Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey
Despite the threat of two players skipping the ICC World Cricket League Division 3 tournament in Hong Kong over non-payment of a bonus promised by USACA, the USA squad departed as scheduled on Saturday morning from JFK Airport in New York. The only player missing was Rashard Marshall, who was excused due to a death in his wife's family according to USACA vice president of operations Manaf Mohamed. Marshall is reportedly in Trinidad and will leave on Monday to join the squad for the tournament which starts on January 22.
Two anonymous players had told ESPNcricinfo last week that they were considering staying home unless they received an overdue bonus for winning Division Four in Italy last August. Everyone came to the airport, even though it is understood that the bonus still hasn't been paid.
USA coach Clayton Lambert is hoping the team will now be able to focus on the task at hand, finishing in the top two to advance to Division Two in the UAE this April.
"For us, it's all about playing well," Lambert said. "Once we play as a team, there's no infighting; everybody kind of rallies around each other. Most of our guys have a bit of first class or international experience so that helps. All we need to really do is go and execute because our talent-level can match any team that is in this particular Division Three. So what we need to do is go and execute and play better than they do."
Several of the teams in the tournament have had solid preparation for Division Three. Oman and Hong Kong both went to Sri Lanka to play a series of warm-up matches against local sides while a number of Papua New Guinea's players participated in the Australian Country Championships. Denmark also planned a five-day camp in Sri Lanka so it appears that USA and Italy are the only teams entering the tournament without any significant preparation prior to arriving in Hong Kong. Lambert acknowledged that that but said he hoped the team's early arrival in Hong Kong could make up for it.
"Of course it's a concern. The last time we played any decent cricket was a month ago. I'm hoping that all of the guys are serious enough to keep up their training. I just have to see where we are. The good thing is that we have one week prior to the tournament. We should be able to adjust by then."
USA has one warm-up game scheduled against Hong Kong on Monday, less than 24 hours after they land, followed by four days of practices ahead of the first official match against Hong Kong on Saturday. Lambert hopes the squad will make good use of the next five days in order to start the tournament right.
"The most important thing is to see how well the guys acclimatise, how well their bodies adjust. The game that we're going to play, it's the very first full day after we get to Hong Kong. I would have liked it to be a couple of days later so we could sort of get ourselves acclimatised. I'm just looking to see how well they adjust to the new conditions. We want to have a feel of how the wickets are going to play."
The USACA board meeting scheduled to take place in New York this weekend in conjunction with the team's departure was cancelled due to "inclement weather." New York received about six inches of snow on Tuesday, but has had no weather problems since. A decision was due to be taken at the meeting regarding the announcement of the date for this year's USACA general elections. It is unknown when the board meeting will be rescheduled.