams taking singles off them quite easily. On the batting side, their lack of strength limits their ability to reach the boundary. There should not be such a glaring physical strength gap between sides at age group level, but every other side USA came up against featured players who had not just the timing but the power to clear the ropes. And they weren’t just barely hitting the foam boundary triangle. Instead, many of the sixes hit against USA cleared the rope by a good 10 or 15 yards. It highlights how far behind the USA junior development system is compared to other countries when it comes to prioritizing physical fitness, strength and conditioning from an early age. It is not something that can be fixed in a month or two, but takes several years to correct.
But it also shows up in the fielding, most notably the throwing arm strength. It was not just Australia’s fielders who were firing bullets from the boundary to the wicketkeeper or showcasing rifle arms from mid-on, mid-off and backward point when targeting the stumps. Scotland, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all had numerous fielders who could do the same. USA’s throwing arms looked incredibly feeble by comparison, whether it was throwing multiple bounce throws in to the keeper from the boundary or meek attempts to hit the stumps from inside the ring, which arguably looks even worse and highlights major throwing mechanic issues in that a hard and quick release is not being achieved from short range (10 to 20 yards) by an overwhelming majority of USA’s fielders.
A prominent USA junior academy official messaged privately during the tournament to try to make the case that other teams were physically stronger than USA, particularly in the area of boundary striking, because the claim was made that all of the other teams USA was coming up against were selecting players closer to the 18 and 19-year-old age cutoff for the tournament whereas USA’s team was flooded with 15 and 16-year-olds. A closer scan of the opposition teams shows that the Sri Lankan batter who hit a six against USA, Manudi Nanayakkara, was 15 years and 30 days, making her one of the youngest players in the tournament. The Australian wicketkeeper who hit two sixes against USA, Kate Pelle, was 16 at the time of the match. The other Australian who struck a six, Claire Moore, is 19. Shorna Akter, who hit Bangladesh’s six against USA, is 16. Meanwhile the two Scottish players who cleared the ropes against USA, Emma Walsingham and Katherine Fraser, are both 17.
So that basically shoots a hole in any argument that USA’s players aren’t old enough to hit sixes or have not developed from a physical standpoint due to age. Taking a look at Olympic performance in sports such as swimming has consistently demonstrated over the years that girls physically mature earlier than boys. It is why someone like famed swimmer Katie Ledecky is capable of winning an Olympic gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle swim as a 15-year-old, before coming back a year later as a 16-year-old at the World Championships and winning four gold medals spread across the 400-meter, 800-meter, 1500-meter individual races as well as the 4x200 meter relay (not to mention the rest of her illustrious career).
The reality of the problem surrounding USA’s throwing arm strength and power-hitting deficiencies goes back to the comment made by the ICC official watching the tournament close up, who stated that USA was the least athletic team in the tournament. The domestic player pool needs to grow dramatically so that USA is recruiting and drawing from better, stronger athletes by default who become part of the cricket setup. More on this issue will appear in a subsequent part of the overall tour review.
Squad Selection & Tactics: D
This starts primarily with team selection, which had a domino effect on tactics. Considering that fielding is such a monumental weakness for USA, it would stand to reason that a premium value would be placed on players whose fielding quality is significantly higher than that of their peers and would be one of the first things if not the first thing outright that would enter into selection discussions. Leaving both Lisa Ramjit and Tya Gonsalves off the original 15-player touring squad highlighted the error that was made in this regard by not prioritizing top quality fielders.
However, another jarring player selection also underscored this in the opposite way. One particular player appeared in the five-person reserve list whose fielding is such a safety issue to the point that she was actually hit in the face while trying to take a catch at deep midwicket during USA Women’s Nationals in Texas this past August. The player miraculously managed to not suffer any broken bones or lose any teeth, but was spitting blood out of her mouth for several minutes. Her fielding was literally a personal safety concern. Yet USA selectors did not see it as an issue and included her as part of the five-player reserves in the overall 20-player list. This made it abundantly clear in no uncertain terms that an adequate fielding standard was not seriously considered when it came to making squad selections, whether it was the final 15-player group on tour or the five-player reserve group.
So then it was no wonder that both Ramjit and Gonsalves were left out of the USA touring squad. Regardless of the merits of their batting or bowling skillsets, USA’s fielding quality is so incredibly shallow that the presence of Ramjit and Gonsalves in the starting XI should have been mandatory if only to take up positions in the field where their stronger catching skills could be relied upon. The paucity of quality fielders was also highlighted during the group stage at times when USA captain Geetika Kodali had to regularly swap out weak fielders for better fielders at an alarming rate. In most teams, a misfield that triggers a fielding change swapping out one player for another might happen once or twice a game. But in one match, Kodali made such swaps nearly a dozen times. That was emblematic of the regularity of misfields which were concerning enough to stall play until a better fielder was placed into a higher traffic position.
The other selection issue that became obvious after the team arrived in South Africa and the tournament got underway was that way too many fast bowlers were brought on tour in an event where the reputation for fast bowler friendly wickets did not match the facts on the ground in Benoni. It’s unclear whether the preparation of the wickets in Benoni was an anomaly or if USA’s background analytical research on the matter was completely non-existent and the Benoni wickets have always behaved like this.
Either way, it became clear that most of the fast bowlers were going to struggle to get a game, and or overs if they made it into the XI. Team management stated that Kodali was deemed 100% fit throughout the tour and that a right shoulder issue which troubled her in September during the Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier was not an issue in South Africa. The decision to not bowl out her overs in all but one match was purely a tactical one. This is backed up by the fact no fast bowler bowled a full four over spell at any point in the tournament with the exception of the final match against Scotland when Kodali did so on a pitch which offered more assistance to pace bowlers than the pitches used for USA’s group matches.
Suhani Thadani only bowled one over in her only match. Neither Pooja Shah nor Jivana Aras bowled an over in their only appearances. Disha Dhingra, who had been a four-over bowler on numerous occasions in 2022 and is arguably USA’s fastest bowler, did not bowl a single over in the tournament. Isani Vaghela, also someone who has been a four-over bowler in 2022, went wicketless in a total of 5.4 overs in four matches and was USA’s second-most expensive bowler (for anyone who bowled a minimum of one over per match) with an economy rate of 8.29. Snigdha Paul bowled 10 overs in four matches with a 5.30 economy rate, third best on the team, highlighting her discipline. But when she got her length wrong too full, she was punished badly going over the rope for multiple sixes.
The clear evidence was that pace bowling sat up to come onto the bat very nicely at Willowmoore Park B Oval whereas the slow nature of the wicket made spin way more difficult to face. It meant that Aditi Chudasama, someone who in her touring appearances in 2022 was mainly a reserve option, suddenly became USA’s most used bowler on tour with a team leading 13 overs and four wickets, taking the new ball in three out of USA’s four matches.
Essentially, if USA was not going to bowl Dhingra at any stage, and Vaghela was never going to be used for a full four-over spell, they could have managed with at least one fewer specialist pace bowling option, if not more. Instead, they carried three on the bench for the majority of the tour. It meant that they were sorely lacking reserve batting options and further underscored the error in leaving Ramjit at home.
The one occasion where a pace bowler arguably should have been used more was in the first match against Sri Lanka. Kodali bowled one over for five runs in the 15th over against Sri Lanka, an over in which she generated a chance that was dropped in the field. Instead of continuing to bowl, she took herself off, which proved costly when spinner Ritu Singh conceded 16 runs in the 19th over and Sri Lanka clinched the chase with six balls to spare. In many T20 squads, the team’s best bowler takes on the responsibility for the 19th over because they don’t want to run into a situation where the 20th over becomes inconsequential and that premium bowler is saved for a situation that doesn’t materialize. That is precisely what happened in this match. If Kodali bowled the 19th against Sri Lanka, conceded six singles at worst, and forced the Sri Lanka batting pair to delay taking their chances until the 20th over with seven runs needed to win, who knows what kind of scenario may have unfolded with the pressure built up.
A number of self-inflicted wounds occurred against Sri Lanka, both in the final five overs batting and then at the end on the bowling side with two dropped chances and a questionable strategic bowling decision. A win over Sri Lanka would have secured third place in Group A for USA, and would have meant an opportunity to play against India and South Africa in the Super Sixes stage. Nobody would have expected USA to win either of those games, but the chance to expose and challenge themselves against both teams would have provided significant learning opportunities. Instead, they may have to wait two years until the next ICC Women’s U19 T20 World Cup for the next chance to do so.
Realistically, USA could have and should have won two matches in the tournament against Sri Lanka and Scotland. An extremely optimistic view can also be taken that had a few things gone their way, they may have been able to spring a shock upset against Bangladesh too. The only match in which USA was thoroughly outclassed was against Australia.
The number one reason why USA did not win any matches was due to their porous fielding. Batting woes were a distant second. But a strong case can be made that USA’s fielding and batting problems (the core technical issues as well as a lack of bench depth due to taking too many fast bowlers on tour) were both a major consequence of head-scratching squad selection decisions before the team even got on the plane to go to South Africa. Had more (any?) emphasis been put on fielding when it came to picking the team, it is entirely conceivable that USA would have won at least one if not more games in South Africa.
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author, who was present in South Africa for all of the USA Women’s U19 team’s matches on tour, and do not necessarily represent the views of DreamCricket management. If you have different views or opinions, we respect those views and urge you to provide your feedback, both positive and negative. Feel free to respond to the author via Twitter @PeterDellaPenna.]