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USA Cricket: DreamCricket’s 2010s USA Men’s Team of the Decade

2019 Dec 30 by DreamCricket USA

Photo credit: Peter Della Penna

DreamCricket is commemorating a decade of coverage for USA's performances throughout the 2010s by naming a team of the decade to honor the best contributors on USA's march to ODI status. 

By Peter Della Penna (Twitter @PeterDellaPenna)
 
1 – Sushil Nadkarni
 
USA’s finest ever batsman looked like he might be running on empty as he started the decade struggling badly at the 2010 T20 World Cup Qualifier in the UAE upon a hasty return from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered at a USACA tournament at Minneapolis in August 2009, but by the end of 2010 he was Player of the Series at WCL Division Four in Italy. Nadkarni has many illustrious records for USA but among the ones he set in the 2010s were the fastest ever century by a USA player in 50-over cricket, doing it off 54 balls against the Cayman Islands in Bermuda in June 2010, bashing 12 fours and six sixes in his unbeaten knock.
 
Signature match: 57* off 59 balls vs. Nepal, 2010 WCL Division Five
 
How many players in the USA or elsewhere can say that they sparked a crowd riot due to a brilliant display of skill? Nadkarni ticks that box for his memorable knock on the last day of round-robin play at Tribhuvan University Stadium in front of 15,000 crazed Nepalese fans who were worried that Nadkarni’s innings might cost Nepal promotion on net run rate. As one of his four sixes sailed over the midwicket fence to raise his half-century, rocks and other debris started being hurled by fans over the fence in the opposite direction onto the field of play, causing a lengthy delay. When the field was finally cleared of debris and play resumed, Nadkarni took USA over the line to clinch a famous five-wicket win chasing a modified target of 157 with 12.3 overs to spare, securing promotion for USA.
 
2 – Steven Taylor (wk)
 
The highest scorer of the decade for USA in both 50-over and T20 cricket, Taylor was at his best as an opener and when he handled the gloves. Aside from Nadkarni, it’s hard to find a more devastating hitter than Taylor in USA’s limited overs history. Since taking off the gloves though, he’s demonstrated an added dimension with the ball, having produced more five-wicket hauls for USA (three) during the decade than anyone else has over their entire career. In the process, he breezed past ex-captain Muhammad Ghous as USA’s most successful offspinner with 56 wickets in a bowling career that more or less only began after he gave up wicketkeeping in 2016.
 
Signature match: 162 off 102 balls vs. Nepal, 2013 WCL Division Three
 
Getting over the recency bias of his unbeaten 96 off 54 balls against Canada in a T20 Americas Regional Qualifier at North Carolina in September 2018, Taylor’s monstrous knock as a 19-year-old against Nepal on the opening day of the Division Three tournament in Bermuda was Taylor at his raw and menacing best. He had 12 fours and 12 sixes in the knock in which he dismantled one of the Associate world’s best bowling attacks that included Shakti Gauchan (1 for 81 in nine overs), Paras Khadka (0 for 70 in 10) and Basant Regmi (2 for 46 in 10).
 
When offspinner Sanjam Regmi (1 for 57 in eight overs) finally had Taylor caught skying another attempted heave for six, Sanjam went over the top giving Taylor a crazed sendoff with the score at 234 for 3 in the 35th over. Taylor just pointed at the scoreboard in response as his bat had done all the talking on this day against the eventual Division Three champs. USA went on to post a total of 366 for 6 in an eventual 94-run win at Somerset Cricket Club.
 
3 – Steve Massiah
 
The former captain’s prime years were wasted in the 2000s during two of USACA’s three suspensions, but he still showed in the early part of the 2010s that his batting class was a notch above not only most in the USA but plenty across the Associate world. He started off the decade as the leading scorer at WCL Division Five in Nepal on what were very difficult batting wickets. Though his consistency waned at times, his class was still apparent against higher-level opposition until his final tournament in 2014.
 
Signature match: 97* off 121 balls vs. Hong Kong, 2011 WCL Division Three
 
A classic example of Massiah’s ability to turn it on when the occasion called for it was his brilliant knock on the opening day of the tournament against the hosts and eventual tournament champs at Kowloon Cricket Club. Not known for his six-hitting during his career, Massiah intelligently utilized the ground dimensions to his advantage, repeatedly seizing on a short boundary to help USA compensate for a slow Powerplay in their pursuit of a target of 257. He struck eight fours and six sixes to clinch what remains today as USA’s highest ever successful chase in 50-over cricket, doing it with 10 balls to spare.
 
4 – Orlando Baker (capt.)
 
“The Partnership Maker” with the bat and “The Partnership Breaker” with the ball. Few people in US Cricket have embodied the team ethos more than Baker over the years. He batted at almost every position in the order for USA during his career, unselfishly sliding up and down for the needs of the team. When given a chance to captain a young and mostly inexperienced T20 squad in 2013, he led them to an 8-0 undefeated record. Former players consistently rate Baker as the best captain they ever played under and one who should have gotten more opportunities to do so for USA.
 
Signature match: 113 off 108 balls v Argentina, 2010 ICC Americas Division One
 
Baker’s career-best score for USA came alongside Aditya Thyagarajan similar to a match against Canada in the same tournament two years earlier in Florida. On this occasion in Bermuda, the pair came together at 91 for 4 and went on to construct USA’s highest-ever partnership for any wicket in 50-over cricket. Baker struck 12 fours and three sixes during his century as part of the 213-run stand with Thyagarajan, taking USA out of trouble to lay the platform for a total of 347 for 6 in an eventual 119-run win.
 
5 – Aaron Jones
 
Despite wearing red, white and blue for just 15 months, Jones put his stamp on the decade in a rapidly earned reputation as one of USA’s finest middle-order batsmen ever. By the end of the 2020s, he could be talked about as USA’s finest batsman ever. In a position that USA has struggled to find a capable player over the years, Jones has provided spine and substance to USA’s lineup without much fanfare. But his clinical efficiency has propelled him past 1,000 career runs in just 27 innings, the second-fastest USA player to do so behind only Nadkarni.
 
Signature match: 78 off 99 balls v Denmark, 2018 WCL Division Three
 
Jones has quite a few scores that are statistically larger than this one for USA, but the symbolic value of this knock was immense on several levels. For years, Denmark held a psychological edge over USA in World Cricket League encounters, but Jones’ style foiled Denmark at their own game with his ruthless efficiency and sharp running between the wickets.
 
No longer could Denmark tease USA into throwing away wickets (and matches) on ego shots. From 87 for 5 in 26 overs, Jones teamed with Hayden Walsh Jr. for a USA record sixth-wicket stand of 131 to take back control in an eventual 16-run win. Jones’ Man of the Match performance went a long way toward USA getting over not just the Denmark psychological hump, but the mental block of Division Three as USA finally made it out in their fifth attempt thanks in large part to Jones.
 
6 – Aditya Thyagarajan
 
“The Insurance Policy” according to former USA head coach Clayton Lambert. It was one he cashed in time and again when Thyagarajan arrived in the middle order to dig USA out of trouble. Like Jones, Thyagarajan was adept at playing with soft hands to calmly rotate the strike. He had three different cut shots he could play based on the fielding alignment behind point to expose even the slightest of gaps but his lofted drive over extra cover was equally devastating. Thyagarajan was also a vastly underrated fielder patrolling long-on and long-off in the slog overs with his safe hands. Only when the wicket of Thyagarajan was claimed did an opponent feel like they had USA down for the count. Were it not for a catastrophic knee injury, he may have continued being a major contributor well into the later part of the decade.
 
Signature match: 102* off 146 balls v Argentina, 2010 WCL Division Four
 
USA entered the day needing a simple victory over their longtime Americas whipping boy to clinch promotion to Division Three. But at 17 for 5 in the fifth over after choosing to bat, that seemed a long way away. Enter Thyagarajan, who later said this was the only time he was ever nervous walking to the crease, so much so that he forget to do his usual ritual of sidestep skips on the way to the middle.
 
Thyagarajan added 84 for the sixth wicket with Lennox Cush, then 204 for the seventh wicket with Rashard Marshall to take USA to 306 for 6 in an eventual 196-run win. Thyagarajan was soaked in sweat by the end of his three-and-a-half hour knock on a stiflingly humid day at a ground nestled in between wine vineyards outside of Bologna, Italy. His heroic rescue missions were so commonplace that his teammates had all raced to be first in the lunch buffet line rather than hang around to clap him off the field.


 
7 – Timroy Allen
 
Outside of Nadkarni, Allen is USA’s finest matchwinner. Were it not for numerous interruptions in his career due to injury and family/work obligations, he could easily have been USA’s greatest player, whether by awards or statistics. When locked in, it’s hard to find somebody who has had as great an impact on matches whether for a USA player or anywhere else in the Associate world. Batting, bowling pace or spin, or his catching in the field, Allen was USA’s very own Swiss army knife.
 
Signature match: 51* off 26 balls v Italy, 2013 WCL Division Three
 
Allen’s was the last of three half-centuries in this USA innings. On a tricky batting wicket at the National Stadium in Hamilton, Bermuda, USA had been reduced to 10 for 2 in the fifth over before Steve Massiah and Sushil Nadkarni both grafted their way past 50 against a very underrated Italian bowling unit in oppressive humidity. Nadkarni finally perished for 73 off 121 balls to end the 42nd over at 178 for 4.
 
Enter Allen, who looked like he was batting on a different wicket to everyone else in the match as he blasted five straight sixes in the final eight overs, scoring at just under two runs per ball to leave Italy completely deflated heading into the innings break. Federazionale Cricket Italia president Simone Gambino called it one of the greatest performances he’d ever seen. Allen claimed well deserved Man of the Match honors in USA’s eventual 74-run win as scoreboard pressure he created was the culprit in Italy’s collapse from 171 for 5 to 180 all out in pursuit of USA’s 254 for 8.
 
8 – Elmore Hutchinson
 
One of USA’s most unsung players of the decade, but USA could not have achieved ODI status without him. Hutchinson has rarely picked up any Man of the Match awards in his USA career. His bowling spells consistently chip away at the opposition while his lower-order batting has often boosted USA from middling to competitive and defendable totals. Along the way he has compiled an enviable record as USA’s second-highest wicket-taker in 50-over cricket while also nudging his way into 12th all-time on USA’s 50-over scoring list.
 
Signature match: 52 off 50 balls v Uganda, 2017 WCL Division Three
 
USA were coming off two straight defeats to Singapore and Canada in Uganda. At 82 for 7 in the 33rd over, USA were heading toward a third straight defeat and certain relegation back to Division Four. Hutchinson had other ideas as he coolly negotiated Uganda’s vaunted spin attack on a raging turner at Entebbe Oval, clubbing three fours and three sixes late in his knock to bring up a maiden half-century for USA as they clawed to 145. Even though Steven Taylor took five wickets in a tense chase to bowl out Uganda for 132, Hutchinson was rightly given the Man of the Match award.
 
9 – Timil Patel
 
The former Gujarat representative has had an illustrious career since making his USA debut in 2012. Though never an extravagant turner of the ball, Timil has kept opponents under his thumb through his exceptional control for a legspinner and in the process has become USA’s all-time leading wicket-taker in both T20s and 50-over cricket. His batting has also shifted up and down the order to suit the needs of the team throughout his career, at one time opening the batting in T20 cricket while also serving as a floater in the middle order in 50-over cricket for his ability to bat spin better than most. It has allowed him to enter the top 10 for USA in scoring in 50-over cricket as well.
 
Signature match: 5 for 22 v Oman, 2016 WCL Division Four
 
Steven Taylor wound up getting all the plaudits at the end of the match after walloping Oman’s bowling unit for an unbeaten 124 off 95 balls to chase a target of 164 in less than 30 overs. But in reality it was Timil’s spell that paved the way for such a commanding victory. At 100 for 4 in the 29th over, Oman were reasonably placed to score in excess of 200 on the small boundaries at Wright Field inside Woodley Park at Los Angeles.
 
But Timil had Zeeshan Siddiqui caught at deep midwicket to spark a slide, later teaming with Taylor for three catches in the ring on a string of leading edges, showcasing how difficult it was to hit him cleanly with his subtle variations. He was only denied a sixth wicket and a chance at USA’s best ever figures when then captain Taylor curiously decided to take Timil off instead of bowling his 10th over against Oman’s tail-end pair.
 
10 – Usman Shuja
 
USA’s most lionhearted cricketer of the decade. His stats are more a testament to his relentless pursuit of victory than any extraordinary skills compared to others who have suited up for USA before or after him. That’s not to say that Shuja was not talented though. He retired as USA’s all-time leading wicket-taker in 50-over cricket (since surpassed by Timil, Hutchinson, Taylor and Saurabh Netravalkar). Shuja was also more than handy with the bat and a sharp fielder on the boundary. His dedication to the game has remained strong since his retirement as a male player representative on the USA Cricket board of directors.
 
Signature match: 2 for 22; 43* off 72 balls vs. Oman, 2011 WCL Division Three
 
In the midst of a chaotic tour, this match embodied the mayhem more than any other. Sushil Nadkarni had dropped Hemin Desai on the second ball of the match in the slips, only to watch him go bonkers smashing 28 off 18 balls on the short boundaries at Hong Kong Cricket Club, but once Desai was removed by Kevin Darlington, Shuja continued to whittle away the middle order during a miserly nine over spell in which he claimed the wickets of big-hitting middle order players Vaibhav Wategaonkar and Adnan Ilyas cheaply for 15 and 8 as Oman were bowled out for 122.
 
