ICC to organise US player trials in eight cities
The ICC's attempts to reform the cricket structure in the USA are taking another step forward with plans to hold player combine trials in eight cities from April through June. ICC Americas high performance consultant Tom Evans and former Australia fielding coach Mike Young will head the evaluation panel with other coaches from the West Indies Cricket Board and Cricket Australia also expected to take part in each city.
Last September, a regional ICC Americas combine was held in Indianapolis, which offered nearly 100 men's players from USA, Canada, Bermuda, Suriname, Cayman Islands and Argentina a chance to compete for a spot in a 15-man squad at the WICB Nagico Super50. Six players then went on to receive Caribbean Premier League contracts. The upcoming trials, though, are exclusively for USA players and will also contain evaluation opportunities for women's and junior players as part of an overall revamp to the team selection processes being organised by the ICC.
The USA women's team has not played in an ICC regional qualification tournament since 2012, though a USA Women's XI played two unofficial matches against Pakistan Women in Florida last November. The ICC census data has shown there are estimated to be about 100 active female players nationwide but Evans is hopeful that this trial will spur more interest.
"There's been quite a lot of people who have said to us that women's cricket is alive and well and that they should be provided more opportunities," Evans told ESPNcricinfo. "This is an opportunity to get some momentum going for the women's game. For any women who want to be part of the national set-up and part of cricket in the US in general, we would encourage them to be a part of this process."
While men's and Under-17 boys' applications have been strong for the first two April trial dates in California, Evans says that he has so far received 18 applications for the women's trial in San Francisco, a number he described as "decent". However, even though the official deadline for all applicants in San Francisco has passed, Evans says he is accepting late applications from female players to boost the talent pool.
"We won't turn away any girls, that's for sure, because it's a big focus," Evans said. "We sort of know from what people say that northern California and New York are sort of the two main hubs for women's cricket. If we got an overwhelming response for the combine, then we'd be rapt with that but we haven't seen necessarily that there's a huge number of female players across the country. We hope that will change."
As for the first men's-only trial in Los Angeles, Evans said he was looking to cut down the 100+ applications to about 50 players to compete in the trial at Woodley Park in Los Angeles. The men's tryouts are being organised with an eye to form a USA team for ICC WCL Division Four. Tim Anderson, the ICC's head of global development, told stakeholders in a recent letter that the ICC was in discussions with city officials to host Division Four in Los Angeles later in the year.
Though Evans would not commit to a specific number of players that they are looking to identify as part of a national talent pool for men's, women's and U-17, he said that the broad goal is to narrow down the field to somewhere between 20-30 players in each category. Subsequent squad trials are provisionally being targeted for later in the summer, particularly with the men's team preparing for Division Four. Unlike last year's Indianapolis combine, where the ICC invited applications for players aged 30 and under, there is no age limit for these trials.
The structure of each four-day combine will also take into account the amateur status and work situations of most of the attendees. Each combine runs from Thursday to Sunday with the first two days comprising of fitness, agility and skills assessments at an indoor facility from 6 to 9 pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, a series of trial matches will be arranged based on the evaluations done over the first two days.
Most of the trial matches being held over each four-day city combine will be Twenty20 games in order to evaluate as many players as possible. This is similar to how the Indianapolis trial was conducted last September to select a team for the 50-over Nagico tournament. Evans believes that process dispelled any doubts over the evaluation method and contends there are plenty of ways to identify skills in T20 for longer form success.
"I think [Alex] Amsterdam was an example of that at the Indy combine who made runs but didn't necessarily blaze the ball," Evans said. "But he showed even within 20-over cricket batting for 10-15 overs that he would be a good 50-over cricketer because he had the ability to stay at the crease, looked to rotate the strike and when he was under pressure didn't lose the plot.
"You can still get a really good indication to guys' suitability to different formats by just seeing them in match situations and we have some pretty experienced guys who are part of the coaching evaluation panel. If on a Sunday we're clear on who some of the best players are, we might try and give them an extended opportunity to prove themselves in a slightly longer game, whether it's 50 overs or 40 or 30."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna