USA juniors prepare for tour of India
Banned from competing for the ICC Under-19 World Cup even after a 2007 season which earned them top honours in every international match they played, USA's junior cricketers are looking forward to making history with a tour of India. They will be the first representative US team to tour a major Test-playing nation in the history of North American cricket.
The US senior team, led by Steve Massiah and featuring some of the best young players, nearly managed to qualify for the World Cup before falling victim to bad luck and the weather. Now there is little hope that they will be able to play until the USA Cricket Association (USACA) is able to convince its own stakeholders as well as the ICC that it deserves another chance to do things right - and until that happens, USA's senior cricketers can only watch disconsolately from the sidelines.
Not so the USA juniors who are determined to forge ahead under their own steam in 2008 and beyond. They are going ahead with an ambitious agenda and have every intention of doing better than in 2007.
However, it doesn't come cheap. A four to six-week international tour could cost $100,000 for a fifteen-player squad in addition to the coach, manager and physio. A fully-fledged program of five or more tours each year could easily cost half a million dollars or more. The question is, who will pick up the tab?
For the upcoming India tour, the juniors have the support of a major sponsor: the Key Point Credit Union. It is located in the heart of Silicon Valley with branches throughout California. "Key Point's premier sponsorship of [our] tour, singling us out for [this kind of] major support, allows our players the opportunity to represent their native county in a game they love", said Hemant Buch, founder of the California Cricket Academy (CCA).
Buch said the success achieved by USA's juniors in 2007 did not come out of thin air. It was built on an annual program including world-class coaching, a very successful national tournament, and inter-club tournaments featuring the different formats to expose the youngsters to all the styles they might expect to encounter in international junior cricket. Such intensive junior set-ups exist in very few countries, although more and more are taking them up as interest in junior cricket grows worldwide.
The USA tour of India, it has been agreed, will be conducted at the Under-15 level. The USA U-15 squad is set to play their counterparts in Ahmedabad, Baroda and Mumbai. The Indians are laying out the welcome mat for their guests, and their choice of venues reflects the high profile that is being attached to the tour. The matches at Ahmedabad and Baroda will be against select U-15 and U-17 teams, most of which are expected to be 40-over games which seem to be the norm in U-17 junior cricket. The USA team has also been invited to play at the Vengsarkar and Chandrakant Pandit academies, home to the emerging national junior development programs in India, for some local fast-action games of 25 overs in Mumbai.
As is typical with the programs run by the Cricket Academy, the touring squad was carefully selected after a thorough review of individual performances in 2006 and 2007. It comprises players from all over the USA including New Jersey, Florida, and California. Satish Deo, an active volunteer at CCA, will be the team manager.
The tour itinerary is every bit as challenging as originally anticipated. The team leaves San Francisco on December 22 for two warm-up matches - the first on Christmas Day at Motera International stadium where several team members had already played during the summer. The second is on Boxing Day at the Anand stadium.
After that, the tour starts in earnest, with a regular game on December 27 at the Gandhinagar cricket academy with a taxing itinerary which takes them through to January 5 when they fly home.
There had been talk of a stopover in Sharjah to play the England and Scotland U-19 teams who are on their way to the Under-19 World Cup in India, or a few warm-up matches with the early arrivals at the U-19 World Cup, but these were ruled out by the USA team management because of their already taxing schedule. Instead, the USA juniors will have to sit out this year's U-19 World Cup and hope they will play when the next one comes around in 2011. As one US junior cricketer slyly pointed out, almost all of this year's touring squad will be available for selection in four years time, and ready to take on the world.
Deb K Das is Cricinfo's correspondent in the USA