January 31, 2011

Preview of the 2011 Edition of the ICC Americas U-19 Cricket Championship

The Fort Lauderdale area in Florida will host the 2011 edition of the U19 ICC Americas Championship.  Six countries are participating including Argentina, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, and hosts USA.  Top two finishers go on to the ICC U19 Global Qualifiers Championship in the summer in Ireland where two teams each from other regions of the world play against each other and the top six go to the ICC U19 World Cup to be held in 2012.

The USA U19 team was recently announced along with the surprise announcement that Robin Singh (who represented India mostly in ODI cricket) will be the coach.   While Robin Singh has a very good track record as an international coach and his worth ethic as a player was second to none in the Indian teams he played on, his appointment was to a position that no one knew was open except in the smoky back rooms at USACA HQ.   As they say, business as usual at USACA.

In the announced team, Abhijit Joshi has been appointed captain with Stephen Taylor appointed vice-captain. The batsmen are Steve Taylor, Abhijit Joshi, Fahad Babar, Jodha Singh, Trevor Singh, and Cameron Mirza.  The all-rounders are Pranay Suri, Salman Ahmed, Hamad Shahid, Gurpreet Sandhu, and Mital Patel.  The bowlers are Shayan Abdulghani, Kalim Ahmed and Walid Karimullah.   The only wicket keeper on the team is Stephen Taylor who also opens the innings when batting.  Four of the US players were part of the 2010 U19 World Cup campaign - Joshi, Taylor, Shahid, and Ahmed.

The USA team starts the tournament against Argentina on Monday February 7, followed by Cayman Islands and Bahamas on successive days.  Thursday is a rest day for all teams.  Then USA plays what appear to be two crucial matches, back to back, against Bermuda and Canada.

One concern for the USA team is the lack of batting depth.  Unless Steve Taylor, Abhijit Joshi, Fahad Babar and Jodha Singh perform at a peak level, US will become overly dependent on the all rounders to post winnable scores or chase large totals.  This may not matter against the weaker opponents but is a real concern against strong teams like Bermuda and Canada.    The bowling department is perhaps the strongest with Hamad Shahid being a true strike pacer and Pranay whose off spin will pose problems for technically deficient batsmen.   Both of these bowlers should be supported well by the likes of Salman Ahmed and Shayan Abdulghani.   The fielding strength is an unknown as most of the players are not noted for being outstanding fielders or catchers.  The lack of a backup wicket-keeper may become an issue as the tournament progresses as Stephen Taylor, who recently recovered from traffic accident-related injuries, will be doubling as an opening bat and keeper -- a demanding double role.

The Bermuda team led by Joshua Gilbert is a young one but has the benefit of five players who have played as part of the the national senior side in WCL Division 2 in the past year. While captain Gilbert has been quite confident of finishing at the top, their Australian coach, David Moore, has been somewhat more guarded on the team's chances. This time of year being cricket off-season in Bermuda has meant that the team has been short of match practice. Joshua Gilbert, Greg Maybury, Kamau Leverock and Kevon Fubler are players to watch from this side as they try to dethrone Canada as the reigning ICC Americas U19 champions. 

The Canadian team led by Kesavan Juvarajan is also a young team with Riyankhan Pathan and Manny Aulakh returning from their reasonably successful 2010 U19 World Cup campaign.  They will surely miss Hiral Patel, Parth Desai, and Nitish Kumar, who are all part of the senior team which is now in India for the ICC 2011 World Cup.  However, the U19s spent the past week in Trinidad and Tobago playing four matches as part of their preparation and should be expected to be ready to defend their throne.

USA should do well in home conditions but lack of preparation as a unit with the recently-arrived new coach and potential lack of batting depth would need to be overcome for a successful campaign.  The team should benefit from the fact that its first three matches are against traditionally weaker teams which could help it build momentum.   It may well come down to the outcome of the last match of the tournament when traditional rivals, Canada and USA, play each other that determines the top two teams that head across the Atlantic to Ireland this summer.

Weather forecast for the coming week in the Fort Lauderdale area starts of sunny and warm and then cools down with a few showers around as the week progresses.  Still that should be good enough weather for exciting cricket by the cricket stars of tomorrow in these parts of the world.

January 28, 2011

Messiah's Men mess up in the 2011 WCL Division 3 Tournament

It isn't the lack of talent or the lack of resources but somehow the USA's senior team managed to not only not get promoted but took the elevator down to WCL Division 4.   There will be many views on why this happened but one cannot escape the sense one got that they were over-confident, they even felt entitled, they didn't seem to play as a unit, and their age showed.  Their batting was particularly vulnerable with ill-advised shot making costing them dearly.  Catching wasn't their strong point either with several drops and run-out misses.  They did have good moments -- the win over Hong Kong was an impressive one and the fightback win over Oman after being nearly done and dusted at 20 for 7 chasing 122.  And, of course, they likely got the raw end of many decisions. 

This was a team that was picked not because the players had performed of late but because they were mostly an established albeit aging group who appeared to be successful.   I think with this debacle, it is time for many of the older players to move on and for younger ones to find their places and get their feet wet as they attempt to get up to WCL Division 3 in the next couple of years.  Any player who is over 35 who plays ODI cricket better be incredibly fit or incredibly skilled.  I don't think US has such players.  So youth is the way to go.

Lets not forget that team management must have been an issue especially when the assistant coach is asked to play and he gladly does.  The performances of the manager, coach and other staff needs to be carefully evaluated given some of the bizarre decisions regarding team composition.

Dainty and company back in the US should feel quite embarassed by this demotion and use it as a forcing function for changes that ultimately make US cricket better.  What most people in the know will tell you and me is that no such thing will happen because the current crew at USACA is not interested in winning but mostly interested in the perks and privileges that come with staying in power. 

To me, this lack of desire to win at the highest level of cricket managememt is the saddest part of all this.

January 27, 2011

2011 U19 Team Selection - Business as Usual at USACA

The usual mix of deserving players and privileged players make up the U19 National side for the crucial qualifiers in February.  Unless US finishes in the top two in these qualifiers with reigning champions Canada and a strong Bermuda team also in the reckoning, their quest for being part of the 2012 U19 World Cup will be over. 

From the Western Conference, the South-West Region boasts four players in the fourteen including one whose batting and bowling performances were decidedly sub-par in the Western Conference matches and in the aborted National Championships.  The North-West Region which easily won the Western Conference Championship and was unbeaten in the aborted National Championships only has two players to show for its undefeated record.  The Central-East Region which did not even qualify for the National Championships has two players and the Central-West region has no representation.

From the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Region has three players including one who was not even in the list of 21 players invited for the trials.   The New York region has two players, neither of whom appeared to have any notable performances in the Eastern Conference tournament.  The South-East Region has only one player despite qualifying for the national championships.

To call this the best of the nation's U19 would be hard to defend.  What one could settle for is that there are about six players who clearly deserve to be in the side and about four players who clearly are privileged and thus find themselves in the side.  What should concern us is that both Bermuda and Canada youth programmes have progressed significantly in the last couple of years and their sides would be very competitive in the fight for the top two spots in the ICC U19 Americas Tournament in two weeks.  Unless the deserving US players perform at a peak level, US could well find itself out of contention for the ICC U19 World Cup in 2012 as early as February 2011.  

A bit about how to be a privileged player from what I have been able to glean from talking to various folks across the country.   It helps to be from the right region -- one whose regional representative is aligned with the power base at USACA, currently spelt "Dainty."  It helps even more to be from the right league in any region so that you can trade your vote in the upcoming USACA elections for a spot for your beloved player in the national team and a blazer to boot.  It really helps if you are successful in forming your own league and having it approved by USACA only because you want your offsprings to play on national teams.  That makes "vote for spot" principle quite easy to implement.   This is much more common than you and I think.

Now a bit about how to be a deserving player in the mix.  It is harder than you think especially if you are from a region or a league that the current power base at USACA happens to dislike.  The NWR is a classic example of this where they find themselves at odds with the current USACA power base so they are lucky to even have two players in the side, both deserving.  (In the senior side, they have a sum total of 0 despite having won the national championships.) 

Now many of you might wonder how the selectors play into this.  Well they play into this as much as the average puppet plays into its performance.  Their strings are pulled by the region they belong to but the real selection is done by USACA top management where region and league allegiances, voting ramifications, assorted quid pro quos are fully and duly considered.  In that way, USACA is quite thorough and rarely makes mistakes. 

So when the national side lays an egg like the senior side has been seen to do on a couple of occassions in the last week, don't blame the team or team managament.  Blame the deal makers at USACA who probably care much less about on-the-field performances and much more about staying in power and having an occassional dip into the coffers from your and my dues as well as ICC's handouts for a trip here and an outing there.  Also blame the parochial league management and dysfunctional regional managements across this land who will also do anything to stay in power and at times gain privilege for their offsprings and their friends at the expense of the rest.

As Eisenhower once said "A people (aka USACA) that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."  

Lets hope the "soon" is sooner than later and not never.

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