Canada T20 squad to play warm-ups in Texas
Canada's Twenty20 squad will travel to Houston, Texas ahead of the ICC Americas Division One T20 tournament to play three warm-up matches against an invitational XI assembled by local entrepreneur Sakhi Muhammad.
A Cricket Canada official confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that the games will be played on April 28, 29 and May 1 before the ICC Americas qualifier which begins on May 3 in Indianapolis. Muhammad's Smart Choice Auto Group is a former sponsor of the USA national team, and they will play an XI that is likely to include former West Indies internationals Mervyn Dillon and Ricardo Powell, as well Timroy Allen, Usman Shuja and former USA captain Steve Massiah, who were omitted from USA's squad for the ICC Americas tournament.
Muhammad, 48, will cover Canada's local expenses in Houston including hotel accommodation, ground transportation and meals. He says he made a similar offer to USACA to host USA's squad for warm-up matches ahead of their participation at ICC WCL Division Three in Malaysia last October, but USACA never responded to his phone calls or emails. It played a part in his decision to end sponsorship ties with USACA after an 18-month partnership beginning in May 2013.
"How can you ignore people who have sponsored you?" Muhammad said. "How can you forget those guys and not respond to them? Every customer is important to me. If they contact you, you must respond. It doesn't look good from a business point of view. You don't do stuff like that."
Though he is no longer a sponsor of USACA, Muhammad says he has an interest in helping out cricketers from around the region. His Smart Choice club team, which participates in various private cash tournaments around the country, has featured many USA players including new captain Muhammad Ghous, Steven Taylor, Jasdeep Singh and Adil Bhatti. Muhammad also has a good relationship with Canada players like Ruvindu Gunasekera, Hiral Patel and Rizwan Cheema - one of the reasons he invited Cricket Canada for the mini-tour.
"Canada will be better prepared," Muhammad said. "This is the fact right now and we cannot walk away from it. You'd have to ask USACA why they refused yesterday and weren't approached this time. I waited to assemble my team for about a month before finalising. If they had approached me and said we'd like to have our guys play against Canada, I'd have loved to do it because ultimately our preference is to help out the USA team too."
The games will be played at the Smart Choice Moosa Stadium - a brand new turf wicket complex in the suburb of Pearland located about 20 miles south of downtown Houston, for which Muhammad pitched in $2million of his own money. He insists he does not want his initiative to be seen as a threat to other facilities in the country like the World Sports Park or Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida.
"We are not here to compete against California, Florida or Indianapolis," Muhammad said. "More turf wickets are good for the country overall. You can't just have Houston only. There need to be four or five centers where you can do this but the advantage we have is that Houston has a subcontinent population of over 250,000. Even if you get 5,000 of them interested you're still doing good and if you have a good facility that gets people to come out and doesn't cost too much to maintain then I think it's worth it."
The winner of the mini-series will claim the Sushil Nadkarni International Trophy, named after the recently retired USA batsman.
"He (Nadkarni) is from Houston and he has done a lot for US cricket," Muhammad said, when asked about his reason for naming the trophy after Nadkarni. "After he retired I noticed that there was nothing done officially so being a Houstonian, it was important for us to acknowledge him. Doing this is something good in the long term for other players, especially for Houston people and for other senior players who play for the national team."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna