USA have lot to do ahead of global T20 qualifier
Contrary to 2010 when they were handed a wild card spot for the eight-team World Twenty20 Qualifier despite being in ICC World Cricket League Division Five, USA clinched a berth on merit this past week in Florida for next year's 16-team global qualifier in the UAE. USA finished second behind Canada at the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament to claim one of the two available spots from the region, along with Bermuda who finished third, while Canada was already assured a spot in the global qualifiers by virtue of their ODI status.
USA completed the job they were expected to do this week, roughing up the likes of Argentina, Cayman Islands and Suriname for big wins before finishing the event with a strong victory over Bermuda. However, USA's loss to a second-string Canada side exposed some glaring weaknesses. If they are to have any chance of finishing in the top two at next year's global qualifier and make it to the 2012 World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, they've got a lot of work to do to.
The bowling attack is a bright spot for USA. Bhim George took 13 wickets to finish on top of the tournament's top wicket-takers' table. While the rest were solid also, but USA lacks sufficient depth should one of the frontline bowlers go down with injury. Such was the case with Timroy Allen last August and it opened up the door for problems with team balance at ICC WCL Division Three in Hong Kong, which contributed to the team getting relegated to Division Four.
The fielding in Florida was below average. At next year's qualifier, USA's best chance to neutralise the advantages teams like Ireland and Afghanistan have in the batting and bowling departments will be to one-up them in the field. On the evidence they showed this week, USA will be lagging behind in all three disciplines unless they do some intense work on their catching and ground fielding. For a nation teeming with all-round athletes, USA's cricket team is not very athletic.
Yet, the team is definitely capable of producing a few upsets as they proved at the qualifier in 2010 by notching a six-wicket win over Scotland, a match which USA dominated all through. But that team had four players - Sudesh Dhaniram, Kevin Darlington, Lennox Cush and Carl Wright - who had first-class experience in the West Indies and each of them contributed to that win. Two of those four were also part of the squad that won the inaugural ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 last year in Bermuda.
All four are now gone and while some of their replacements were picked with an eye for the future, the fact is that they are a long way from reaching the standards of those before them. It once again highlights the lack of attention given by the USA Cricket Association to establishing a proper development system.
The batting depended heavily on Gowkaran Roopnarine, Aditya Mishra and Sushil Nadkarni. It's no coincidence that the success of Nadkarni and Mishra can be tied to their experience playing Ranji Trophy cricket in India prior to migrating to USA. The fact that Nadkarni finished with the most runs and highest average for USA shows what a major mistake it was when selectors dropped him when the squad was originally announced, before doing an about turn ten days before the tournament.
The most alarming performance of this past week was turned in by captain Steve Massiah. Over the last year his technique has turned into a mess. Six times in his last nine innings for USA he has gotten out lbw. This week he scratched his way to 21 runs in four innings and looked completely out of sorts.
Since his first Twenty20 match for USA at the 2010 World Twenty20 Qualifier, Massiah has managed 121 runs at 10.08 in 13 innings, including four ducks, at a strike rate of 72.46 - dreadful stats for a top-order batsman. Massiah is not a slogger, but even if a player's game is not suited to clearing the ropes the least he should be able to do is knock the ball around for ones and twos. It can be a struggle for him to turn over the strike and the team's momentum stalls when he is at the crease.
His position as captain has become untenable because his batting doesn't merit a place in USA's Twenty20 team for the global qualifier. A new captain should be appointed in order to let Massiah focus on his batting in 50-over cricket, a format where he still has some value, before WCL Division Four next summer.
At the post-tournament presentation on Saturday night, USACA President Gladstone Dainty spoke of the potential opportunities that might arise for dozens of regional Associate players if the domestic Twenty20 league, which they are hoping to form in conjunction with New Zealand Cricket, comes to fruition in August 2012. The World Twenty20 Qualifier is to be held in March. USACA rather needs to focus on preparing players for this crucial ICC event, to give them some hope of fulfilling the vast potential they possess.
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey