Photo credit: Peter Della Penna
In Part 3 of DreamCricket's post-tour review of the CWC League Two tri-series in Florida, the configuration of USA's batting lineup is addressed as well as the overall selection policy heading into November's tour of Trinidad & Tobago for the CWI Super50 tournament.
By Peter Della Penna (Twitter @PeterDellaPenna)
Send Steven Taylor back up to open the batting
With the exception of his innings against Hong Kong at 2019 WCL Division Two in Namibia, Taylor has lacked the explosive bite in 50-over cricket at No. 3 that was long a hallmark of his game in his first seven years spent opening the batting for USA. The incumbent opening combo of Xavier Marshall and Jaskaran Malhotra have fared poorly during the last two tours.
Taylor’s two best ever knocks for USA in one-day cricket came at the top of the order against Nepal in 2013 (162 off 102 balls in Bermuda) and Oman (124* off 95 balls in Los Angeles). He does not have the technique nor the temperament to last 50 overs and bat through the innings like a true No. 3. He’s also not exceptional at rotating the strike either, something required in the middle overs.
Taylor is at his best when he’s clubbing boundaries with the field up in the first 10 overs. With few others justifying their place at the top of the order in recent times, it’s time to put Taylor back in the position where he has always delivered the most runs for USA and bring back the intimidation factor that made him such a feared and destructive player in the first phase of his career.
Move Monank Patel to No. 3 and Aaron Jones to No. 4
From the time he entered the USA squad, Monank has been USA’s best technician. It is he, not Taylor, who has the technique and temperament suited to occupy the No. 3 role, coming in to capitalize on whatever burst the opening pair can provide before anchoring the innings through to the 50th over. He is equally adept playing pace and spin, milking singles and doing things a No. 3 is supposed to do.
Aaron Jones is USA’s best runner between the wickets, a technique that is right up there with Monank and an excellent player of spin to milk singles with soft hands in the middle overs. But too often he has had to come in needing to salvage an innings at No. 5 instead of being in a position where he can be able to shape it before all hell breaks loose. He’s also someone who takes his time to get in at the crease and is ill-suited to slog on the rare days when USA’s top-order does perform and he doesn’t arrive until the 35th or 40th over. He’s on pace to become the fastest player in USA history to 1,000 runs in one-day cricket but would possibly be even more efficient if he were to bat one spot higher up.
Sort out the wicketkeeper situation
As has been stated numerous times in recent tour reviews, Jaskaran Malhotra has not scored meaningful ones since his debut tour in February 2018. However, his glovework has been consistently tidy. The question is whether USA is content to have a keeper who they don’t expect to score runs or whether they expect him to be a true wicketkeeper-batsman in the modern era.
USA management tried Monank Patel as a wicketkeeper twice in Bermuda in August without much disruption. The reluctance to make it a full-time proposition seems centered around the fact that team management may not want to put Monank through a physical toll considering he has had back trouble at times on tours, beginning at WCL Division Three in Oman last year.
Another option, which seems unlikely but theoretically possible, is recalling Ibrahim Khaleel. His career one-day average with USA of 19.60 is not dissimilar from Malhotra’s 21.26. Khaleel is solid with the gloves, an outstanding player of spin and would slot in seamlessly into a middle-order slot, killing two birds with one stone with regards to solving part of the conundrum of having too many openers batting out of position in the team while also finding someone who can bat well against spin, an area where USA has consistently struggled in the last year since Khaleel was sacked.
The obvious impediment to Khaleel’s recall is the acrimonious nature of his axing in September 2018. Though it was never explicitly stated by either party, all the context clues indicated that there was a rift between Khaleel and Timil Patel (and possibly some other bowlers too) with regards to how Khaleel handled and managed his bowlers while captain, which many sources have stated was dictatorial in nature. No longer having the captaincy would solve part of that issue, but having him re-enter the team in general runs the risk of sparking divisions in the team and disrupting chemistry, which may be more trouble than it's worth. Unless team management is capable of clearing the air between Khaleel, Timil and anyone else who has an issue with the ex-captain, Khaleel’s chances of a recall appear remote.
Give opportunities to newer, younger, locally developed talent
Something that puzzled the few dozen spectators who were present throughout the tri-series in Florida, not to mention many others who followed the tri-series via the online stream, was how 22-year-old batsman Sagar Patel managed to stay on the bench all series despite the repeated failures of most of the batting order.
USA coach after USA coach keeps kicking the can down the road when it comes to giving opportunities to locally developed players. Most recently, the excuse was used by Pubudu Dassanayake that he had to focus on getting ODI status first for USA and then once that happened, there would be a surplus of ODIs to give raw players an opportunity to get experience, something they could ill-afford to chance in the cutthroat nature of World Cricket League tournaments. Sagar’s non-selection in Florida shows that the win at all costs mentality hasn’t changed under the new Kiran More-led regime.
Despite much praise heaped on them by Dassanayake at the time in August 2017, not a single player from that summer’s USA U-19 squad in Canada has been included in a senior team touring squad, let alone actually get a senior team cap. Several players coming out of that tournament looked like excellent prospects – Keshav Pabisetty at the top of the list as a pace bowler, but also Gaurav Patanker as an allrounder as well as batsmen Raymond Ramrattan and Vivek Narayan.
A total of 10 out of the 15 players from USA’s 2010 U-19 World Cup squad to New Zealand eventually played for the USA senior team at some point in their careers, with Taylor and former USA men’s captain Muhammad Ghous being the most successful of the lot. But repeatedly ignoring a player like Ryan Corns played a role in him throwing in the towel on the USA setup and relocating to Sydney, Australia while limited opportunities for Naseer Jamali, who was outstanding at the 2015 T20 World Cup Qualifier in Ireland, resulted in him giving up serious cricket to commit full-time to a career in the Seattle police department.
With the exception of Taylor and fast bowler Hammad Shahid, who after appearing in the 2010 U-19 World Cup in New Zaeland also played together in the 2011 USA U-19 team at the 2011 U-19 World Cup Qualifier in Ireland before Taylor captained the 2013 USA U-19 team in Canada, the only other players from USA’s U-19 squads from 2011 through 2017 to be given a chance in the senior team are batsman Fahad Babar, ambidextrous spinner Prashanth Nair and Sagar, who got a brief run in 2017 before being dropped.
The consequence is that generation after generation of talent continues to turn their attention to other pursuits outside of cricket after they recognize quite early that USA’s administration continually prefers recruiting players with overseas experience developed in a foreign first-class system rather than giving opportunities to locally developed players. There is no better example of this than former USA U-19 bowler Karan Patel, who played in Bermuda in July 2015, but subsequently gave up cricket to pursue baseball full-time. After a successful college baseball career at UT-San Antonio, Karan was drafted in the 7th round of the MLB Draft this past June by the Chicago White Sox.
If team management and administrators now claim that they can't afford to take risks during CWC League Two because every point is valuable towards securing a spot in the 2022 World Cup Qualifier, the same excuse can't be used for the CWI Super50 tournament in Trinidad & Tobago, which presents eight matches for USA to experiment with newer players and trial different combinations leading into the next CWC League Two tri-series in the UAE this December. If newer or different players are not given opportunities to get exposure and gain experience, particularly on the batting side, at the CWI Super50 this November - a tournament that is essentially a de facto friendly tournament where ICC qualification is not at stake - then the writing is on the wall about what kinds of opportunities can be expected for less experienced players in CWC League Two.
The bottom line is that if a revised selection philosophy ensuring the promotion of locally developed talent isn’t forcefully mandated, there is no point in having a pathway program to the USA U-19 team. After all, there is scant evidence in recent times that a pathway still exists between the USA U-19 team and the men’s team to make grassroots opportunities an appealing use of time for junior players, let alone an appealing investment opportunity for potential local and/or national sponsors.
Click here for Part 1 - Team Grades, and Part 2 - Player Grades.
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author, who was present at all of the team's matches on tour in Florida, 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.]