Photo credit: Peter Della Penna
In part two of DreamCricket's tour report card review of the disastrous ODI series in Nepal, grades and in-depth evaluations are handed out to each member of the 14-man touring squad headed by Ian Holland, USA's leading performer on tour.
By Peter Della Penna (Twitter @PeterDellaPenna)
For those unfamiliar with how individual players have been graded in the past as part of Dreamcricket’s post-tournament report cards, each player is evaluated with regards to their specific role in the team on a match-by-match basis and not solely based on aggregate stats.
Players who excel under pressure and against higher quality opposition are graded more favorably. Overall chances given by a batsman, as well as overall chances created by a bowler, are taken into consideration regardless of total runs scored or wickets taken. Bonus marks are given for good fielding while a player can also be downgraded for weak fielding including dropped chances.
With those guidelines laid out, here are DreamCricket’s player grades for the 2020 tour of Nepal for a Cricket World Cup League Two tri-series against Nepal and Oman, where USA finished last with a record of 0-4.
Xavier Marshall: F
If his name was Joe Smith, non-former Test player, there’s a high probability he would have been dropped by now. But Marshall’s reputation as a former West Indies international seems to have given him extra credit in the bank in the eyes of selectors in spite of his rapidly diminishing returns with the bat.
On this tour, Marshall added just 54 runs in four innings with a best of 23 in the third ODI loss to Oman. In two of his innings, he was out lbw falling over to the off side while trying to flick through midwicket. In his other two innings, he edged to slip trying to defend with a diagonally angled bat. All four dismissals indicate varying degrees of technical flaws.
Worse than the lack of runs, Marshall’s fielding continues to be a tremendous liability. His pair of dropped and/or misjudged chances at deep fine leg when Aqib Ilyas was on 1 & 2 in the opener against Oman cost USA dearly as Ilyas went on to make 72. In essence, Marshall contributed a net total of minus-17 runs by virtue of those two misses alone, not including some of his other sloppy work.
After two excellent tours to the UAE in March 2019 and Namibia in April 2019 that helped USA secure ODI status, he has fallen away badly since USA resumed international competition in August at the Americas T20 Regional Qualifying Final. There are few signs that his batting will recover sufficiently to justify his continued inclusion, particularly when his fielding does not compensate for the lack of runs.
Aaron Jones: D
There were mitigating circumstances to this evaluation as Jones ended with 68 runs in four innings. Jones was sent to open in USA’s first two ODIs, a role he clearly did not look comfortable in. He made just 17 runs in those first two innings, though his tactical approach was mystifying when he decided to randomly charge Mohammad Nadeem in the first match against Oman when the situation did not call for it and he wound up being bowled as a result.
Pushed back down to No. 5 for the third ODI against Oman, he scored an unbeaten 47 off 79 balls. During that innings, he teamed with Nisarg Patel in a 70-run sixth-wicket stand dominated by Nisarg which lifted USA not only back into the match, but arguably put USA in front. However, the approach taken by Jones after Nisarg’s dismissal was lamentable, with extra emphasis on the first four letters in that word. He showed no desire to change gears or take responsibility to put the onus on himself to score more aggressively once the tail once was exposed – something head coach James Pamment was openly critical of Jones for – and the result was USA being bowled out in the 40th over. He then made 4 in the final match before he was bowled prodding forward to Sushan Bhari.
In the field, Jones was mostly anonymous. He took one decent catch lunging forward at square leg, but drew the ire of his teammates in the field in the third ODI against Oman when a skied drive by Aqib Ilyas off the bowling of Nisarg Patel landed safely in front of him at cover sweeper, making no effort to dive forward to create a catching opportunity when Aqib was on 71 (he ended with 105) during his 216-run partnership with Zeeshan Maqsood.
In the majority of situations, the one-gear one-speed approach by Jones to his batting has been beneficial to USA as a team. But it backfired badly in the third ODI. He needs to demonstrate better adaptability going forward. And the idea to have him open should be shelved for the foreseeable future too both for the benefit of Jones and the team.
Steven Taylor: F
Four runs in three innings. One bad lbw decision, but then two terrible shots that demonstrate the overall recklessness and lack of consequences mentality in a decade of playing for the men’s team. It was said on air during the TV commentary of the third ODI, but worth repeating in text format: the shot he played to Bilal Khan was the height of arrogance. It was not full enough to drive, not short enough to pull, no width. It was a back of a length ball on middle stump that required the respect it deserved in the form of a textbook back foot defense.
Instead Taylor tried to swat one of the best pace bowlers in the Associate world over mid-on, and paid the price: first by being caught for a second-ball duck and second for deservedly being dropped for the final match against Nepal. It was the first time Taylor had been dropped from a USA XI since the final of 2010 WCL Division Four in Italy, a decision that was many years overdue. Credit to James Pamment for finally taking a stand that other USA coaches who came before him were too timid to make.
It was the umpteenth time Taylor has gotten out at mid-on or mid-off, which might leave other batsmen shame-faced but Taylor doesn’t seem to have learned anything in 123 matches for USA at senior level. In some ways, Taylor’s stubborn approach is reminiscent of how Shane Warne once described Monty Panesar’s bowling in that he had played the same Test match 50 times rather than actually absorbing any lessons and applying them to each subsequent match.
Taylor’s bowling lacked any intent whatsoever. For the majority of his 12 overs, he just looked like he was rolling his arm over. He bowled an unusual number of full tosses, again a symptom of his seeming lack of focus, and could not consistently land the ball in areas that were conducive to slow bowlers on the other two teams. He finished with figures of 1 for 72 in 12 overs.
Taylor took four catches on tour, the lone silver lining to his performance. He dropped one very tough chance at slip, and missed a runout chance as well. But both chances cost USA less than 10 runs.
His off-field indiscipline was excused in the past when he was actually scoring runs, but he has not scored a century since 2016 against Oman at WCL Division Four in Los Angeles. His average in 50-over cricket for USA since then is a paltry 21.91 across 47 innings, completely unacceptable for a No. 3. Taking into account his off-field incident in December that saw him removed from the vice-captaincy as well as his consistently declining form, USA administrators – whether that is the selection panel or others above them – need to have a serious chat about whether Taylor warrants a continued presence in the team going forward.
Monank Patel: F
This tour exposed Monank as a good player of average to below average spin bowling, but someone who struggled badly to adjust to above average to top-class spin bowling. He totaled 27 runs in four innings on this tour. His footwork to spinners was poor and his historic troubles against the short ball popped up once again when facing quality pace bowling.
The reality is that Monank has not been remotely close to the caliber of player he demonstrated since his last century for USA, which at the time was his third in 13 innings when it happened in November 2018. Like Taylor, his form has fallen off a cliff and may bear some correlation to his off-field indiscipline that came to the fore following the drinking incident on the tour of the UAE. Since that last century against Uganda to open up 2018 WCL Division Three in Oman, Monank averages 25.58 in 34 innings in 50-over cricket for USA, including five half-centuries. Two of those fifties, against UAE and PNG last March and April, came in low-target chases with little to no pressure in which USA won by 9 and 10 wickets respectively. Otherwise, he has consistently wilted under pressure. In USA’s last two ODI tours in December and February, he is averaging 14.63 across eight innings.
Monank’s fielding also does not help his case. He had one catch on tour. However, he missed a near point blank runout chance in the first ODI against Oman when Khawar Ali was on 9, before Khawar made 31. He also had a terribly costly drop at a crucial moment on a straightforward skier at mid-off in the first Nepal match when Kushal Malla was on 37. Kushal went on to make 50. In a similar vein to Marshall, Monank’s net batting contribution was minus-8 runs.
It may have been unthinkable in late 2018 during his run of centuries, but Monank is another player that selectors need to have a long and hard conversation about in regards to whether he should maintain his spot in the next ODI squad, taking into account his off-field indiscretions combined with lack of form.
Ian Holland: B
The 29-year-old is one of the few players who could look at himself in the mirror without needing to cover his face in shame. Holland score 168 runs in four innings, including two half-centuries. He scored nearly three times as many runs as the next closest USA batsman, Jones.
Without those two fifties, in the first and second matches, USA might have experienced a far bigger humiliation. A nitpicky criticism is that he couldn’t get USA across the line against Nepal, but he was left without much if any help in a tense chase and his wicket, the ninth to fall, was what clinched a Man of the Match bowling performance for Nepal’s Karan KC.
