USA must look at home for the future
There will be relief in the offices of the ICC's commercial department in Dubai that the USA did not embarrass themselves at the recent ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers, but it will be mixed with disappointment they did not do enough to qualify for the main event in the Caribbean.
Fast-tracked by the ICC into the tournament in an attempt to give a country a helping hand (official explanation) or in the hope they would qualify and boost a bid to tap into the huge American market (unofficial), USA won their opening game before falling away. That it was Afghanistan who eventually delivered the coup de grace caused more than a few smirks to the more politically-minded.
In Don Lockerbie, the USA Cricket Association, for years a model of dysfunctionality, finally has a plausible and forward-looking leader, and one who has spent much of the last year outlining his ambitious plans for the game in the United States. In November last year Cricinfo wrote: "This is a crucial moment in the Lockerbie era. It will be the first senior squad picked since he came on board." Unfortunately, when the chance came to back words with actions, the USA's selectors reverted to type.
The last time the USA took part in a major international competition was back in 2004 when their woeful performances at the ICC Champions Trophy pretty much signalled the end for Associates in that competition. Aside from the on-field gulf in class, the USA team was a virtual laughing stock, a collection of old fringe players from the Caribbean mixed with other even less able ex-pats. There were even rumours one of them had paid for his place in the squad. Critics inside the USA, and there were many, blamed a lazy and self-promoting selection policy.
The USA's return was a chance to show how things had changed. And yet all it did was to underline how little it has. None of the 2010 squad in Dubai was born in the USA. The few home-grown players who have emerged in recent years were left at home. Only one of the 14 picked was under 28. The oldest, Sudesh Dhaniram, was 43 and replaced a player less than half his age.
It's not as if there is a shortage of alternatives. The Under-19 side shows encouraging signs with more talented USA-born players, but when and perhaps if the selectors overcome regional and political influences and start picking them is another matter. It can only be a source of concern that none of the squad from the 2006 U-19 World Cup even came close to making the 40-man provisional squad for the Qualifiers.
It is possible the USA gambled and decided to go for broke with a tired-and-tested squad, the thinking being that had they qualified then it would have made attracting desperately-needed sponsors so much easier. If so, it was a misguided approach. The way forward has to be to show a vibrant, fundamentally home-grown team which can only get better, rather than a side scathingly referred to as West Indies Rejects in some quarters. And veterans do not even appeal to sponsors. What company hankers after a 43-year-old as a sporting brand ambassador?
Lockerbie has spoken of the need to build from within. With the current short-term selection policies he has no chance of establishing a platform for the future. His most pressing task has to be a complete overhaul of the way sides are picked and the installation of selectors who look beyond their own interests and pick teams with a view to the medium-to-long term. The squad for the ICC World Cricket League in Nepal at least showed a slight shift in the right direction, but not nearly enough.
If Lockerbie fails to shake things up then USA are almost certain to find when they host major international events in the years to come, nobody will invite them to their own party.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa