USA news June 22, 2011

Atlantic Region wins inaugural USACA T20 title

Spearheaded by the efforts of Gowkaran Roopnarine, Aditya Mishra and Neil McGarrell, Atlantic Region won the first-ever USA Cricket Association Twenty20 championship on June 19 in Newark, New Jersey. Roopnarine, who last represented the USA senior team in 2008, was named the tournament's MVP after leading the competition with 193 runs at an average of 96.50.

However, the tournament was marked by a series of problems - mainly logistical issues and bad weather - that sparked unseemly scenes involving senior USACA officials and coaching staff.

McGarrell, a former West Indies cricketer, bowled his team into the final by taking four wickets with the the final four balls of a group match against New York to give Atlantic victory by five runs. Mishra contributed 87 in the first innings for Atlantic against New York while Roopnarine scored 81 not out in the final, a 42-run win over Central West. The games were being used to help select a 14-man USA squad for the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 from July 18-23 in Florida.

The tournament was a Twenty20 event in theory but not so much in practice after logistical issues and bad weather wreaked havoc. Sixteen matches were scheduled for the weekend, but only nine wound up being played and just two of those were 20-over affairs. Five games were 15-overs a side while two, including the tournament final, were 12-over matches as organisers shortened the games to give every team a chance to play two group contests.

Roopnarine's unbeaten 81 came off 38 balls with four boundaries and eight sixes, increasing the likelihood of his recall to the national team. USA fast bowler Usman Shuja took 3 for 1 in a three-over spell during the first group match of the tournament for Central West and his teammate Shail Bhatt snagged 6 for 24 bowling offspin in the same game.

Clayton Lambert was present at the event in New Jersey to observe and scout talent, fueling speculation that he will remain on board as USA's coach in Florida next month despite a disastrous experience at ICC WCL Division Three in Hong Kong last January. USA started Division Three by beating eventual champion Hong Kong before finishing in last place to suffer relegation to Division Four.

While players from Atlantic and Central West shined, the tournament was blighted by poor planning from USACA and Atlantic Region organisers, who failed to secure a permit for the pitch at Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus despite naming the ground as one of the venues in the original tournament schedule. Located seven miles from downtown New York City, Laurel Hill Park's $2.5 million cricket facility opened in 2008 and is regarded as the best ground in the state, especially because it has floodlights to allow for matches at night.

The scheduling debacle, combined with heavy rain that left the scheduled grounds unusable, meant that teams played a set of matches on a ground at an elementary school in Somerset in which the outfield was littered with shards of broken glass and cracked pipes. The ground was allegedly one of the only two grounds available in the area that were not waterlogged or occupied by local league matches being played on Saturday.

"My players think it was horrible and that they have never played on a facility that was as ridiculously maintained," USACA board member Ahmed Jeddy said. Jeddy hails from the Central West Region, where the tournament was originally slated to be hosted in Dallas until a dispute between the region and USACA resulted in the tournament being shifted. "If we could not have held this tournament in Texas, we certainly could have found a place to hold this tournament with far better facilities."

The players initially refused to play on the school ground. A series of discussions ensued and after a delay of more than two hours, players from the four teams present began clearing the debris until the field was deemed safe enough for play to begin.

However, the drama did not end there. USACA President Gladstone Dainty showed up in Somerset and soon became engaged in a heated verbal confrontation with Central West coach Mark Demos. The two men were eventually ushered away from each other. Demos was extremely critical of the organisational aspects of the event throughout the weekend.

A short while later Jeddy and interim USACA vice-president Rafey Syed started trading insults before they were separated. Emotions briefly died down until former USACA board member Akhtar Masood Syed charged after Jeddy before Dainty stepped in.

A USACA board meeting had been scheduled for that day at a hotel in Newark, but was cancelled only days before. As most board members were already supposed to attend the meeting, they were at the tournament, and the bad blood between parties was out in the open.

According to multiple sources, the acrimony stems from the process by which the four USACA representatives on the Cricket Holdings America board were appointed, as well as the process by which Rafey Syed and Gale were recently given their positions on the USACA board. USACA has not held a face-to-face board meeting since last November at the 2010 USACA National Championships.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey