'I wouldn't have settled for runner-up' - Dassanayake
USA coach Pubudu Dassanayake has praised his side for bouncing back after two losses at the end of the group stage to claim the WCL Division Four title last Saturday in Los Angeles and believes that USA will be one of the teams promoted from the Division Three tournament, due to be held in Uganda next year.
"I took this job to take in that challenge that I want to win tournaments," Dassanayake told ESPNcricinfo. "I wouldn't have settled for runner-up in the final. The first five games in the league round, I was not that happy the way we fielded and some of the things that happened on the field. We had long, long chats in team meetings.
"In the final, when I saw everybody putting that extra effort on the field doing the small things right to win the game, that was the number one moment for me. As a coach, when you set up a plan and the whole team is buying into it and doing that thing on the field, that's a fantastic feeling. So a lot of credit to the boys and I'm very happy how things went in the final."
USA beat Oman by 13 runs in the tournament final, their second win of the tournament against a side that had made a splash at the World T20 earlier this year. In the league stage, USA beat Oman by eight wickets with more than 20 overs to spare but Dassanayake felt the win in the final was more impressive.
Having opted to bat first, USA were 5 for 3 before fighting their way to 208. They went on to defend their total in the absence of two injured frontline bowlers, Ali Khan and Danial Ahmed. Khan's replacement, Jessy Singh, was named Man of the Match for his 3 for 29 and 37 not out at No. 10, while Ahmed's spin fill-in Prashanth Nair contributed a key spell of 1 for 37.
"I'm very happy how especially Prashanth and Jessy performed because they were a few of the guys who really put a lot of hard work in training," Dassanayake said. "They stayed behind after the Auty Cup and worked hard, not only batting and bowling but fitness. I was kind of uncomfortable leaving those guys out when the big names came back into the team but it's fantastic that they got the opportunity and proved they belonged in the final XI. As a coach, you can't ask for better when you see people work hard and then come in and perform.
"I keep saying that USA has one of the best fast-bowling units. Even some of the guys who didn't make the 14, they are good enough coming into any of these Associate teams. So we are lucky to have that but it's good to have the competition. That's how you lift up the level of the game. Everyone understands if you work hard and do things right, you can find a place in the team. That's how I want to see this team growing. There's a lot of examples and a lot of competition within the team and that's a good sign for us moving into Division Three."
Dassanayake was also pleased with how USA's captain Steven Taylor's leadership progressed over the course of the tournament. Taylor turned 23 on Wednesday and was the youngest player in USA's squad though he has played for the side since 2010. Dassanayake said there are still some growing pains to work through but he was happy with how Taylor learned from mistakes.
"Overall I'm very happy how Steven performed from the bat, ball and as a captain," Dassanayake said. "This is his first tour as a captain and there were downs as well during this tournament but for a leader it's all about taking gambles and you stand for your decisions. He's a character like that and I think he's going to be a top captain in the coming days.
"Lots of credit for him also winning the final defending 209, getting the bowlers and field settings right, keeping the team together. Some of those things didn't happen in the beginning of the tournament but I think he's gaining knowledge in how to lead the team. I'm looking forward to the future with Steven as a captain."
When asked if Taylor overbowled himself compared to the specialist bowling options - his 44 overs in the league stage were the most by a USA bowler and he finished with 49 overs, second only to Timil Patel for the side, and took six wickets - Dassanayake highlighted the USA captain's all-round skills and labelled him the team's top offspinner. Dassanayake said, however, that a better effort can be made to ensure specialist bowlers complete their full quota.
"I think the main idea is that whoever plays as a bowler, we need to get their maximum [overs] for sure, but at the same time there are situations where the left-hander comes in and he's [Taylor] our main offspinner," Dassanayake said. "Even though Steven is our sixth bowler, he's come into our top bowling unit. I don't mind him sharing some overs with the main bowlers because of the quality he has as an offspinner."
USA will now have approximately five to six months to prepare for WCL Division Three, which according to sources is likely to be held in April or May of 2017. Along with Oman and Uganda, USA will take on Canada, Singapore and Malaysia in the hopes of securing another top-two finish and a promotion to Division Two.
The side had three prior cracks at advancing from Division Three - in 2011, 2013 and 2014 - and failed on each occasion with the first and last attempts resulting in relegation back to Division Four. Dassanayake is aware of the challenge that lies ahead of the USA squad is confident that he can lead a change in fortunes.
"Those four teams, and including Oman and USA, they all have played lots of cricket in Division Three and even some teams in Division Two and One," Dassanayake said. "So I don't think we can relax for any of these games.
"But the confidence that I have, especially seeing the team in the final and the quality of cricket we played, fixing a few issues in the batting order and maybe in the bowling department also, I think we'll be one of the teams going into Division Two from Division Three. I have that confidence but at the same time we have a good six months to sort out things that need to be corrected. I think this team will go into Division Three with lots of confidence to move into Division Two."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna