Junior tours give USA a boost
About 50 US cricketers ranging in age from 10 to 16 will soon be travelling on what by all accounts promises to be an epic journey. Between them, they will be logging a million passenger-miles - and for many, this will be the first time they will be stepping away from homes and families, into uncharted territory against the best of their counterparts on their home turfs.
The under-15 USA team will be visiting on a tour to India to play against their counterparts in Ahmedabad, Baroda and Mumbai. They will play at international stadiums in Ahmedabad and Baroda against Gujarat Cricket Association and Baroda Cricket Association Select under-15 and under-17 teams. They have also been invited to play at Vengsarkar and Chandrakant Pandit academies for some local fast-action games of 25 overs in Mumbai.
The itinerary for the Under-17 tour to England has not yet been finalised but it is expected to be as competitive as the India-Singapore tour, with an equally challenging schedule.
Taken together, these US forays into the world of international junior cricket have to be the largest on record. The supporting cast of coaches, managers, and parents could push the total number of travellers to 70 or more. Only mid-sized national squads at the Olympic Games could be as large as the 2008 USA junior cricket contingent.
Overseas tours by US junior teams tend to be hectic affairs, with matches every day and no time off for rest and recreation, because they have to be scheduled during school winter vacations so as not to interfere with academic commitments. This works fairly well when the venues are nearby, as in Canada or the Caribbean, but the difficulties mount when longer distances are involved, as with South Asia, Sharjah or Australia. The California Cricket Academy prepares for this by having the selected players go through a rigorous training program lasting several months before they embark on their overseas tour. So far, this seems to have worked quite well for the Academy.
What is especially remarkable is that these tours, like all junior cricket events conducted by the California Cricket Academy for the past three years, are self-financed; there are no ex-pats with deep pockets picking up any part of the tab. The Academy has honed its modus operandi into such a fine art that it is able, almost at a moment's notice, to take on any event it is asked to manage and operate. How it is able to perform such feats is no secret. In fact, the Academy's officers are eager to pass on their methods to those who want to learn and apply them, and their website provides detailed manuals and how-to instructions for those who wish to try out its highly successful self-financing model.
Looking back in time, it is difficult to recall junior cricket's early days when a handful of enthusiasts were determined to put junior cricket on the map - not just in the US, but worldwide. That goal is not yet achieved. But it soon will be, or so the signs portend.
Deb K Das is Cricinfo's correspondent in the USA