Holland’s bowling was good in a holding role, but lacked penetration. Many of his overs could have gone to spinners instead. Overall he returned 2 for 109 in 22.5 overs.
His fielding was also once again top-notch. Whether at slip, gully or elsewhere in the infield ring, Holland compensates for the weak links that are plugging up other positions in the field.
With the English County season starting up soon, Holland is unlikely to be available for the next round of home ODIs against UAE and Scotland in April due to his contractual commitments with Hampshire. USA management needs to come up with a solution, and fast, to make up for the runs they’ll lose if he should be absent.
Akshay Homraj: D
The wicketkeeper finished third on the team on runs on tour and was part of one of the two half-century stands on the tour alongside Holland in the first ODI against Oman. However, his returns continued to go south after that 44 in the first match. On the whole, he finished with 60 runs in four innings and had five dismissals behind the stumps on the tour.
The reality is that Homraj has been mediocre to below average ever since his debut for USA in November. After 13 matches, he still has no half-centuries and is averaging 19.27, basically identical to Jaskaran Malhotra (21.26) and Ibrahim Khaleel (19.60) before both of them were axed. The most disappointing part is that Homraj has not come close to playing the type of match-winning or at the very least momentum-shifting innings that he demonstrated at USA trials which earned him selection in the first place, the kind of knocks where he showed a bold, aggressive and fearless streak. Instead, his batting approach in his appearances for the national team by and large has been very tentative.
Homraj’s wicketkeeping alone is average and not brilliant enough to compensate for his mediocre batting returns. Too frequently on this tour and previous ones, he has possibly missed chances because he has regularly been standing too far behind the stumps when the ball is not carrying. It has also resulted in a number of byes slipping past him.
Homraj has gotten a longer leash than many others who have been axed for doing more with fewer opportunities. It’s a 50/50 call whether or not selectors decide to give him one more chance in April.
Elmore Hutchinson: F
Hutchinson has had a distinguished career for USA, but he may finally be out of gas. Overall his bowling figures don’t look bad, returning 1 for 38 across 12 overs. However, the statistical economy disguises how poorly he actually bowled in the context of how few times he actually challenged batsmen by playing at the ball and/or beating the outside edge. He essentially wasted the new ball in the second ODI against Nepal, a performance which contributed to him being dropped for the final two matches. He didn’t get the best support in the field – two chances went down off his bowling in one death spell – but on the whole he was not great.
His batting usually has done wonders in the past to compensate for modest bowling returns. That was not the case in Nepal, where he scored four runs in two innings. On both times, he was bowled clearing the front leg trying to heave over midwicket. In the field, he took one catch at deep midwicket to dismiss Kushal Malla. Otherwise, he did no harm.
Hutchinson has been a wonderful contributor over the years, but after sitting on the bench all tour in the UAE followed by meager returns in two matches in Nepal, he may have to jump before he is pushed by selectors.
Timil Patel: F
There was simmering animosity when Ibrahim Khaleel underbowled him at the 2018 T20 Americas Subregional in North Carolina, which led to a great schism among team leadership that resulted in Khaleel’s sacking as captain. However, Timil nor anyone else can blame conspiracy politics on Netravalkar’s decision to not bowl him more than four tame overs in the first ODI against Oman on this tour before he was benched for the subsequent two matches. The two are club teammates in California. So if Netravalkar has lost faith, it’s hard to imagine anyone else will have it. For the series, he returned 0 for 36 in six overs.
With the bat, he scored 17 runs in two innings. A good argument could be made that not enough faith was shown in his ability to bat spin on spinning tracks. After all, he does have four half-centuries in his 50-over career and as recently as April scored USA’s maiden ODI half-century. However, coach James Pamment’s assertion that Timil “defends spin well” as opposed to being an efficient scorer off of it is also a fair observation. Timil is not an easy player to bat with, and his dot ball accumulation has had a tendency to create pressure and runout opportunities in the field for the opposition, perhaps a reason why management was reluctant to push him further up the order in this series. In the field, he took no catches but also did not have any drops.
