February 17, 2011

USA U19 Performance Review

It is hard to argue with success.  It is hard to argue with winning.  USA U19 went 5-0 and except for the Canada match, they overwhelmed the others sides.  Except for Canada, the other sides as it turned out were not in the same league as USA.  Should be noted that Canada were without the services of three of the U19s who are in India with the seniors and getting all the experience of playing the very best in the world.  They will be stronger when USA sees them again in Ireland in the global qualifiers.   None of this should take away from the US performance which we should all be proud of especially the young men who were part of the side.   But it would be a mistake to get carried away and over-estimate our side and under-estimate the opposition in the process, as we move forward in the qualifying phase towards the 2012 U19 World Cup.

So lets look at the US squad's performance objectively, at least as objectively as we can.

  • Their fast bowling consisting of Salman, Hamad and Mital Patel was quite successful but I only see Hamad as having the ability and experience to be a true strike bowler.  He has ability to raise his game as the opposition gets better.  It is often the case that really good outswinging bowlers like Hamad will often miss the edge of lesser batsmen.  Salman is improving rapidly but I dont see him at the same level as yet as Hamad.  Mital Patel bowled surprisingly well but he appears to be a confidence bowler -- if his loose deliveries are dispatched with ease, he may struggle.  
  • Their slow bowling is mediocre.  Might sound harsh but the reality is that Shayan and Gurpreet are not the sort of bowlers who will trouble good batsmen.  While Shayan may be effective from an economy rate standpoint, Gurpreet bowls far too many loose deliveries every over for a spinner.  Neither of them stood out in the Western Conference U19 matches.  In fact, Viraj Sehgal of SWR was a more effective slow bowler who may not have caught the fancy of the selectors in the December trials.  The fact that Pranay Suri who has been dominant slow bowler in U19 matches out West has been mostly ignored as a bowler is a shocker to those who have seen him in action.   He needs to be shown faith so that he can bowl with confidence and deliver the goods.
  • Their top-order batting consisting of Taylor, Mirza and Joshi is one where it will click when it is their day but it won't be their day when the opposition bowls enough wicket-taking deliveries.  Taylor is flamboyant but he is also reckless.  Mirza appears solid but I am not convinced that he can be patient when the going gets tough.  Joshi is a talented batsman but he tends to throw his wicket far too often to loose shots, something he needs to work on.  
  • The middle order batting consisting of Babar, Jodha and Suri has the problem that they are inherently attacking batsmen who take chances.  When it comes off, it is fun to watch as runs come in a hurry.  When it doesn't, the batting will be in disarray.
  • Part of the strength of the US team is its all-rounders -- Salman and Hamad.  Both are batsmen who are gritty, put a price on their wicket and can wield the long handle very effectively when needed.  It shouldn't be lost that Hamad took the USA score from 121 to 143 in the Canada match in the company of the #10 batsman, Mital.   Those 22 runs ultimately were the difference between the two sides.
  • Hard to say that US boasts a fine fielding side.  It appears average with a good upside if trained by the likes of Robin Singh.  Several catches were put down, some easy, but it never cost the US too much.  This will not continue to be the case in Ireland and beyond.  Taylor is an okay wicket keeper -- not bad but not great.  And the fact that he opens the batting means that the side needs a true wicket keeper so that Taylor can focus on his batting up top.
  • In the 14, Trevor Singh is a good upcoming batsman but he is not yet ready for U19 level cricket when there are better options in the reserves.  The two pacers, Kalim and Waleed, are unlikely to get a game given that in addition to the fast bowlers in the 11, the likes of Jodhbir and Joshi can bowl effective medium pace.  So having both these pacers in the 14 is a waste.
  • In the reserves, Akash should find a place in the playing 11 especially against good opposition on sporting tracks.  He is a technically-strong and dependable batsman and he also keeps wickets regularly for his A division Northern California league side.   Krish is also a player who deserves a close look as he is a good batsman and a good off spinner.    Both of them did quite well in the Western Conference U19 matches and the December trials which should bode well.  In fact, the NWR side that they played for and that Suri captained easily handled the SWR bowling side which is effectively the US bowling side in 2010.
Now a look at the coach, support staff and selectors.
  • I like Robin Singh as coach.  His demeanor is just right.  He does not get carried away and he is not stingy when praise is due.    Hope he returns.
  • I do not like the selection committee.   Sew Shivnarine, an experienced top-class cricketer, tends to dominate the committee with his strong views, some his own and some maybe whispered into his ear.  He ignores statistics and recent performances and also seems to ignore what Abrar Ahmed and Sunny Khan, the other selectors, may have to say.  He may feel, and arguably so, that that they haven't played enough cricket to be selectors.  But that shouldn't mean that he has full and total control of picking the 14 and possibly the 11.  Let us not forget that his performance as coach in New Zealand (U19 WC 2010) was disastrous.  Not that they lost most of their matches (they finished 15 out of 16), but the team did not appear to play for him as the tournament progressed.  That is not good.
  • I am also against support staff like physio and manager being USACA board members or closely connected with USACA administration.  Far too much conflict of interest.  Masood, USACA Board Rep for CER, is a physiotherapist by training but having him in the mix can make things complicated.  There is evidence that it has.  Not sure about what influence manager King had on the side. And having Sew around would have made Robin's job that much harder as Sew happens to the ex-coach who likely thought he was going to get the job again until Robin was given it.
The US side can finish in the top six in Ireland and should do so given the other nine countries in the mix.  But the goal should be to be in the top 12 in the U19 World Cup in 2012.  Anything less should be considered a disappointment.     To achieve the goal of top 12, merit and performance should be the guide, not power politics that we have seen far too often in the US to our own detriment.

February 12, 2011

USA are the 2011 ICC Americas U19 Champions!

USA beat Canada in a tense rain-affected low-scoring affair to win the 2011 ICC Americas U19 Championship.  Congratulations are due to the entire USA U19 team and its coach, Robin Singh, for winning this tournament with a convincing 5-0 record.

Morning rain delayed the start of play to noon which made it a 36 over match.  USA won the toss and decided to bat, only the second time that they have done so in this tournament, and managed to get to 143 for 8 in 36 overs.  Taylor (21) and Mirza (29) put on 37 for the first wicket in 8 overs but the middle order failed leaving USA in trouble at 93 for 7.  Pranay (34) and Hamad (17) took the score to 121 with a vital partnership when Pranay departed and Hamad did well in the company of tail-ender Mital Patel to get to 143 for 8.  This was a low score but still could be defended if pressure could be put on the Canadians when they batted.  

The Canadians started sedately and put on 32 runs for the first wicket and thanks to a 50 run partnership between Edghill and Ali got the score to 91 for 2 in 26 overs leaving 60 balls to get 52 runs.  The pressure got to the Canadians as they played poor shots to some inspired tight bowling and lost wickets at regular intervals to find themselves short by 23 runs in 34.2 overs.   It should be said that the Canadian side that US will see in Ireland will  be stronger as it will have three players who are currently playing for the senior Canadian side in the upcoming 2011 ICC World Cup in the subcontinent.

USA bowled quite well to defend the low total highlighting their strength in bowling with Hamad and Ahmad leading from the front and the rest supporting them well.  However, the American batting has to be a worry as they think about the next round.  It is clear that they need solidity in the middle order if they are to compete successfully from here on as sides they will see will be much more competitive than were encountered in the Americas tournament.  The American fielding also was spotty -- a few catches were spilled and Taylor wasn't at his sharpest behind the stumps.  This is another area that needs to be looked at and improved considerably.  As far as batting is concerned, Pranay Suri, batting for the first time in this tournament despite his considerable performances this year, may have been a revelation to some at USACA.  Folks in the west coast know not only of Pranay's cricketing talent but of others, currently languishing in reserves, who would bring much needed batting depth and solidity to the side.

When all is said and done, US has a good chance to go to the WC 2012 U19 tournament.  They need finish in the top six in Ireland but for that to happen, they need to make sure that they send the best side for the global qualifiers to deal with challenging conditions and strong opposition.  This almost never happens in US cricket mostly because "quid pro quos" dominate how USACA goes about selecting teams.   Unless this changes and changes significantly, there is very little hope that the best sides will play and put their best foot forward.

We owe it to our cricketers, young and not-so-young, and to US cricket fans, to select the best teams based on talent and performance without assorted biases and preferences that have very little to do with real cricket.  Will that happen?  Time will tell and you and I can make a difference by helping elect the right folks in local, regional and national elections.

February 11, 2011

USA U19 blitzes past Bermuda to qualify for the Global Qualifiers

The USA U19 made quick work of Bermuda by dismissing them for just 50 and getting those runs without losing a wicket and doing so before the rains arrived.  They have now qualified for the next round on the road to the ICC U19 World Cup in 2012. 

USA U19 has had a dominant week with ball and bat.  When they have batted first (once against Argentina) they have put up an imposing total.  When they have bowled first, they have gone through the top order like sharp knife through warm butter with spinners mopping up the tail with regularity.  The catching has been decent enough that they have not let any batsman off who has subsequently scored.  They fully deserve to go through to the next round in Ireland and have a real chance to qualify for the 2012 U19 World Cup if current form and talent is any indication.

There is one thing to settle which is the bragging rights for ICC Americas U19 with their arch-rivals, Canada.  That match is on Saturday in the stadium -- a perfect setting for the finale.  Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.  It will be a very good test for where US U19 cricket is at this stage relative to Canada despite Canada missing their top three U19 players who are with the senior side at the moment.  The US side appears to have the momentum and the edge but that is why they play the game.

One comment about the other sides in this ICC Americas U19 tournament.  These teams have been very disappointing, particularly Bermuda which is well funded and has the best of resources and should be expected to fare better, much better.  For perspective, the US NWR U19 team has not lost to US SWR U19s in the last year (they have played twice) despite the four bowlers from SWR U19 (Salman, Shahid, Gurpreet, Abdulghani) being dominant bowlers for US in this tournament.  That speaks to the depth that US cricket has, particularly in the west coast.

February 10, 2011

US U19 faces its stiffest challenges in the last two matches

The US U19 team has disposed of the admittedly feeble opposition with efficacy and is now tied for first place with Canada with three wins.  Bermuda which lost to Canada has two wins including a much improved winning performance on Wednesday against the Bahamas.  US takes on Bermuda on Friday in an important match.  If US wins, it is through to the global qualifiers regardless of the outcome of its last match with Canada.  If Bermuda wins and also wins its last match against Argentina which is expected, then US has to beat Canada in its last match and finish ahead of Bermuda on NRR to move forward. If Friday's match is abandoned due to rain which is in the forecast, then US can still go through, even if it loses to Canada, with a better NRR than Bermuda. 

With the exception of Suri, all the front-line bowlers have been given opportunities to get acclimatized as well as perform.  And they have done quite well by making short work of the weak batting lineups they have seen.  Catching and fielding has been fairly good although some chances have been put down.  From a batting standpoint, Mirza and Taylor have scored heavily but the rest of the lineup, notably Joshi, Babar and Jodhbir, have not spent that much time in the middle.   That is a concern as the US middle order may be asked to chase down a total or get enough runs on the board.

The US boys have a lot to play for, that too against a better opposition than they have faced to date.  They should treat it as a "must win" and not "experiment" with their batting and bowling options.  Some would say these are not experiments as much as pressure from USACA power brokers to have a particular combination as well as specific batting and bowling lineups. 

Bermudan players to watch for on recent form are Gilbert, Burgess, Leverock as batsmen and Fubler, Gilbert and Bell as bowlers.  American players to watch for in this key encounter are Taylor, Mirza, and Joshi as batsmen and Shahid, Ahmad and Abdulghani as bowlers.

February 8, 2011

USA U19 impresses with big wins against Argentina, Bahamas and Cayman Island

Match 1: USA vs Argentina: The land of Maradona is not known for its cricket and it showed when the Argentinian U19s played the USA U19 in the first match of the 2011 ICC Americas U19 Tournament.  They were comprehensively beaten in all aspects of the game.  The USA openers, Taylor and Mirza, got big scores including a maiden U19 hundred by Mizra, against what appeared to be mostly inept bowling with Ahmad completing the battering to post a 300+ score.  The Argentinians in reply were no match whatsoever having been bundled out for 30 odd.

Match 2: USA vs Bahamas:  While admittedly stronger than Argentina, Bahamas struggled to put up a half decent score and lost most of their wickets against the second-line bowlers of USA.   USA polished of the total while losing Taylor who perished attempting to polish off the total in one swing. 

Match 3: USA vs Cayman Islands.  Once USA got rid of their star batsman, Sacha De Alwis, it was never competitive as Cayman was dismissed for 40 and a helmet-less Taylor got the runs in a hurry while Babar played second fiddle.

Winning against minnows is expected but it must be said that USA has put them away with ease and helped themselves to the most favorable NRR in case rain plays spoil sport.  They play a disappointing Bermuda side on Friday and arch rivals Canada on Saturday.  A win against either of these teams should assure them of a trip to Ireland for the global qualifiers although a win against Bermuda would be preferred and more likely.

Team selection continues to confound.  Off-spinning all-rounder Pranay Suri was in the XI only to be scratched at the last minute for a pacer, ostensibly because of the "conditions."   As it turns out, the conditions favored the spinners as much as the pacers, if not more, making the scratch decision drip with bias and smell bad.   But there is plenty of deodorant to go around so everything looks good and smells good. 

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