Usman Shuja, who set the USA record for career wickets in 50-over cricket in October, has announced his retirement from international cricket at age 36. The fast bowler was USA's leading wicket-taker at ICC WCL Division Three in Malaysia last year, but was not included in USA's T20 squad for the ICC Americas Division One tournament earlier this month and cited a desire to formally step aside in order to allow younger players to develop.
"The team as a whole with the next generation is ready to take over," Shuja told ESPNcricinfo on Sunday night. "I think I can still help out, but I feel I'll be more of a hurdle for them to express themselves than to help them. There have also been some huge personal life changes with having a baby last year, a start-up job and having achieved the record, the whole personal element has dropped my motivation quite a bit."
Though Shuja played a series of unofficial games for USA against Cayman Islands in 2003, he made his official USA debut in 2006 against the same team at the ICC Americas Division One tournament, taking 1 for 21. With his 3 for 12 against Bermuda on the first day of play at 2013 WCL Division Three, Shuja surpassed former USA captain Zamin Amin's mark of 47 wickets that had stood since 2004. He added five more at 2013 WCL Division Three to set the new USA mark of 53 in 35 games at an average of 15.49, comfortably better than Amin's 22.09 and a better average than anyone else in USA's top 10.
Shuja also took nine wickets in 15 T20 matches for USA with his 4.56 economy rate standing at number one. He credits his father, a former first-class wicketkeeper-batsman for Lahore and PIA in the 1960s, with instilling in him a competitive drive from an early age.
"He was very tough," Shuja said. "If I got one or two wickets he would just shrug it off. He pushed me and helped with the skills. When I was in college at Texas and I was going back to Pakistan every year, he hooked me up with Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis and got me coaching from Waqar and the entire Pakistan team so they could analyse my skill-set. He's always been supportive because he had played first-class professional cricket in Pakistan. The point is that he was always engaged. Even till now he always knew how many runs I had scored and wickets I had taken every week."
Shuja was controversially dropped ahead of USA's tour of Bermuda in 2013 for ICC WCL Division Three and said the main reason he didn't retire then was that he felt strongly that he had more left to contribute to the national team.
"I think I was still at the top of my game at that time," Shuja said. "I felt the drive to play and I also didn't want to leave when I was dropped. I felt I was dropped unfairly so there was a little bit of unfinished business. Today, I think a few things have changed for me personally and my motivation has gone down quite a bit. The moment I made that decision it was a relief. I'm not willing to put the hard work in to deserve a spot to be able to step on the field now but the feeling of being on the field and the whole preparation to get there, that I'll still miss.
"I will definitely miss just being able to represent the country and playing at the highest level. I've always been driven by the competitiveness of the games and also to be able to say I play for the country. Those two things are softer elements but those were the driving factors and I'll miss that quite a bit. But most importantly is the friendships. I made some really good friends. To be able to go on tours and talk cricket is the thing I'll miss the most."
The fast bowler says his proudest moment as a member of the USA team was their victory over Nepal in front of a hostile Kathmandu crowd on the final day of round-robin play at 2010 ICC WCL Division Five, a win which secured USA's promotion to Division Four in Italy. However, Shuja says he laments the fact that USA wasn't able to produce more meaningful results during a two-year stretch when the core group of players was perhaps more talented than the USA team that reached the Champions Trophy in 2004.
"I think it's a story of missed opportunities," Shuja said. "The 12 years associated with US cricket, I think we have touched a lot of interesting opportunities where we were under prepared. We had really good teams, really good coaches. Everything just didn't fit together but there were pieces of it that were there and I genuinely feel that we could have been something like Canada, if not better. It was always an honour to play but there were just a lot of missed opportunities. If we had prepared better, we could have done better especially in the 2010-11 time frame.
"I think 2010 was the time when most of the guys were if not at their peak, they were still in their prime or at the tail end of it. They were still pretty good and the team that went to Italy, Nepal, the first UAE trip and even Hong Kong, I think that was a pretty solid team. We just never prepared. We had some missed planning. There was no strategy and things like that. I think we could have done a lot better if there was a little bit of planning and help from the administration."