Like Hutchinson, Timil has had a distinguished career for USA. Also like Hutchinson, he may have to jump before he is pushed.
Karima Gore: F
This was by far the worst tour of the 21-year-old’s career since entering the squad last March. His bowling struggled in the warm-up matches beginning in Mumbai, but arguably even further back to the UAE tour in December where he went wicketless. Regardless, Netravalkar showed a somewhat disappointing lack of faith in him. He returned 1 for 62 in 14 overs. Right after taking his lone wicket in the series against Nepal, he was immediately yanked out of the attack in the second ODI, something which probably did not help his confidence.
Putting aside his modest bowling returns, his worst moment was arguably his dismissal in the rematch against Oman. Entering after the fall of Nisarg, who had dragged USA back into the match with his brisk half-century, Gore went for a wild heave and it resulted in a skied top edge to point. A point could be made that Gore felt compelled to go for such a risky shot – swinging for the far deeper boundary at midwicket against the turn of a left-arm spinner – because of Jones’ lack of intent at the other end. But in terms of percentage cricket it was high risk, low reward and there were 15+ overs to go. It was far from a clear-headed decision with regards to shot selection and was likely the final straw that resulted in him being dropped for the final ODI after scoring just 18 runs in three innings to that stage to go along with his lone wicket.
In the field, Gore was consistently attentive at backward point and saved numerous runs for USA. He took two catches, but also had one slightly costly drop late Nepal’s first innings in the second ODI.
Gore has one wicket in his last five ODIs at venues which have been largely favorable to spin bowling, something which may raise a small red flag. However, he was USA’s best bowler in 2019 and was their leading wicket-taker in the home ODI series at Florida in September. A return to that venue may hopefully spur him back into form with the ball.
Rusty Theron: C+
The 34-year-old was arguably USA’s best bowler on tour. Figures of 6 for 142 across 30 overs, an economy of 4.73, don’t really reflect how well he bowled throughout the tour. He beat the outside edge far more often than any other USA bowler, and he was also let down by USA’s fielders on numerous occasions, which could have added to his wicket tally.
Though his best wicket haul was 3 for 60 against Oman in the rematch for the third ODI, he arguably bowled even better in the two matches prior to that. He returned 1 for 41 in 10 overs in the first match against Oman, and had Aqib Ilyas dropped on 1 & 2 by Marshall before the batsman made 72. He then returned 2 for 41 against Nepal and should have had a third but was the victim of Monank Patel’s shocking drop at mid-off on a skied drive by Kushal Malla on 37. He was not used in the final match against Nepal when the target was just 36.
With the bat, Theron heaved big when possible, adding 31 runs in his four innings and threatened at times for even more runs than that before getting out. He was adequate in the field, though he showed his age on one occasion at long-off when he refused to put in a dive for a possible half-chance early in the tour.
Theron has yet to have a true breakout match for USA with the ball, but his experience has been valuable thus far in key moments. Fitness permitting, he should continue to be a steady contributor in upcoming tours.
Saurabh Netravalkar: C-
Like Theron, the USA captain was exemplary with the ball, returning figures of 6 for 107 across 30 overs including five maidens. His best statistical return was 3 for 37 in 10 overs in the rematch against Oman and he was efficient in the first two ODIs as well, taking figures of 1 for 42 and 2 for 28. He had one chance put down at slip by Taylor off his bowling that wound up only costing seven runs.
With the bat, he showed more fight than most did for USA from his position at the bottom of the order, ending with 17 runs and was dismissed just once in four innings. A handy 14 not out in the first ODI against Oman looked at one stage like he might have just given USA an above par total to get past 200 but Oman cruised to the target, getting there with three balls to spare.
In the field, Netravalkar does his best to disguise himself at fine leg when possible. He put down a skier off Hutchinson at mid-off in the second ODI against Nepal. He did take one catch during the tour.
On his bowling alone, Netravalkar would get a B-, but he gets severely downgraded on this tour for some very poor tactical decision-making as captain. He should have taken the new ball ahead of Hutchinson in the second match against Nepal. The other bowling rotations and refusal to trust spinners in certain situations were costly. He also has to take responsibility for some of the batting order changes. It was not a tour in which he covered himself in glory as captain.
