A whole new world in Indianapolis
Five things to look out for at the ICC Americas Division One T20 tournament
A whole new world
The tournament will be the first major cricket of any kind played at the brand new Indianapolis World Sports Park. The ICC tweeted a photo of a juicy pitch on Saturday morning ahead of Sunday's inaugural match at the facility between Canada and Suriname, but only time will tell.
Weather conditions in Indianapolis for the early part of the week show it will be cool in the mornings with temperatures hovering around 50F (10C) for the daily 10 am scheduled start but by 2 pm for the second match of the day, it will be mostly dry and sunny. The outfield looks well maintained and it will be interesting to see how many broken windows need to be replaced over the 12 games. The ground was built in a residential zone on the east side of the city with the north boundary ringed by several houses that could be in the firing line of Canada's Rizwan Cheema and USA's Steven Taylor.
The rise of Suriname
Canada is a virtual lock to claim one of the top two spots and advance to the World T20 Qualifiers in Ireland and Scotland this July. However, with only one other berth up for grabs instead of the three reserved in the past for the Americas region, a dogfight may ensue for the remaining spot. The debate in the region is which team will be the one left out: USA or Bermuda. What they may not realize is that it wouldn't be farfetched to see both of them left behind and Suriname leapfrog them into this summer's global qualifier.
Suriname's comfortable win over Bermuda at the last Americas Division One in 2013 was a wakeup call for everyone in the region that the South American nation can't be taken lightly. USA enters with a very inexperienced squad and their traditional home advantage at the Central Broward Regional Park in Florida has been neutralized by a tournament site nobody has played at before. If a side like USA comes in unprepared, the upset bug is ready to bite and bite hard.
The resurgence of Cheema?
Named captain again at age 36 by Cricket Canada for this tournament, Rizwan Cheema's reputation as a basher was forged during a magical two-year period from August 2008, beginning with 89 off 69 balls and 61 off 45 in back-to-back ODIs against West Indies at King City. By mid-2010, the pixie dust started to wear off, and the five years since have been topsy-turvy.
When Cheema's batting began to seriously wane, he focused more on developing his pace bowling to keep his spot in the team. He scored 54 off 42 in Canada's first warm-up match in Texas on April 28 against an attack featuring USA veterans Usman Shuja and Timroy Allen, as well as former West Indies fast bowler Mervyn Dillon. However, he fell for a duck in the next game and 4 on Friday before the team departed for Indianapolis. Which Cheema will show up at World Sports Park? Canada needs more of the former to feel confident about success, not just in Indiana but also in Ireland and Scotland in July.
Bermuda spin phenomenon Rawlins
Delray Rawlins was tabbed as one to keep an eye on from age 13 after a series of brilliant all-round performances at junior level. He made his senior team debut at age 15, producing a 10-over spell of left-arm spin to finish with 1 for 39, in a famous five-wicket win over USA at the 2013 ICC World Cricket League Division Three. The result not only prevented Bermuda from being relegated to Division Four but also prevented USA from advancing to the 2014 World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand. It was Bermuda's first victory over USA in an ICC tournament match since 2005.
In addition to being an exceptional fielder, Rawlins has continued to make strides with the ball, producing consecutive 10-over spells of 1 for 18 and 0 for 16 against Malaysia and Singapore respectively, last October at the WCL Division Three in Kuala Lumpur. The key for him now is to progress from being just economical to becoming a wicket-taking threat at the senior level like he has been in junior cricket. If he can do that, Bermuda's chances of finishing in the top two improve drastically.
Failing to prepare
USA's disastrous experience at Division Three was exacerbated by a canceled warm-up tour to Jamaica due to lack of funds. The same scenario has played out ahead of the Indianapolis event. While the other three teams in the tournament have some form of a warm-up series under their belts, most of USA's players will be flying into Indianapolis on Friday and Saturday fairly raw. The squad features seven changes from the team that was relegated to WCL Division Four last October and hasn't even practiced together ahead of their opening encounter against Bermuda. At best, each player's preparation has been one or two matches at the start of their local league season, since competing in the USACA T20 National Championship over Easter weekend.
So many times in the past, USA could get away with showing up at a tournament with no preparation and still win or gain promotion due to the superior talent possessed by their players. That method was finally laid to waste in Malaysia. USACA is gambling with another spin at the roulette wheel for this tournament. By Sunday, everyone will know if they doubled up or went bust.