Hit by suspensions, US players given ICC hope

Chance to take US cricket in new direction - Nadkarni (6:17)

Former USA captain Sushil Nadkarni talks about the ICC's suspension of USACA and discusses options to develop cricket in the USA (6:17)

After the ICC's announcement that USACA had been suspended for a third time since 2005, there was a groundswell of joy on social media through the US cricket community. Administration across the country is hampered by disparate factions from clubs and leagues all the way up to national level. The one thing that unites the majority of stakeholders though is their mutual distaste for USACA, spoken as if it were a dirty four-letter word instead of a five-letter acronym.

The knee-jerk reaction from many around the USA is to shout loudly for the rival American Cricket Federation to take control, if only because it isn't named USACA. In a wider context, not much is known about the ACF, making its bid to take charge of cricket in the USA in USACA's stead a long and difficult challenge. In announcing USACA's suspension, the ICC made it clear it still considers USACA its member and will do what it can to resolve its governance and administrative issues. The approach seems to be that the ICC would rather deal with the devil it knows than the one it does not.

No matter how appealing ACF may be compared to USACA, ACF still does not meet much of the criteria laid out by the ICC be welcomed into the Associate fold, regardless of whether USACA's suspension is lifted or they are expelled in 2016.

Though the standard of play has been up and down due to funding issues and varying levels of player commitment, the ACF's national interleague competition meets the ICC Associate application standard of organizing a men's competition with at least 16 teams. Other than that, they are deficient in several areas.

The ACF currently has no full-time paid chief executive or other full-time administrators, no junior development program, no women's program.

It is also unclear whether they meet the threshold of raising their own funds exceeding 10% of the ICC's annual disbursement to an Associate, currently in the neighborhood of $400,000. According to sources, ACF had revenue of $32,000 last year, $8,000 short of the requirement.

USACA may also fall short of several of these criteria, particularly since they have not had a full-time chief executive since Darren Beazley's resignation last year, but it is far harder to be kicked out of the fold when you've had 50 years of Associate membership than to gain it from scratch.

While the politicians draw most of the ire for their poor decision-making, the brunt of the maladministration has often been borne by USA's players. This was especially true in 2005 and 2007, when the USA men's teams felt the brunt of the ICC punishment.

The current edition of the Intercontinental Cup has been spruced up with the promise of a pathway to playing Test matches for elite Associates. When the competition first started in 2004, USA was in the mix as one of the original participants.

But a month before the 2005 competition began, USACA was in a heated squabble with the rival group known as the Council of League Presidents. After USA finished 11th out of 12 teams in the ICC Trophy held in Ireland that June and July, the two warring factions submitted separate teams to the ICC for the start of the Intercontinental Cup in August. Despite pleas from then ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed to come to a joint resolution, neither group budged. USA was kicked out of the competition, replaced by Cayman Islands, and has never rejoined. In the process, their players have lost out on countless opportunities to develop their overall skills by honing them through the rigors of multi-day cricket.

Just as debilitating for the players was the 2007 suspension. On the eve of the inaugural World Cricket League Division Three, USACA had stalled attempts to ratify a new constitution and a second suspension was handed down. Once again, the men's team was yanked out of the competition by the ICC and replaced by another member of the Americas region, this time Argentina. Traditionally the doormat of Americas regional tournaments, Argentina finished second and gained promotion to Division Two, a painful reminder of the consequences of that particular suspension for USACA.

When USA's suspension was finally lifted in 2008, they had been dropped all the way down to Division Five. On talent alone, they have always been good enough to be in Division One or Two. But their preparation is habitually poor, leaving them vulnerable to upsets. The fact that USA currently sit in Division Four, and have never been able to get past Division Three in three attempts, underscores how costly the ICC's penalty was on the players.

The ICC has, however, decided to take mercy on USA's players this time. USA's on-field struggles since the ICC dumped USA into Division Five in 2008 and told them to work their way up from scratch have been difficult to overcome. It must have been a factor in allowing USA to still compete at the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland, as well as the U-19 team's participation at the Americas Qualifier in Bermuda.

Logistically, things won't be too much different for the players. Though USACA had routinely lacked funds to make preparation camps possible, the ICC pays for plane tickets and hotel accommodation for every team at its tournaments. With or without suspension, the ICC would have footed the bill for USA in Ireland.

The ICC has also said it plans on offering caretaker support in place of USACA by announcing a regional selection trial in Indianapolis this September as part of an ICC Americas team scheduled to take part in the WICB domestic 50-over tournament. The news received an overwhelming response as players had spirits lifted over the prospect of an open selection process they expect to be fair, neutral, with professional talent evaluators unencumbered by dirty politics and favoritism that players have consistently accused USACA administration of engaging in.

Beyond the current World T20 qualification cycle, it is unknown how long the ICC will continue to devote resources as a benevolent foster parent to US players. However, players will take whatever the ICC is willing to offer them so long as they are still given opportunities to compete. It is far better to have the ICC's active assistance than the passive disinterest they have become accustomed to with USACA.