After the T20 Qualifier debacle at Bermuda in August, this is now the second disastrous tour that Netravalkar has overseen in the space of six months. There are already plenty of calls for a new captain to take over. But he has also been in charge for a pair of 3-1 series results as ODI captain and the lack of an obvious replacement who is guaranteed to be in the XI every match may result in a stay of execution for at least one more tour.
Cameron Stevenson: C
After sitting out the ODI series opener against Oman, the fast bowler from Victoria bowled a very sharp spell against Nepal to return 3 for 30 in 10 overs, his fourth straight ODI with three wickets. However, there is some question as to whether he was actually needed when every other team was succeeding with spin. Those doubts were raised further when he was tonked for 20 runs off his final over in a lackluster seven-over performance against Oman in which he conceded 57 runs for no wickets. He did not bowl in the 5.2 over chase on the last day against Nepal for obvious reasons, meaning his tour returns were 3 for 87 in 17 overs.
With the bat, Stevenson scored 24 runs in three innings. He had a 49-run partnership with Ian Holland against Nepal that looked for some time like it might take USA to an unlikely victory before he fell top edging a sweep. He was the unfortunate victim of a runout in his next innings as a consequence of ballwatching by Aaron Jones. His last dig lasted two balls when he was defeated by an arm ball from Sushan Bhari.
In the field, Stevenson took one very good catch at deep square leg to give Theron a wicket against Nepal. He is generally a high energy, active presence who saves runs.
Stevenson has yet to play a home series for USA. Given an opportunity in Florida, he should receive plenty of support from whatever fan turnout appears during the weekend doubleheader in April because he has been full of heart and soul for USA and is sure to be retained in the squad for the next tri-series against UAE and Scotland, especially after his nine wickets in the last three matches against the two sides during the tour of UAE in December.
Nisarg Patel: C
After sitting out the first two ODIs, Nisarg pumped life back into USA’s flailing chase against Oman in the third match on tour by scoring USA’s fastest ODI fifty off just 32 balls. His career-best score with the bat for USA was fearless, counterattacking cricket that emulated what Kushal Malla had done against USA a few days earlier as he smashed four fours and four sixes. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the elevation attempting a fifth six and when he was caught at long-on, USA quickly subsided. The following day against Nepal, he was out for just two, defeated by a Sandeep Lamichhane googly.
With the ball, he returned figures of 0 for 37 in seven overs against Oman. However, his bowling arguably had more bite than any of the other spinners USA used on tour as he beat the outside edge several times. With more alert, aggressive fielding by Jones on the cover sweeper boundary, Nisarg might also have been able to fetch the wicket of Aqib Ilyas well before he reached his century. In the field, Nisarg was adequate. No catches taken, but no chances dropped.
Nisarg bounced back well after being part of the off-field incident on the tour of the UAE in December. He has 132 runs in his last four innings for USA, a much stronger return than just about anyone else in the current squad barring Holland. His batting continues trending upward and he may be forcing himself into a regular place in the starting XI by the time the April ODIs in Florida are through.
Nosthush Kenjige: C+
The left-arm spinner only appeared in USA’s lost cause last ODI against Nepal. Yet he showed the kind of spirited fight with the ball USA had been missing for large portions of the tour. He took two wickets in his opening over, more than the rest of USA’s spinners combined for the entire series, which called into question why he had not been given an opportunity earlier.
That is not just for his bowling either. Kenjige has consistently been one of USA’s top fielders since his 2017 debut. That was on evidence with the spectacular one-handed catch he took at mid-off when he was on as a sub fielder in the second ODI against Nepal.
There is no doubt Kenjige will be retained in USA’s squad for the home ODIs in April. In a squad which has issues with “team culture” as referenced by coach Pamment and captain Netravalkar after the final ODI loss to Nepal, Kenjige is the player least likely to cause issues and should be someone that any newer or younger players picked for the upcoming series will look up to as a role model for Kenjige’s tireless work ethic and positive attitude. The only question is whether or not Kenjige will be able to force his way back into the starting XI on a regular basis or will be limited to a reserve role.
ICMYI - Part 1: Team Grades.
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author, who was present at all of the team's matches on tour in Nepal, 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.]