US Cricket Academy U-19 tour of Trinidad January 27, 2005

Brickbats not bouquets for Trinidad tour?

One would think that the US Cricket Academy's recent Trinidad venture, the first international cricket tour organized for US cricketers since Team USA's disastrous foray into England for the Champions Trophy, would be given some credit at least for effort, if not for performance. No such luck--the Academy's detractors are criticizing it for all kinds of reasons from mismanagement to chicanery, and other assorted failures and misdeeds.

One line of attack has to do with the tour itself, and how it was advertised to US Cricket. There are those who see calling it a "USA Under-19 Team" the height of arrogance - it was an Academy team, operated and run by the US Cricket Academy of New Jersey, and without any authorization or control by (or from) the USA. Others question the team's performance - only one game was won in Trinidad, and two were washed out - and see this as proof that the Academy team was a weak and unrepresentative one. Then there are those who take a jaundiced view of the Academy's tour model requiring team players (or their parents) to pay for their own travel costs, making the Academy a "money-making travel agency" rather than a serious contributor to US junior cricket.

Academy supporters see these criticisms as veiled attacks on purely personal grounds, and note the vindictiveness and spleen with which many of these critiques are framed. But the vitriol keeps coming, and a serious (and impartial) examination is needed to separate the wheat from the chaff.

First, the name game. The Academy has always described its team as the "US Cricket Academy U-19 Team", and there can be no quarrel with that nomenclature. The Academy did mention the players who had been selected as "U-19 USA All-stars" at the US national U-19 tournament in Los Angeles, but that was correct and above board.

Next, the tour itself.

The USA Cricket Academy's U19 team played five games, winning one and losing four, with the last two scheduled games washed out. The batting was the weakness in the team; the bowling and fielding was good, but there were "simply not enough runs on the board for the bowlers to defend", according to the players themselves.

The U-19 team nominated the players who (they thought) performed especially well on the tour. Megh Bhatt and Akeem Dodson "took some of the most fantastic catches that [were] seen held by wicketkeepers"... Anveet Patel "unselfishly sacrificed run-getting" for stonewalling, to try to help the innings to stabilize, as did Yuvraj Sharma, one of the batting all-stars in the team...Duane Nathaniel, another All-Star, turned in good allround figures for the tour, as did Andre Kirton and Anil Deopersaud... and several were cited for excellent fielding and sheer spirit. As a group, they definitely felt they had performed well, and would have done better if they were helped with better batting.

To any impartial observer, this does not sound like an admission of failure. Rather, it suggests a group that played with real spirit, regardless of winning or losing. There were reports of questionable umpiring, and senior [over-19] players in many of the teams, which could easily have contributed to team malaise, but these did not seem to dampen the youngsters' spirits. Compare this with the demoralization that accompanied the USA Team at the Champions Trophy in England - the juniors acquitted themselves with greater grit, purpose and commitment.

A critic might argue that the unbalanced composition of many of the opposing teams, the proverbially bad umpiring, and the absence of greater batting strength should be laid to haphazard arrangements on the part of the Academy. Is there any reason why Under-19 (or, Under -17 or U-15) teams should go on international tours unless they get to play with their peers? And should Academy officials include an extra umpire to officiate in team matches, as is the practice with many international teams? These ideas are worth considering for the future.

The most pervasive and long-standing criticism of the Academy is that of its operational model, of having team players pay for their own travel expenses.

There is a simple answer for such criticisms - and a more complicated one.

The simple answer is that there is no other model that has ever been tried in the USA for, let alone succeeded in, organizing self-supporting international cricket tours for US teams. Almost without exception, all USA Teams playing abroad have been subsidized by the ICC. Some private organizations have financed tours overseas with the support of corporate or philanthropic sponsors. But there are no resources for financing tours abroad, let alone overseas revenue sources which could finance cricket tours. Yet the USA Cricket Academy has managed to organize one or two junior tours every year during the past decade, and is perfectly prepared to continue this pace. It was probably for this reason that the ICC gave the USA Cricket Academy its global development award for innovative programming in 2002 - an award that was as unique as it was well deserved.

The more complicated answer is that there exists no present infrastructure for promoting domestic cricket in the USA, for junior OR senior levels. This was - and is - one of the long-term objectives that ICC's Project USA was set up to achieve - but that is another story. Even the USA Cricket Academy is hamstrung by this lack of infrastructure - it cannot bring players together from across the USA except when it is organizing a tour, and its ongoing programs for junior cricket development are necessarily limited to players in the New York/New Jersey area.

Only when such regional and national programs are developed for junior cricket in the USA will it be possible for the USA Cricket Academy to switch to other methods for organizing cricket tours. Until that happens, the Cricket Academy model is the only option we have.