USA has talent but lacks good system - Pick
The USA has an abundance of natural talent but its development and cricketing future face several roadblocks, including funding, that need to be addressed more effectively by the USA Cricket Association (USACA). That's the opinion of Andy Pick, the ICC's Americas Development Performance Officer, who is working with the association to streamline things.
"I think they have an abundance of natural talent, which is one of the things that is leading to them winning," Pick told ESPNcricinfo in a recent interview. "If I'm brutally honest, they have at the moment little framework beneath it to continue providing and developing their best players. That is part of my role, to try to work with the US to see if we can help rectify that situation."
Pick, who worked for the ECB for 10 years prior to taking up his current position and also coached Canada at the 2007 World Cup, says that while the USA faces many logistical roadblocks to get players together to train, not much is being done by USACA to deal with them.
"My concern would be when that natural talent retires and some of the older players aren't playing - how they are going to look to replace those players? I went to the Under-19 World Cup and they've got some talent in their Under-19 team, a couple of 19-year-olds but also three or four under-17s who will be available for the next World Cup, and it's disappointing in a way that nothing has been done to develop those players. USACA itself is not doing anything to help develop those players. There are no coaching courses. There are no elite player programs. It's down to funding."
Pick is concerned that the window of opportunity for developing several of USA's players for the next U-19 World Cup is closing. Five players who were part of the 2010 squad in New Zealand are eligible to participate in 2012: Salman Ahmad, Abhijit Joshi, Greg Sewdial, Hammad Shahid and Steven Taylor. Joshi played league cricket in England this summer while Taylor spent time training in Jamaica before joining the senior team in Italy for WCL Division 4. However, Pick feels not much else has been done to chart anyone's progress through a programme.
"I don't doubt for a minute that they won't put together a programme," said Pick. "I would imagine that Don [Lockerbie, the chief of USACA] has probably got a draft programme ready to go because he will have given it some thought, because it's reliant on funding. But you can't afford for nothing to be happening while you're chasing the funding. How long has it been since the World Cup, seven or eight months? The young players who starred at the World Cup, especially the Under-17s who could be stars at the next World Cup, have had no coaching. So depending on what they're getting from home, wherever they live and whatever coaches are available to them there, invariably they could be standing still."
"That's where the USA will lose out next time because in other countries, those 17-year-olds that played in the previous World Cup will have developed and come through and be really dominant players at the next one," said Pick. "If you don't do anything to improve your dominant players over that two year period, that's when you don't make the progress. That experience in New Zealand will count for nothing unless some work is put in in the meantime."
Pick is also hoping that more of the U-19 players are able to graduate into the senior team in the near future. Opportunities need to be presented to them or else he fears there could be a drastic drop off once the current group of senior players start to exit.
"If they go to the World Cup in 2015, how many of these players will be there? They need to have a timeline and look to start drafting some people in." The perfect example, he said, was Ryan Corns, who beat Ireland's Paul Stirling to be named Player of the Tournament at the 2009 U-19 World Cup Qualifier in Canada. While Stirling has a contract with Middlesex and is a regular in Ireland's senior squad, Corns has never played for USA's senior team. In September, the 20-year-old posted the highest score of anyone at USACA's 2010 Senior Conference Tournaments with 119 off 77 balls.
"Ryan was talked about to me as if he was the next great player coming through yet it worries me to see that he doesn't make it on the trip to Bermuda and not made it [to Italy]. If he is a quality player, then he should at least be able to find his way into a 14-man squad. You've got to play and got to develop because you won't always have this naturally talented bunch of players and USA, they only have to look as far as Bermuda to see what can happen if a large part of your team all come to the end of their careers at the same time."
Another major issue peculiar to the USA - and Canada - is the geographical spread, making travel difficult and expensive. "Geographically it's huge and financially to cover that amount of area, if you want to get players together, you've got to fly players. It's not like in England where they get in a car and drive for two hours and everybody gets together. So that's difficult."
Pick met with USACA CEO Don Lockerbie and the vice-president of operations Manaf Mohamed over the summer in Toronto and says he stressed the importance of outlining and implementing plans to make sure players get the training they need. While there aren't too many opportunities to bring a team together all at once for a training camp, he feels there are equally effective ways to do it on a regional basis.
"If you've only got seven players in a region, but they're all in with a chance of hopefully developing into players that will play at national level, you have to provide them with development," said Pick. "If you don't, then you're just leaving them and they're not going to develop. So instead of thinking in terms of the bigger picture, where you've got to get a camp of 20 players down to Florida, let's look at it differently. Look at doing the work in the regions initially. By all means, if you can get them to Florida once a year for a camp, great. But because you can't get everybody down there, that's not a reason to not do anything."
Pick is hoping to set up two pilot projects in America for this winter, as part of which the ICC will help USACA run an elite player program in two separate regions, based upon which regions are able to supply the most players for the program, making it cost efficient.
The junior and senior nationals next month in Florida will provide key preparation for USA's upcoming international fixtures. USA will be participating in the ICC World Cricket League Division 3 in Hong Kong next January while an U-19 team will be selected to begin the path towards qualification - for the second successive time - for the 2012 ICC U-19 World Cup by playing at the Americas Qualifier.
As USA aims to qualify for WCL Division 2 on their rise towards potential World Cup qualification, Pick is hopeful that the team can continue the success they've had in 2010 after winning the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 title in Bermuda as well as WCL Division 4 in Italy. However, they need to be prepared to meet the demands of the increased level of competition that they will encounter going forward.
"It could be a really exciting time for US cricket. They've got a talented bunch of players at the moment who are getting cricket on the map," said Pick. "As they get bigger and they get to a higher level, they will eventually come up against teams where they'll get beat more often than they win and that's when having a structure and a framework underneath it to support it will be critical."
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey