USA coach Dassanayake targets middle-order improvement
USA coach Pubudu Dassanayake has said that revamping the team's middle-order batting is a key area of focus in the squad's preparation for ICC World Cricket League Division Three, which begins May 23 in Uganda. Dassanayake indicated that several former first-class players who came into the team's recent four-day camp in Houston, Texas - Ibrahim Khaleel, Camilus Alexander and Roy Silva - have strong chances of filling those roles.
"We need to get the middle-order batting right," Dassanayake told ESPNcricinfo. "We struggled in Division Four and that cannot go on. Batting 50 overs, it's a different art.
"These players are used to playing T20 cricket a lot and struggle sometimes to spend time in the longer version. There are lots of good new faces in the last four days and I'm pretty sure a few of these new players will cover those spots.
"We're confident how we are going to go about in Division Three. Some of the gaps that I had to fill, I think it's kind of a clear thing we're going to get some good players to cover those spots. We had three experienced players here - Camilus Alexander, Roy Silva and Ibrahim Khaleel. All three of them are top-class players who have played a lot of cricket. Still we haven't decided anything but I think that experience, we need it to build our middle order."
One other player who stood out during the camp in Texas was Nosthush Kenjige. The left-arm spinner was the leading wicket-taker in the camp with eight in three trial matches. Among his victims were USA captain Steven Taylor twice, Khaleel, Silva, and USA batsmen Nicholas Standford and Akeem Dodson, who was recently taken by Barbados Tridents in the Caribbean Premier League draft.
Kenjige, 26, was born in Alabama but his family moved to India in his youth. He played most of his developmental cricket in the Karnataka system but returned to the USA in 2015, settling in New York. He was ineligible to play for USA at WCL Division Four last year, despite being an American citizen, due to additional residency criteria the ICC mandates for WCL tournaments. Kenjige has since fulfilled the criteria.
In preparation for Division Three, Kenjige travelled to South Africa earlier this year to spend a month training with the Knights first-class franchise and playing club cricket on the weekends. During his time there he was able to work with coach Nicky Boje to sharpen his skills and Dassanayake says he is expecting the spinner to play a significant role for USA going forward.
"When I speak about Nosh, I'm very happy about him because he's one of the guys who has really put work under him in the last three months," Dassanayake said. "He was one of the guys who followed the fitness programme really well and he has been tremendous improvement in fitness in the last three months, so that has helped him get his fielding right. Skill-wise, he has been going around the world and playing cricket and I see a lot of improvement in his bowling as well.
"Overall if I had to analyse the whole team and where the USA team wants to go, I'm looking to build the cricketing culture, a good unit playing together knowing their roles and working hard to improve every day and I would say Nosh is one of the guys who is going to help that system. He's a different character, really committed to the team and his game. It was very impressive what he has done in the last four days and I think there is so much room for him to improve as well. I'm 100% sure the way he's going forward and looking at his work ethic, he's going to be a big asset in the future."
Another squad camp is planned to be held in Houston from April 6 to 9 with the squad trimmed from the 45 players who attended the most recent camp down to 18 before the final 14 are selected to tour South Africa and Uganda in May.
Dassanayake said he will focus considerable time on improving the team's fitness, which was one area that some members of the squad fell behind in during the camp.
"Mainly, from Division Four, I was looking to build up the middle order and also the fielding and fitness," Dassananyake said. "The fitness part, actually the whole group was working for the last three months and I saw lots of improvements with everybody. Fielding, unfortunately some of these players don't have that opportunity to field on faster outfields on quality grounds, but all the top players have got the idea of the level we are thinking of playing.
"There are lots of improvements and also a lot of weak areas. We have two and a half months to work on those things to get ready for Division Three.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna