Dassanayake praises unsung hero Ali Khan
Lost in the brilliance of Steven Taylor's thumping century and another five-wicket haul for Timil Patel in USA's eight-wicket win over Oman was a performance that might not have been as statistically impressive but no doubt had an inspirational impact on the hosts. It's not often that a player is picked to make his debut when practically half-fit, especially when the injury in question is a hamstring strain for a fast bowler.
But Ali Khan's skills with the new ball are rated so highly by USA coach Pubudu Dassanayake that it was deemed worth a gamble to pick him for the first time. It paid off handsomely. Khan took the big scalp of Zeeshan Maqsood in the first over, then claimed one more to finish with 2 for 27 in six overs. Dassanayake told ESPNcricinfo after the win that USA knew going into the game that Khan would only be able to bowl one spell, but it was worth the risk in USA's biggest match of WCL Division Four and the win put USA in the driver's seat for a promotion spot.
"It was a tough decision for us because Jessy [Singh] was really performing well and all our fast bowlers are doing well but when you compare Ali, Ali is in a different level," Dassanayake said. "He has that pace, he has that swing; especially against left-handers he bowls very well. The last two games we didn't pick up enough wickets early and so we were looking for that.
"Once he said that even with a shortened run-up he can come and bowl, we were okay for that because the swing that he has normally with the new ball definitely is going to bring wickets. We are not even worrying about him to bowl a second spell. It's just about the six or seven overs with the new ball and get a couple of early wickets so we're gonna keep doing that."
Dassanayake says what cemented his call to play Khan was his performance in a training session in the lead-up to the game where he continuously troubled USA's opening combo of Fahad Babar and Steven Taylor. Despite bowling off a shortened run-up and not at full pace, his swing was a valuable commodity that made him a must have in the line-up.
"We had one practice session just before the tournament where Steven was batting early in that session and Ali came and bowled some brilliant balls for the left-hander," Dassanayake said. "So that's the time we thought he can do the job even with a short run-up. Doctors and the physios are working behind the scenes to get him in whatever best fit.
"I think he is one of the most valuable players that we have. I have to be careful that we don't hurt him for the future but we've just got to manage to get through this tournament with him if he's willing to take that pain and play the next few games."
It wasn't just Khan's bowling that uplifted the team. After his six overs, he remained on the field for the entire innings rather than coming off. Though he dropped two catches, he is regarded as one of USA's better fielders. Khan said after the game that he wanted to show his USA team-mates that he had their back in the field after they supported him coming into the XI and that he wasn't going to slump off the field after bowling his spell.
Dassanayake says Khan is continuously being monitored but at the moment his hamstring injury hasn't become any worse. The plan is for Khan to play against Denmark because if USA wins it will clinch their promotion into Division Three, allowing him to sit out the last two games. Dassanayake, though, doesn't want to push Khan too hard and risk injuring him more severely and hurt his chances in the future, particularly since he is contracted with Guyana Amazon Warriors in the CPL as well.
"I think we still need one more win and I know that Denmark also has left-handers in the top of the order," Dassanayake said. "Those are kind of gambles. I think we are playing with his fitness. We don't want to hurt him too much but then still we need to manage and also he is a very strong character.
"He wants to perform for the team. He knows how important his role is for the team so I think overall everybody is putting in that effort and I'm very happy how things are moving."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna