Coming off a cliffhanging victory against Papua New Guinea, it’s now time for USA to consolidate on their already encouraging start. Given that a couple of key players are absent, the first win was not only a historic occasion, but it was also a confidence builder in more ways than one.
Left-arm spinner Karima Gore and middle-order batsman Aaron Jones both showcased their immense talent to great effect, highlighting their fast learning process at centre stage.
The focus now shifts to the relatively more experienced campaigners; expectations are rising, and there are three more opportunities to deliver. Elmore Hutchinson, the 37-year-old bowling all-rounder, was the catalyst for the much-needed momentum shift. However, other stalwarts such as batsmen Xavier Marshall and Steven Taylor, and legspinning allrounder Timil Patel will look to seize the initiative as soon as they can. Given that this is a home series, there’s a compulsion for the hosts to consistently shine.
Namibia has entered this contest as strong contenders, especially after a successful recent few months. The top priority at the moment is acclimatizing to foreign conditions. After landing in the country on Saturday they have only three days before their first match. The squad has plenty of trusty matchwinners – namely opening batsman Stephan Baard, the hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman J.P. Kotze, captain Gerhard Erasmus, and the left-arm pace duo of J.J. Smit and Jan Frylinck. Compared to USA, Namibia has a relatively younger team, but more experienced across formats. Some are looking to build on already successful careers, while others are vying for a longer run in the side.
Players to watch out for
Steven Taylor – he’s by far the most experienced member of the team. Over the course of time, since he took part in the U19 World Cup nine years ago, he’s taken on various roles – captain, opening batsman, wicketkeeper, and part-time offspinner after deciding to hang up the gloves. Now he’s fairly settled on his batting all-rounder role and vice-captaincy. In addition to his versatility, not only has he played professional cricket for the US for over a decade, he’s also taken part in multiple Caribbean Premier League seasons as well as played first-class cricket in the West Indian domestic circuit. Since the beginning of this year, Taylor has been in reliable form in 50-over cricket, especially during the recent Division 2 tournament in Namibia. For a prolific player with an illustrious career so far, the onus is on him to show that he’s the pillar of this improving American team.
Saurabh Netravalkar – ever since the left-arm pacer has been handed the reins, the US, as a team, have prospered in 50-over cricket. However, his individual performances are to be taken into account as well. Netravalkar often bowls early in the innings, and is also a competent death-over bowler, too. On many occasions he’s shown to restrict the flow of runs at critical phases; against Papua New Guinea, he held his nerve and bowled a tight penultimate over, shifting the pressure back to the opponents, with 16 to win from the last over. Economical figures are great, but he’d love to add more to the wickets column.
J.P. Kotze – a free-wheeling left-hander and a sometime wicketkeeper, Kotze is looking to build on his reputation as a dangerous customer. The 86-ball 148 against Hong Kong in April was a breakthrough moment for the 25-year-old; four months later, he became the first Namibian to score a century in T20I cricket, smashing an unbeaten 101 from 43 balls against Botswana. Since then he’s been earmarked and highly rated as the next big thing for the national side. The talent and drive is evident, and now it’s time to continue this rich vein of form in the big games.
Craig Williams – long story short, he’s been a talismanic figure of Namibian cricket. He’s represented his country since 2007 and taken part in numerous international events. Believe it or not, he’d actually called time on his career last year after Namibia agonizingly fell short of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup Qualifier when they lost in a painful nailbiter against Nepal. However, the all-rounder had a change of heart and made himself available once again, for the Division 2 tournament at home, which Namibia would go on and win both the trophy and ODI status. It was a revitalized, rapturous return for Williams, having contributed more than adequately well with both bat and ball. His experience will not only come in handy, but should help nurture the development of the young bolters in the Namibian team, too.
Likely playing XIs
Having succeeded in the first game, there doesn’t seem to be a need to alter a winning combination. Sure, there might be only four games to play when it comes to exploring combinations, but more importantly, continuing the winning ways is the bedrock of this campaign.
1 Xavier Marshall, 2 Jaskaran Malhotra (wk), 3 Steven Taylor (vc), 4 Monank Patel, 5 Aaron Jones, 6 Timil Patel, 7 Nisarg Patel, 8 Karima Gore, 9 Elmore Hutchinson, 10 Rusty Theron, 11 Saurabh Netravalkar (c)
The visitors will look to get off to an assertive start, and given the nature of the pitch last time around, there might be a temptation to play more than one spinner in the XI. The batting is fairly settled with a solid top five. Craig Williams, J.J. Smit, and Christi Viljoen all provide an array of all-round options to choose from.
1 Stephan Baard, 2 Karl Birkenstock, 3 J.P. Kotze, 4 Gerhard Erasmus (c), 5 Craig Williams, 6 J.J. Smit, 7 Zane Green (wk), 8 Christi Viljoen, 9 Jan Frylinck, 10 Pikky Ya France, 11 Bernard Scholtz
Weather & conditions
This Wednesday will be warm and humid, and there’s a 30% chance of rain, hopefully intermittent passing showers. Rain has been predicted for much of this week, so the pitch is likely to be covered. It’s still quite early to make any sort of prediction about the pitch, but chances are that it may still remain somewhat spin-friendly.
It’s to be noted that last time Namibia and the USA faced off in late April, the visiting Americans managed to edge out Namibia by two runs in their own backyard. Could this prove to be a little bit of a psychological advantage for the hosts? We’ll have to see. An exciting contest awaits.
(Main photo credit: ICC/Peter Della Penna)