Former West Indies batsman Ricardo Powell will lead a new five-man selection panel in charge of picking USA senior men's and Under-17 squads for tournaments later this year, including the ICC World Cricket League Division Four in Los Angeles. Powell, 37, was also named last month by the ICC to a seven-member advisory group focusing on high performance. This is one of the four national advisory groups created by the ICC to implement its strategy in the USA.
The other four selectors serving under Powell are former Pakistan player Asif Mujtaba, former South African first-class player Michael Voss, former USA player Amer Afzaluddin and Barney Jones. Mujtaba served as an assistant coach for USA at the 2012 World T20 Qualifier and currently resides in Texas. Voss is based in southern California while Afzaluddin is out of the Chicago area. Jones - a former USA Cricket Association selection panel chairman - lives in Florida.
"For me I take it as an honor to be a chairman of this selection panel, to be able to select the best team possible to represent the USA," Powell told ESPNcricinfo from his home in Memphis, Tennessee. "I think that's a very big task and I think it's a lot of work and something I take very seriously. With the panel that we have, we have guys who are very knowledgeable but we are asking the US public as a whole, and the cricket community, to be patient because this is not going to happen overnight. It's something we have to all work hard at."
Their first task is to select a 30-man squad to come to Florida at the end of July for a week-long camp to help narrow down the list to a final 14 ahead of Division Four. A 30-member Under-17 squad will also be chosen before a team of 14 is finalised for a tri-series against Bermuda and Canada in Houston from July 14 to 19.
Powell, Mujtaba and Voss are new selectors. Mujtaba has also coached Central West Region men's team since 2014 and has been a steadfast advocate of the country's talent. Voss, meanwhile, played for Western Province and opened the batting alongside Gary Kirsten. He was appointed to the 10-person participation group, one of ICC's four advisory panels.
The ICC had taken a decision in the spring to dissolve the previous USACA five-man selection panel in the wake of USACA's suspension last June and revamp the selection process beginning with a series of eight regional Combines. Jones, who chaired the USACA selection panel which had been dissolved by the ICC, applied to be part of the new panel as did his fellow former USACA selector Afzaluddin.
"Having someone like Barney on the panel, who is also familiar with most of the players who have represented USA, makes a big deal for me in terms of having that knowledge," Powell said. "But also for me going about selection, it will be done over a period of time. I want to be able to see these players myself and to basically analyse and see the best team that we can put out there for USA."
Powell, who played 109 ODIs and two Tests for West Indies between 1999 and 2005, served as a guest coach and talent evaluator at the Florida Combine held in Fort Lauderdale in April. He was frank with his opinion of the level of talent he saw there, compared to what he has observed in the past, and said he didn't feel the best players were on display. He stated that he is open to evaluating players outside of the 30-man camp in July before deciding on the final squad for Division Four.
"This initial camp that is going to be had in Florida, with the 30-man squad that we're going to select, it's pretty much just a start for me to look into the talent that is here in the US," Powell said. "So that is not necessarily the final squad that's going to be selected for USA, this is just a start based on the Combines that we just had. Going forward, I plan to continue to look for talent in the USA and not to be satisfied with what we have. I went to the Florida Combine and I was not 100% happy with the amount of talent compared to what we have in Florida. We did not have the turnout we expected. Maybe guys just did not get a chance to register or were just hesitant based on what was happening.
"So hopefully we will be able to see more talented players as we go along throughout the year to come. What we have on paper right now is a lot of good talent, no doubt about that, but I don't think it's the end of the road in terms of guys out there who will not be selected in the 30. I think there are a lot of opportunities to come and there is a lot of cricket to be played in America. We are just a panel of five right now and it's going to take a lot from us to see all the talent in America. We'll be leaning on the general public in terms of the different cricket regions who helps with that."
Powell stressed his plans for developing better fitness standards for national-level players, something that has been a point of emphasis throughout the eight regional Combines. USA's fitness has flagged behind other Associate teams, and while players have to juggle cricket around work due to the amateur status, many other Associates face the same issues but are able to maintain fitness.
"These guys are playing back-to-back games when they go on tour so you have to be fit," Powell said. "Overall there are a lot of elements that make up a good XI or a good 14 and we'll be looking at all those different elements when it comes to cricket, from the skills, to the fitness to the discipline, to the ability to be able to execute, match-winners, guys who can think the game properly and, more so, team players.
"There are a lot of components that we'll be looking at to really come up with this final squad of 14 and I'm really looking forward to seeing these players on this stage, and really select the best for USA. As I said, nothing is written in stone. Guys have been representing USA for a while, they've been around but I think with this new panel, a few things will change. Players will have more responsibility, they will be accountable more for their on-field and off-field performance. So those are the things that this selection panel will be looking at."