In a bid to reverse the curse of Division Three, the USA team's preparations for their upcoming tournament in Uganda have been kicked up a notch with the help of several Australian coaches, including New South Wales assistant Beau Casson. It is a boost that USA players hope will finally get them over the hump and into Division Two for the first time since the ICC began the World Cricket League system in 2007.
"It's been great to tinker with some of the players and make slight technical adjustments, but there's been a major emphasis on tactical awareness and particularly 'game sense' and when to execute certain deliveries depending on what the situation demands," Casson told ESPNcricinfo during USA's recent preparation camp in Texas. "That's an area that I think there's going to be incredible growth within this playing group because there's skill there, but being able to identify certain situations in the game is very important."
A lack of tactical nous has been a key reason why USA has failed in three prior attempts to progress out of Division Three despite the talent at their disposal. In 2004, USA was in the top tier of Associates and qualified for that year's Champions Trophy in England. A 10th place finish at the ICC Trophy in 2005 saw them reclassified into Division Three when the World Cricket League structure was unveiled for 2007, but when the ICC suspended the USA Cricket Association that year, one of the penalties handed down was a relegation from Division Three to Division Five.
In their first attempt after gaining back-to-back promotions to move up from Division Five in 2010, USA opened the 2011 WCL Division Three tournament with a thumping seven-wicket win over current ODI nation Hong Kong before a calamitous series of results saw them relegated to Division Four. Back in Division Three in April 2013, they began 3-0 in Bermuda including a big win over current WCL Championship side Nepal before stumbling on the final two days of group play against Uganda and Bermuda. Another confident start against Bermuda at Division Three in 2014 in Malaysia spiraled out of control, resulting in relegation once more.
Fresh talent not scarred by the memories of prior Division Three debacles has been drafted into the squad for the Uganda tour, including left-arm spinner Nosthush Kenjige. After a stint training with the Knights franchise in South Africa under coach Nicky Boje earlier this year, Kenjige says the time spent in Texas this month with Casson as well as Tasmania high-performance manager Richard Allanby further elevated his 'game sense' to get ready for a crucial tournament.
"It's just been priceless just because the kind of expertise and knowledge that these two coaches have," Kenjige said. "They've played for international sides and they've been coaching around the world. So just to have them around and looking at you bowl, and then they've also been helping me in different scenarios with the field, with the tactical part of it and also the technical part of the bowling side. So it's just been gold."
Fielding expert Trevor Penney is on USA's staff for Division Three as an assistant coach alongside head coach Pubudu Dassanayake, but former Queensland wicketkeeper and current Cayman Islands coach Peter Anderson was brought to the Texas camp as a consultant specifically to work with USA's wicketkeepers. Akeem Dodson said the brief time with Anderson was a bonus ahead of Division Three.
"That kind of experience, it's all you've been waiting for all your life as a professional athlete," Dodson said of Anderson. "Not only the drive but the wherewithal to implement his own personality onto the way he teaches things. There's so many different drills he had put together, things you could tell he did himself and now he's passing on to you."
One drill Dodson did with Anderson was a rapid reflex exercise in which golf balls were hit from two feet away that needed to be snatched barehanded, then tennis balls, before advancing to cricket balls. The progression is intended to make each step easier for game action.
"I didn't find it too weird," Dodson said. "I've heard golf ball practice is very good for your reflexes because it pings off very fast, then tennis ball for the touch and then those two things going together it makes the cricket ball easier to catch. Going through those progressive drills opens your eyes and you see and feel technically the things you've been doing wrong, and by the time you get to the cricket balls you're not dropping any of them. It's like you flip a switch.
"Meeting him, working with him and having the chance to talk with him, he's learned from some of the best and been around the best. It's that kind of people that you want to keep close to you and build off of. The wealth of experience that he comes with is unfathomable almost and just to be able to have him here along with us and working with us is a great pleasure."
Anderson has formerly headed the Afghanistan national academy from 2014 to 2016 and also coached Papua New Guinea at the 2014 World Cup Qualifier where they secured ODI status. He believes, from his observations in Texas, that USA has the squad right now to be a Division One Associate.
"They have a lot of talent but they have to go back home and reinforce what they've learnt," Anderson said. "The intensity I've seen, I think they're starting to understand what's required to go to the next level and I think these guys will climb fairly quickly. They've got a good nucleus of players together. The biggest challenge is that it's such a big place, they have to go back [home] and take ownership to work on their own game.
"The talent I've seen, it won't be long before they're in the top leagues in my opinion. Playing against those teams, the hardest challenge is working their way up the ladder. I've coached two of those teams and there's no doubt they have the talent to be there, it's just a matter of getting consistency and working hard on their games. I expect them to go to Uganda and do very well and within 18 months I think they'll challenge Papua New Guinea and some of those other countries."