Hard-hitting opening batsman Steven Taylor is one of nine US players in a 15-man ICC Americas combined squad announced on Wednesday to take part in the WICB Nagico Super50 competition next January. Taylor played this year for the Barbados Tridents in the Caribbean Premier League but Canada's lone CPL-contracted player, Nikhil Dutta, was left out of the squad.
Dutta was a surprise exclusion after excelling in limited opportunities at the 2015 CPL with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots but underperformed during several trial matches at the second phase of the ICC Americas cricket combine last month in Indianapolis and was beaten for the offspinner's slot in the team by USA captain Muhammad Ghous. Aside from Ghous, the bowling attack is dominated by US players. Fast bowling allrounder Timroy Allen, medium pacers Hammad Shahid and Ali Khan, legspinner Timil Patel and left-arm spinner Danial Ahmed also made the team. Jeremy Gordon was the only Canada bowler to be included.
Khan, from Dayton, Ohio, is the lone player in the 15-man squad who is yet to play for his respective national team but was consistently impressive throughout both phases of the trial for his pace and ability to bowl yorkers. He was also one of six players - along with Allen, Ahmed, Gordon, Alex Amsterdam, and Srimantha Wijeratne - who progressed out of phase one of the trial to beat numerous competitors who were fast-tracked directly into phase two.
Allen's inclusion is another step towards his return to international cricket after vowing not to play for USA again in the wake of a falling out with then head coach Robin Singh following USA's tour of the UAE in November 2013 for the World Twenty20 Qualifier. Allen served as vice-captain on that tour and stood in as skipper for two games.
Allen was not nominated by USACA as a fast-tracked player for phase two of the Indianapolis trial and therefore had to apply to compete in phase one to make it into the final weekend for a spot in the team. However, he was easily the best performing player over the two phases out of more than 90 competitors.
The fast bowling competition was the most intense part of the trial, meaning that David Pieters, who consistently impressed with his athleticism and attitude through both phases of the trial, was left out. The fielding around him did not help his case though with catches regularly dropped off his bowling, including three in the final 50-over trial match with all three of those players - Taylor, Fahad Babar and Nitish Kumar - going on to make half-centuries.
Babar, who was the MVP and leading scorer at the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 in May in Indianapolis, was left out despite half-centuries in each trial match, but Kumar's 70 off 59 balls in the final game cemented his place.
Surprisingly, all four wicketkeepers - Taylor, US team-mate Akeem Dodson, Canada's Hamza Tariq and Wijeyratne - who were competing in phase two of the trial were included in the final 15 with Taylor and Wijeratne expected to compete as specialist batsmen.
The final squad was selected by a panel headed by Courtney Walsh, Mike Young and Venkatapathy Raju - who were all brought in by the ICC Americas office as independent talent evaluators present during both phases of the trial - as well as multiple local coaches including Ontario Cricket Academy coach Derek Perera and current USA U-19 coach Thiru Kumaran.
"We'd like to thank all the players and coaches involved in what was a unique process to select the team," said ICC Americas High Performance consultant, Tom Evans. "There is an exciting amount of talent in the region, and we are looking forward to helping the players selected, and those that missed out this time, continue to improve."
The team is scheduled to arrive in Trinidad on January 4 with the first of six 50-over matches starting on January 7. Included in their four-team group is Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and Combined Campuses and Colleges, with all teams playing each other twice before the semi-finals begin on January 21.
ICC Americas squad: Timroy Allen, Danial Ahmed, Alex Amsterdam, Navneet Dhaliwal, Akeem Dodson (wk), Muhammad Ghous, Ruvindu Gunasekera, Jeremy Gordon, Ali Khan, Nitish Kumar, Timil Patel, Hammad Shahid, Hamza Tariq (wk), Steven Taylor, Srimantha Wijeratne