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.