The Barbados-contracted pair of Aaron Jones and Hayden Walsh has come in for special praise from USA head coach Pubudu Dassanayake for their roles in helping the side earn promotion to WCL Division Two. The allround abilities of Walsh combined with the batting of Jones played a pivotal role in USA ending WCL Division Three on Monday with a 4-1 record, good enough to be promoted along with undefeated tournament champion Oman.
"I can't tell how happy I am about those two guys," Dassanayake told ESPNcricinfo after USA finished runners-up at WCL Division Three in Oman. "They're great players, they know how to behave inside a team and they fit straight into our culture. So I think that those two guys are the best thing that could happen to USA Cricket moving forward actually."
Jones and Walsh finished first and third for the team in scoring on tour with 200 runs and 167 runs respectively, regularly rescuing USA from perilous positions. Their best tag-team effort came against Denmark when they came together at 87 for 5 and produced a 131-run stand, a USA record for the sixth wicket.
Jones came into the squad as an injury replacement for Sunny Sohal during the Super50 Cup, while Walsh hadn't yet made his debut coming into WCL Division Three. Dassanayake revealed Walsh was initially picked as a legspinner, but a century during an intrasquad trial match at a USA training camp in North Carolina on the eve of the tournament convinced Dassanayake of his batting abilities.
"When we looked at him the first time, we all thought he was a good legspinner but we were not sure about his batting, even though he came and said that he can bat," he said. "But we had a few training sessions in Barbados and match scenarios basically playing a 50-over game on a full field using local players. Every scenario we played, he was scoring runs."
Dassanayake also hit back at criticism leveled at team management before the tournament for picking the pair in USA's 14-man squad for Oman despite their non-participation in this year's USA Cricket Combines. The caretaker administration run by the ICC Americas had communicated to stakeholders that anyone wishing to compete for a spot in USA's Division Three squad had to attend a combine trial.
That meant former West Indies batsman Xavier Marshall, who had made his USA debut in January, was axed after he skipped the last two days of the New York trial to play club cricket instead.
New Zealand-based US passport holder David Wakefield also paid his own plane tickets to Florida to be evaluated, something that was not mandated of Jones nor Walsh. This was a source of unhappiness amongst players who attended the combines and felt it equated to double-standards.
"Even though critics was there to criticise certain things about our performance and selections, we as a group had that confidence from the beginning which way we are moving and the players were confident and these results were not a surprise for our group," Dassanayake said. "I'm not happy that we didn't become number one but it's part of the game. Oman played better cricket on that day against us but I still believe that USA is a better team and we are looking forward to move forward."