But instead of being able to put his feet up and rest, Shuja soon came to the crease in the eighth over at 20 for 7 against a prodigiously swinging ball just a few days after USA had been bowled out for 44 on the same ground by Papua New Guinea’s skilled seamers. After a 32-run stand with Orlando Baker ensured USA would not undercut their humiliating total vs. PNG, he calmly pushed the ball around with Asif Khan in a 71-run unbroken ninth-wicket stand, a USA ninth-wicket record that still stands. Shuja struck three fours and two sixes in his career-best knock for USA at a time when they desperately needed it. Khan eventually struck the winning runs with 16 overs to spare in the two-wicket win, but Shuja’s arms and bat raised aloft while charging back for the second run on Khan’s swipe over mid-on remains the defining image of the day.
 
11 – Saurabh Netravalkar
 
Like Jones, USA’s current captain has compiled an envious record in just two years since making his debut in January 2018. Already he is third all-time in wickets for USA in 50-over cricket. When in rhythm, he has shown the capacity to be a devastating force with the ball through sheer strangulation. Bowling at a pace similar to Shuja but with a left-arm angle, batsmen have regularly struggled to get him away off a nagging length which has been a hallmark of numerous USA victories in a short space of time.
 
Signature match: 5 for 32 vs. UAE, 2019 CWC League Two
 
USA’s first ever ODI five-wicket haul wasn’t even rewarded with a Man of the Match plaque. But make no mistake it was Netravalkar’s performance in this match that laid the foundation for an eventual three-wicket victory. After striking in the eighth over to remove debutant opener Vriitya Aravind for the first wicket of the match, Netravalkar’s put his stamp on the match at the death when he took four wickets in the space of seven balls to wipe out the UAE tail with 10 balls unused. His yorkers were nearly flawless and too much for UAE’s lower-order to handle.
 
Crucially, his spell also meant denying Muhammad Usman an opportunity to carry on when he was well-set on 59 off 71 balls on a flat Sharjah wicket. Had he been able to get back on strike, UAE could very well have managed another 20-plus runs to challenge USA. But instead they were bowled out for a below-par 202 with Usman stuck at the non-striker’s end all thanks to Netravalkar’s killer instinct. The total was eventually chased down thanks to 95 from Aaron Jones.
 
12th man – Rashard Marshall
 
The cousin of current USA national team player Xavier, the elder Marshall was one of USA’s finest middle-order batsman of the new millennium, not to mention a spectacular fielder in the off side ring. Rashard’s career with USA ended prematurely in 2013 due to his work commitments, but when he was on the field he was a genuine matchwinner for USA on numerous occasions. He rarely struggled to adapt his game according to the situation: grafting out singles and rotating the strike when the situation called for it, or pulverizing bowling attacks at the death when the platform was laid for him with a free license to accelerate as he pleased.
 
Signature match: 72* off 83 balls vs. Oman 2013 WCL Division Three
 
This match was a case of déjà vu from USA’s encounter against the same opposition at 2011 WCL Division Three in Hong Kong. After Oman were 94 for 8 in the 28th over at Somerset Cricket Club in Bermuda, some very defensive field settings and captaincy moves by Steve Massiah allowed Oman’s tail to wag all the way to the final over with an end total of 175. A searing opening spell from slingy fast bowler Munis Ansari in his debut tournament for Oman reduced USA to 37 for 3 in the Powerplay when Marshall entered. USA’s batsmen of West Indian heritage had a longstanding habit of not wearing helmets to the crease, but Ansari’s pace had every one of them putting on a helmet for one of the few times in their careers. That is, everyone but Marshall.
 
Early in his knock, he absorbed a sickening blow to the front shoulder when prodding forward to defend a delivery that leapt off a length. Some observers initially thought Marshall had been hit in the face due to the fleshy sound of leather hitting Marshall. After a lengthy delay to receive treatment from the physio, he continued to bat on – without a helmet – absorbing the rest of Ansari’s opening spell and his two later spells before blunting Oman’s vaunted spinners. He struck four fours and six sixes in his unbeaten knock, shepherding USA’s lower-order to an epic two-wicket win before coming straight off for further treatment to his shoulder.

[Views expressed in this article are those of the author, who was present at the majority of USA's matches throughout the 2010s, 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.]