USA captain Steve Massiah believes his side's early arrival in Hong Kong for the ICC World Cricket League Division 3 tournament will help them gain promotion to Division 2. USA, who were in Division 5 at the beginning of 2010, will arrive in Hong Kong on January 15, and will play two practice games before the tournament starts on January 22.
"It's tough for us to get together ahead of the tournament with people spread out across the country, but we've all got training schedules to stick to and we will all definitely have the fitness levels needed ahead of the tournament," Massiah told the ICC.
The hosts Hong Kong's biggest advantage is that they have played plenty of cricket leading up to the tournament, their coach Charlie Burke said.
"We played in the Asian Games [in Novemer 2010], albeit in the shorter format, but the opposition we faced was strong, and playing on a big stage against the likes of Afghanistan has really helped us prepare for Division 3," Burke said. "We've just come back from a tour of Sri Lanka where we played three games against strong domestic teams and we won two out of three of those games. It's the first time we've had wins in Sri Lanka which to me is an extremely positive sign ahead of this tournament. We've also had turf practice-nets put down now in Hong Kong which has been a huge plus for us when it comes to training."
Hong Kong and USA will compete with Italy, Papa New Guinea, Oman and Denmark for two promotion spots to Division 2.
There are four uncapped players in USA's squad for the tournament - left-arm spinners Ryan Corns and Asif Khan, wicketkeeper Ritesh Kadu and seamer Durale Forrest - and Massiah said they have all settled into the side.
"Forrest, Corns and Kadu are all young, exciting prospects for us," Massiah said. "Forrest is a former West Indies Under-15 player, Corns has represented the USA at Under-19 level, while Kadu has been a consistent performer in his local league in Southern California. Asif Khan is also a positive addition for us as we've been in need of a left-arm spinner and Asif provides that along with bringing the experience he's had as a former first-class cricketer in Pakistan."
Hong Kong's squad for the tournament has an average age of 21 as compared to 29, which it was when Burke took over as coach in May 2010. "Our vice-captain Courtney Kruger, who is a right-hand batsman, is definitely one to watch for this tournament," Burke said. "Mark Chapman, who is just 17-years-old, was our highest run-scorer in Sri Lanka and is technically very sound for someone so young.
"Then when you look at our bowlers, the Ahmed brothers - Irfan and Nadeem - are the ones to watch in our side. Irfan is a great strike bowler, who knows how to bowl with great pace and can deliver yorkers. His brother Nadeem knows the conditions here and gets some good spin."
Burke said he has a good knowledge of all the teams competing, especially Papua New Guinea whom he worked with in his previous role as the ICC East Asia-Pacific development officer.
"I have a very good knowledge of the PNG side and in regards to planning for the other teams, I've seen recent footage of the USA and we've done our homework on Denmark too. I suppose Italy and Oman are the interesting teams as we don't know too much about them."
Since the USA only received promotion after winning the Division 4 tournament in Italy in August 2010, they have not faced many of the Division 3 teams in recent times, but Massiah is not too concerned by that. "We don't know all the teams particularly well apart from Italy who we played in August," he said. "I personally have played Oman, Denmark and Papa New Guinea before, but that was over ten years ago now so I'm sure the sides have changed. We'll be sure to do our research so that we can get on and execute our game on the day."