USA women given wildcard entry into 2017 Europe T20 Qualifier
In another step to provide more opportunities to players in the USA, the ICC has given the country's women's team a wildcard entry into next year's ICC Europe Women's T20 Qualifier, despite having suspended the USA Cricket Association in June, 2015.
In an email sent on Thursday to the players announcing the move, which was obtained by ESPNcricinfo, ICC Americas Cricket Manager Tom Evans said the decision was taken following a recent meeting of the ICC Women's Committee to extend the invite to USA "due to an increase in domestic women's cricket activity".
USA has not had an opportunity to compete for qualifying berths in ICC tournaments since 2012 when they finished second to Canada in the ICC Americas Women's Twenty20 championship held in the Cayman Islands. However, the ICC cancelled the regional tournament in 2014, stating at the time that the money for the tournament would be better spent on grassroots development. It eliminated any chance for a representative from the region to compete for a spot in the 2016 Women's World T20 and the 2017 Women's World Cup.
At the time, the USA had an estimated 100 female players nationwide, but the women's programme had stagnated in part due to the USACA not having organised a women's national tournament since 2011. Earlier this year, the ICC Americas office organised a series of scouting combines in eight cities, encouraging women to try out. Approximately 45 women attended, from which a 22-player squad was invited to a national camp in Philadelphia in September, which included matches against an MCC Women's touring side featuring Claire Taylor and Charlotte Edwards.
As part of the preparation plans to get the national squad ready for competition next year, ICC officials have said they intend to schedule several camps and recruitment initiatives beginning in March, ahead of the ICC Europe Qualifier scheduled for August. USA will take on Scotland and Netherlands in the Europe qualifier for a spot in the global qualifier for the 2018 Women's World T20 in the West Indies.
Among the recruitment initiatives tentatively planned to grow the women's playing base and strengthen the competition pool for the national team are two pilot programs. One is aimed at organising modified and/or co-ed intramural club cricket games on college campuses, while another is expected to target current or former, recent NCAA athletes who have played field hockey, golf, lacrosse and softball to gauge their interest in attempting a transition to cricket.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna