ICC Americas: winless but not hopeless
After two weeks spent in Trinidad & Tobago, the ICC Americas squad will head home lacking the notch in their belt that they desperately sought in the form of a group stage upset against first-class teams in the West Indies. Though it may have been a winless fortnight, a one-wicket loss to Jamaica in their final encounter showed that the team was still full of fight and learning rapidly.
With the enhanced level of competition at the Nagico Super50 and lack of regular turf wickets back home, the transition to local conditions with two days of practice ahead of six matches in 11 days was rough. This was readily apparent in their second match, when Jamaica rolled the Americas squad over for 76. Fast forward eight days to the rematch and the Americas crew closed the gap by posting 253 for 8. Scoring 95 off the final 10 overs was just as remarkable. It took a resilient No. 11 to deny them victory.
In their return encounter, they scored 202 against Barbados, a side reinforced by the return of three Test bowlers - Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite and Jomel Warrican - and six Test squad returnees overall from the tour of Australia. The Americas unit actually posted a better score against Barbados than when those players were absent (183).
There is no shame in losing to T&T, who at the time hadn't lost a regional 50-over match since the 2014 Nagico Super50 final. The Americas' totals of 81 - and 76 against Jamaica - weren't even the lowest completed total of the group stage, behind Windward Islands' 66. Regretfully, though, it came in one of ICC Americas' two TV matches and a second attempt to show T&T what they could do was not possible due to an earlier washout.
A far bigger letdown was the performance of the slow bowling department. The specialist trio of Timil Patel, Danial Ahmed and Muhammad Ghous was expected to be the team's strongest asset in spin-friendly conditions. Combined, they took five wickets in 75.2 overs with an economy rate of 5.16.
The overall experience gained in Trinidad is a promising building block to begin a turnaround in Associate fortunes within the region. Canada has slid from a World Cup nation in 2011 to Division Three while USA was relegated in 2014 to Division Four of the 50-over World Cricket League ladder. By the end of the Nagico Super50, the players showed the talent is there to arrest each country's decline.
Individually, some of that talent will be recognized next month during the Caribbean Premier League draft. Six contracts have been guaranteed for members from this squad to join the T20 carnival later in the summer. Here's a look at the contenders:
Nitish Kumar - right-hand batsman/offspinner
Despite being the youngest player in the squad, Nitish Kumar was named vice-captain in part because of his vast experience, having made his Canada debut at 15. His maturity was evident with both bat and ball in Trinidad. He finished third on the team in runs with 112 at 22.40 to go along with his team-leading six wickets, vaulting him towards the top of the CPL wish-list. The 21-year-old's enrollment at Loughborough MCCU, where he scored 119 off 122 balls in a first-class match against Kent last year, further enhances his attractiveness to CPL suitors.
Steven Taylor - wicketkeeper/left-hand batsman
The 22-year-old Steven Taylor underwhelmed on the whole, given his considerable talent, scoring 82 runs at 16.40 in five matches. However, his best performance just happened to come in front of the TV cameras against Barbados when he made 41 off 48 balls, an innings which showcased the explosiveness that others in the squad can't match. Add in the fact that he opened the batting for Barbados Tridents in last year's CPL final and it makes it hard to envision him being left out.
Srimantha Wijeratne - wicketkeeper/right-hand batsman
One of the final four inclusions invited back for the second part of a two-phase trial in September, Srimantha Wijeratne seized the lifeline thrown his way, making the next cut from 33 players to 26 and down to the final 15-man squad. He finished as the team's leading scorer with 130 runs at 32.50. He top-scored twice: 46 against Barbados and 30 against T&T. His versatility showed with 45 off 28 balls against Jamaica, in which he paddle-swept medium-pacers and slogged the spinners during the final 10 overs.
On the bubble
Timroy Allen - right-arm fast-medium/right-hand batsman
The most athletic player in the squad, the tall and lithe Timroy Allen opened the bowling and took five wickets in four matches, best among the pacers, and is also capable of bowling quality offspin. A brittle top order at this tournament meant he was never set up to showcase his finishing skills with the bat, but he has a reputation as a devastating No. 7 for USA. In short, he has an Andrew Symonds skill-set many teams covet.
Alex Amsterdam - left-hand batsman
The former Guyana Under-19 player was second on the team run-charts with 115 runs at 23. The bulk of those came in an opening-day 73 against Barbados. He is a solid technical batsman capable of occupying the crease for long periods, two departments Taylor struggles with, and is also a good fielder. Compared to Taylor though, Amsterdam's ability to accelerate from ball one for T20 purposes is limited and he frequently got bogged down at the World T20 Qualifier last summer in Ireland.
Jeremy Gordon - right-arm fast-medium
The quickest of the bowlers in the Americas squad, Jeremy Gordon played first-class cricket for Guyana before migrating to Canada. He played three matches at this tournament, taking 3 for 32 in the first showdown with Jamaica but went wicketless in his other two outings. Even though he was not the most impressive statistically in the tournament, few Associate bowlers in the region can match him for pace.
Ruvindu Gunasekera - left-hand batsman
The captain had a rough start to the tournament, but ended up producing the team's highest individual score with 87 against Jamaica. A highlight of the innings was his aggression against Sheldon Cottrell, smashing the Test fast bowler for six and a series of fours. He has solid T20 credentials as well, making three fifties in six matches at the 2015 ICC Americas Qualifier last May and finishing 10th overall with 276 runs at the 2012 World T20 Qualifier in the UAE.
Ali Khan - right-arm fast-medium
Sitting in the pecking order behind Allen and Gordon, and with conditions expected to favor slow bowling, Ali Khan only got two matches but performed admirably in both to claim 2 for 63 and 2 for 46 against Jamaica. His wickets were either bowled or lbw, a product of his innate talent for sending down pinpoint yorkers, particularly at the death. He lacks the international experience of Gordon and Allen, but at 25 is three years younger than both and keeps improving with every opportunity earned.
Hamza Tariq - wicketkeeper/right-hand batsman
The 25-year-old missed the first two games after falling ill on arrival in Trinidad and did not have the weight of runs that other team-mates did at the tournament, making 62 overall at 20.66 in three matches, but his final innings provided a window into his T20 capabilities. Entering in the 46th over, he faced 14 deliveries and struck half of them to the boundary to score 35. Of the four players in the Americas squad who keep wicket at national team level, his glovework is rated the best.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna