File photo courtesy: Peter Della Penna
DreamCricket takes a look at USA Women's outlook for the 2019 Women's T20 World Cup Qualifier in Scotland and the areas they need to improve on to secure a top-two finish for a place in the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup in Australia.
By Peter Della Penna (@PeterDellaPenna
Step up the batting aggression
USA’s three-match sweep of Canada in Florida over the course of the past weekend was an excellent achievement and big confidence boost after the frustration of their rain-filled experience of August 2017 in Stirling, Scotland. But when the initial wave of euphoria wears off, the reality will set in that there are many areas in which USA needs to vastly improve if they want to seriously challenge for a top two spot at this summer’s Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier to be held in Scotland starting August 31.
First and foremost, it’s hard to learn a whole lot about this USA Women’s team from the opposition that was in front of them in Florida. Canada fielded a woefully substandard women’s side for international cricket. The lopsided nature of all three matches was reminiscent of the beatings handed out by the USA and Canada men to Panama and Belize last summer in North Carolina at their own T20 World Cup Regional Qualifier.
It’s worth reminding that USA Women also won the three-match series these two sides played at King City in the summer of 2010 before being thoroughly overmatched at the subsequent Women’s World Cup Qualifier in Bangladesh in November 2011. USA also more than likely would have won the rematch with Canada in the Cayman Islands in 2012, but rain washed out their head-to-head encounter resulting in Canada progressing to the T20 World Cup Qualifier due to net run rate tiebreaker despite both teams being equal at 4-0.
USA batted fairly conservatively in the circumstances, minimizing risk in the second and third matches in particular when batting first to ensure they accumulated enough runs that would be comfortably beyond Canada’s reach. However, using a similar approach in Scotland being content with a best of 116 will not pose a serious challenge to the majority of teams they’ll come up against, especially Bangladesh who are the reigning Asia Cup champions over India and Pakistan.
The most obvious point to address is where to bat Shebani Bhaskar. USA tried two different opening combinations, but neither involved their best player walking out to open, the same one who has been their leading scorer at the majority of tournaments she has played in for USA. It’s imperative in T20s that your most efficient striker has the opportunity to face the maximum number of deliveries, especially on a team without much depth compared to those they will come up against. West Indies are a case in point with Deandra Dottin now opening in T20Is when she had batted lower down the order earlier in her career in ODIs. There is little sense in keeping Bhaskar down the order as a finisher if those above her are chewing up dot balls instead of rotating the strike at a bare minimum.
Bhaskar opened in the summer of 2017 against Scotland and was named Player of the Match after scoring a half-century in a losing effort. She needs to open for USA to have the best chance of giving teams a serious fight in Scotland this summer as well. Sindhu Sriharsha demonstrated that she is more than capable of shepherding the middle order in case Bhaskar or Erica Rendler get out cheaply going hard in the Powerplay. USA captain Sriharsha also showed she has the capacity to hit sixes too if USA needs a late finishing kick. But Bhaskar needs to be backed at the top of the order.
Bowling unit reinforcements
The spin attack led by Claudine Beckford, Samantha Ramautar and Uzma Iftikhar was rock solid while seamer Lisa Ramjit ended as USA’s leading wicket-taker with five across three matches, including 3 for 11 in Sunday’s finale. But it was arguably USA’s other 14-year-old debutant, Geetika Kodali, who poses a bigger threat to keep USA in the hunt for wins in Scotland.
Ramjit was very disciplined, something USA’s bowlers have struggled with in the past, and there is definitely room for her style in USA’s lineup. But Kodali showcased extremely enticing skills with her height, pace and bounce during her three overs on Sunday. Kodali’s bowling package demands selection against higher-class batting competition on tap in Scotland if USA is hoping to take wickets.
Along those lines, USA should be making a serious recruiting pitch to 20-year-old Sussex left-arm medium pacer Tara Norris. As disciplined as the bowling attack was in holding Canada under 100 on three successive occasions, they were never under serious pressure in terms of facing players who showed any signs of aggression. When that aggression came from the Netherlands in 2011 and 2017, USA had few answers. They’ll face it again from Bangladesh, Scotland, and potentially others too.
In the same vein as what Aaron Jones and Hayden Walsh Jr. have contributed to the men’s team, US-passport holder Norris possesses the experience of having regularly played against a much higher standard of cricket than the majority of USA’s squad barring Bhaskar, Sriharsha and former West Indies international Candacy Atkins.
Norris first represented Sussex at Under-13 level as an 11-year-old in 2010 and has represented England Academy sides from 2013 through 2018, though she has never formally been picked for a full-fledged England side. She is a student at MCCU-Loughborough in addition to her summer opportunities with Sussex, where she recently took 3 for 32 taking the new ball in 10 overs against Nottinghamshire. The spell included the wicket of former England Women’s star Jenny Gunn.
Norris has also spent time playing in Australia for Prahran CC in the Melbourne Grade Competition. She helped her club win the Victoria Women’s Premier League Grand Final by taking the wicket of Australia superstar Meg Lanning in the first over of a player of the match performance in which she also helped close out the chase with an unbeaten 30.
Norris has also played one match in the Kia Super League in the summer of 2017 for Southern Vipers under the captaincy of Charlotte Edwards in a squad that included other illustrious names such as New Zealand’s Suzie Bates, West Indian Hayley Matthews, Dani Wyatt and former South Africa captain Mignon du Preez. Norris took 1 for 18 in three overs, claiming the wicket of Gunn on that occasion as well.
In a team starved of world-class talent, the 20-year-old Norris would walk right into USA’s lineup and give a major boost to the bowling unit. Walsh Jr. and Jones have rubbed off their professionalism on their men’s teammates to have a trickle-down effect on other players. If picking the best 14 eligible players is the priority of the day ahead of grooming locally developed talent, then it’s up to USA Cricket management to put in the recruiting effort to make Norris suit up for USA too.