USA cricket November 29, 2011

USA keep making the same mistakes

USA women fielded an ageing team at the recent World Cup qualifiers and results were predictably poor

Albert Einstein famously characterised insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Another sorry performance by one of the senior national teams at an international tournament shows that the USA Cricket Association has yet to grasp this concept.

A loss to Netherlands on Saturday meant USA finished the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier in Bangladesh in eighth place with just one win in six games. Many people may choose to lay the brunt of the blame for the result on the USACA administration for the way it handled a player revolt on the eve of the tournament. Keeping six of the best player's at home after a pay dispute is not the reason why USA failed to qualify for the women's world cup or gain ODI status. It failed because the USACA has yet to start a genuine women's development program.

The USACA has a decades-old habit with the men's national team of relying on aging expatriates to make up the numbers rather than turn to proper grassroots development. For years, administrators have paid lip service to the concept of bringing in young, home-grown talent without ever seriously committing to it.

But the USACA did not have a decades-old habit to break out of in women's cricket. The USA women's team has only been in existence since 2009. The association had a clean slate, a chance to start from scratch by recruiting young American athletes with hand-eye coordination skills developed in sports like hockey, golf, tennis and softball and transfer them to cricket. Instead, the USACA chose to go down the same path as they have with the men. The temptation to fall prey to the expat route is even easier in women's cricket because ICC rules state that a women's player only needs to be a resident in a new country for two years to qualify as opposed to four years for a man.

There are those who continue to claim it's impossible to convert a mainstream American to cricket. Erica Rendler destroyed that myth in Bangladesh. One of two American-born players in the squad and the only one to be fully raised in the US, Rendler, 31, had been a varsity hockey player in high school and at university. She discovered cricket just two years ago on a family vacation to Australia and then sought out a local team in California to see if she could hack it. She managed to outscore every other teammate in Bangladesh bar one; team-mates who come from India, Pakistan, Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica; team-mates who have grown up playing the game.

If the administration had put minimal effort into finding 13 more like Rendler, they would have a solid foundation to build on. Instead, they opted for a 54-year-old, a 50-year-old and two 42-year-olds, among others, who played the game in the West Indies and India before coming to the US. Unsurprisingly, the 54-year-old was ruled out of the tournament due to injury before a game had been played while the 50-year-old was injured during the second match and sat out the rest of the event. The two 42-year-olds contributed 110 runs in 10 innings and took two wickets at an average of 92.50.

If the administration had put minimal effort into finding 13 more like Rendler, they would have a solid foundation to build on. Instead, they opted for a 54-year-old, a 50-year-old and two 42-year-olds

USA can be excited at the fact that the one win they did have during the tournament was against a full member: Zimbabwe. But fellow associate Japan also scored their lone victory over Zimbabwe. It's proof that a patient approach to development will not go unrewarded. USA held Zimbabwe to 187 runs in a one-run win. Japan restricted them to 146 in a six-run win and did it with 14 players who were all born in the country and have gone through a local development system. The Japanese team also has a title sponsor to support them; one who will be excited to continue involvement after Japan successfully recruited local talent to beat a full member.

The USACA got a one-off $100,000 private donation over the summer to use for preparing its women's team. Since the association has no sponsors, it was a rare chance to demonstrate they could be fiscally responsible with a little extra cash. But like drunken sailors, they blew away the majority of that money by sending 13 players on a 10-day training camp to Barbados. Only six of the 13 from that trip wound up making it to Bangladesh.

Developing local talent will also decrease the likelihood of encountering a money-related dispute with amateur players like the one that arose before the event. It's the second time in the past year that it has occurred in US cricket as two anonymous men's players also threatened to stay home after declaring their dissatisfaction with the proposed stipend for January's tour to Hong Kong. The pair wound up going with the squad and proved how much they really deserved an increase in tour money by being part of a team that finished last in ICC World Cricket League Division 3, resulting in demotion to division four.

Most athletes in any sport grow up with a sense of desperation to wear their country's colours no matter the cost. The same principle cannot be applied across the board for the expats who suit up for USA because some of them have declared that there is a definite cost attached to utilising their services, especially since it won't be for the country they grew up dreaming to play for. That makes them mercenaries. The USACA can't afford to stay away from developing home-grown talent forever, especially if the hired guns continue to misfire.

The USA Women's team is scheduled to play an ICC Americas tournament next year but it will be another two years before the process for World Cup qualification begins again. The other Associate teams in Bangladesh - Japan, Netherlands and Ireland - all showed there is a way to win games by developing home-grown talent. The USACA needs to take the free time at its disposal ahead of the next World Cup qualification cycle and initiate a true development plan. It shouldn't take a genius to figure out how.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey