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USA plan trio of warm-up tours ahead of WCL Division Two

Jannisar Khan pulls wide of mid-on for a boundary Peter Della Penna

USA Cricket has organized three warm-up tours for the USA men's squad ahead of WCL Division Two in Namibia this April. The preparatory tours are a bid to give the team the best chance of finishing in the top four of six teams, which would secure USA ODI status as part of the new Cricket World Cup League Two through 2021. USA will take on Canada, Hong Kong, Oman, Papua New Guinea and the hosts in the six-team event from April 20-27.

The set of tours highlights the sense of urgency with which USA Cricket is treating Division Two, as well as the sustained increase in investment from the ICC that helped keep USA afloat during the three-and-a-half year period from June 2015 until January 2019. In that timeframe, the USA Cricket Association (USACA) was suspended and then expelled before USA Cricket was formally approved last month as the designated national governing body to represent and rejoin the ICC as an Associate member.

The ICC Americas caretaker administration known as Project USA, which was overseeing administrative affairs in the interim, had been operating with an annual budget in the range of USD 2-2.5 million, according to project manager Eric Parthen in an interview with ESPNcricinfo in 2017. Though most Associates operate with a budget far below that, the ability of USA Cricket to facilitate these tours is an indication of the level of continued funding support from the ICC even after USA Cricket's approval to rejoin the ICC, rather than reverting to USACA's pre-suspension annual funding levels of approximately USD 300,000.

According to multiple sources, a squad of approximately 20 players is set to depart on February 10 for a one-week tour of Antigua, though USA Cricket has not publicly announced the touring squad as was the case with a 17-man training camp held at US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs last month. USA will play a total of five matches in six days, including three intra-squad matches plus two matches against Leeward Islands club sides or developmental XIs. The tour is a de facto selection trial for players not in the squad that gained promotion at Division Three in Oman last November to push for a place in USA's squad for Division Two.

The second tour is anticipated to have a narrowed-down squad of about 15 traveling to the UAE from March 10-31. According to multiple sources, that tour will feature a series of unofficial matches against English county sides spending their pre-season in the UAE. USA Cricket officials are also understood to have sent out informal requests to both Cricket Australia and the Pakistan Cricket Board about the possibility of warm-up matches against either side, both of whom will be in the UAE in the second half of March for a five-match ODI series.

The lengthy tour could also feature some T20Is against UAE. The purpose of the matches would be two-fold. First, it would serve as early preparation for both teams for this summer's next phase of 2020 T20 World Cup qualifying. More pressingly for USA, scheduling official T20Is ahead of Division Two would open the door for Jannisar Khan to serve out the two-match ban he received at Division Three in Oman, and thus make him 100% available to participate in Division Two.

If USA were to schedule 50-over matches against UAE, they would not count against the suspension because USA does not yet have ODI status, but T20Is would meet that threshold.

The last tour in the works is a one-week acclimatisation camp in South Africa from April 9 to 17 before leaving for Namibia ahead of USA's first match against Oman on April 20. USA previously toured Potchefstroom for a series of warm-up matches ahead of 2017 WCL Division Three in Uganda. It is understood that USA would travel to Johannesburg and Benoni this time around to play more warm-up matches.