2020 was an eventful year for USA Cricket, even accounting for the lack of any meaningful games for over ten months of it. 2021 brings excitement and new challenges.
Kicking off in February, USA’s ODI team failed to win a game in their CWCL2 Nepal trilateral series, and as COVID-19 dominated our attention, USAC cancelled the April ODIs in Lauderhill. After a long pause in action, the Minor League Cricket exhibition season gave us a glimpse of what a centralised domestic league in the USA could look like. USA Cricket conducted talent identification, zonal trials, announced new coaches, and rolled out their foundational plan.
MLC made splash after splash, acquiring a vacated professional baseball stadium in Dallas, and announcing big name investors, including Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment.
The paucity of turf wickets remains the crucial obstacle to improving the standard of domestic competition furthers, but with guidance and clay sent by American Cricket Enterprises, communities in California continued to make strides. One exciting addition is a brand new square in San Diego.
Marty Kain of the San Diego Surf Riders raved to Emerging Cricket about the value of the new wicket. ‘The new turf blocks that are being prepared are wonderful for San Diego cricket. A big step in the right direction to ensure cricketers have an opportunity to play on a quality wicket to prepare them for higher levels of cricket. The block is wide enough for two wickets. All done by volunteers who did an amazing job putting it together. Still a very long way to go to improve facilities here, but this will certainly help us nurture the great talent we have in San Diego.’
December’s US Open featured domestic stars, famous names, and a few new faces. Sanjay Stanley, former U19 Vice Captain and All-Rounder, saw it as a chance to finally get some higher quality cricket under his belt after missing the MiLC exhibition season with a hand injury. ‘It was a great experience and I feel like playing that type of cricket gets the best out of me as an individual. I was working hard on my fitness and was mentally visualizing when I was injured, so coming back into it was a lot easier,’ Sanjay told Emerging Cricket.
Stanley’s 59 from 49 against an experienced Somerset Cavaliers attack was a highlight for Samp Army, though they lost all three US Open games. Still, the pinch of personal success should help reinforce the aspirations of the young Morrisville Cardinal as he prepares for next summer’s MiLC. ‘Minor league will be very important for me personally, as that’s the pathway to the men’s team and Major League, so I’ll be working hard for Minor League next year. I worked really hard before our exhibitions this year and to miss out because of injury was very very disappointing…but I believe that everything happens for a reason and I am looking forward to my next season for the Cardinals.’
USA U19 will resume competition in August 2021 with Argentina, Bermuda and Canada traveling to the States for the U19 Men’s World Cup Americas Qualifier. Sanjay will be nearly 21 by the time the qualifiers come, and saw his final days in the U19 squad lost to Covid-19. ‘I am currently in the USA men’s extended squad training group, and U19 was the pathway to that and I am grateful for that. Gutted to have missed out on the U19 World Cup experience now that I have aged out and I truly hope that they qualify for the U19 Cricket World Cup next year.’
Working with trainers and coaches remotely was at times the only option for cricketers around the world. Sanjay took advantage of USAC coaching and training resources, and had the good fortune of being local to some top resources. ‘Alvin Kallicharan sir trained me and helped me grow as a cricketer during this pandemic. Jaskaran bhai and I also worked very hard together on our fitness with Burt Cockley, and I believe that has helped my game a lot this season. Apart from skills and fitness, I also did a lot of visualisation and shadow practice to be mentally prepared to play whenever the opportunity arises.’
USA Cricket Men
Sanjay and others will compete for spots on the USA Cricket Men’s team, which resumes World Cup League Two in March 2021 in Oman, followed by a trip to Papua New Guinea in April 2021, and finally a home series in August 2021. The March return will mark over one year since the USAC Men have competed against international competition. USA Captain Saurabh Netravalkar told Emerging Cricket how he has kept himself busy during this time away from the international game.
‘I’ve been working from home in my full-time job and made good progress on that front. Me and my wife adopted a rescue puppy during COVID-19 after my return from the Nepal tour. That’s been going great as well. I’ve been reading a lot, watching and studying a lot of cricket across eras, right from 90s to current day cricket. I’ve looked at my cricket videos from the past in India and compared that with my current ones, charting out plans for areas I need to take to the next level in my game as well as my leadership. On the other hand, Burt has been on top of pushing us well in fitness, we’ve had bi-weekly team sync ups with the larger group of 35 players and newly appointed coach Jagadeesh Arunkumar, so it’s been shaping up pretty well given the resources and constraints we have had!’
During the MiLC season, Saurabh was counted on heavily by his Golden State Grizzlies and showed no signs of loss in form, scoring runs when required, and taking wickets while maintaining his typically low economy rate.
‘Since minor league, I have been working as time and situation permits with coach Arunkumar indoors and outdoors. Specifically working on developing some new variations and strategies in my bowling and thinking, but especially on my batting. I’ve had lots of 15-20 not outs last season batting down the order, this season I want to take that batting game to the next level. Also, this season, I want to focus mostly on a high performance fielding and fitness culture in the team as these two things are purely dependent on volume of daily practice, unlike batting and bowling where ultimately a certain degree of luck is involved, hence trying to lead by example by practicing regularly in those aspects.’
When USA resume their CWCL2 competition, they’ll do so having played the most games in the league, meaning they’ll have the fewest games to make up. ‘The advantage is that we have now played against everyone at least once and we know the composition of these teams we (are) up against. Apart from that, we want to clear our minds of the past, have an open mind, start with a fresh positive approach, and see where we go from there.’
In September 2021, the team will switch to T20 mode and head to Canada in hopes of advancing in the T20 World Cup Qualifier. ‘Regarding T20 in Canada, I’d like to focus on every team we play against with an equally strong focus, as we have seen in associate cricket and especially T20, any team can create an upset if it’s their day. Also, we have seen a very good talent pool (on) display now, and there is healthy competition for spots in the national team, which is very promising and will help in building a bigger base of players and team compositions and carving out niche roles for ODI and T20 formats. So the goal is purely to win and earn a spot in the coveted T20 World Cup!’
USA Cricket Women
Women’s captain Sindhu Sriharsha saw USA Cricket’s 2020 talent identification events as a crucial part of the women’s team’s future. ‘Just to be able to get that base in place of doing this talent identification gives us a better pool of players when we go ahead for our next year of planning,’ Sindhu told Emerging Cricket. ‘Just knowing the potential that is there across the country, I think that gives an eye opener even for (USA Cricket). Opening up those avenues for people to just come forward, that was the starting point we were looking for.’
Back in February, Sindhu and 16 year old USA fastbowler Geetika Kodali traveled to Australia to join the Fairbreak Global XI against Australia’s Alex Blackwell’s Bradman XI. The Fairbreak team featured cricketers from all over the world. ‘I loved it. I was supposed to be part of Fairbreak in 2018 in London. I wasn’t able to go because I was pregnant at the time, so I missed it last time, so I was more than happy to pick it up this time, considering it’s also in Australia. Going and playing in Australia, it’s a dream come true for anybody. It was fantastic to be there and be part of a team which came from different parts of the world, and having to play with Sana Mir, she leading us, and also being a great cricketer herself…To understand how cricket is played all over the world, and to come together in just one weekend and (to) gell as a team is fantastic, and credit goes to Shaun (Martyn) for being able to get this to us every year, I think he does a fantastic job of that.’
The inclusion of Sindhu’s young teammate Geetika in the Fairbreak event, and the growing number of young women on the national team radar, hints at a bright future for the women’s game in the USA. ‘Being able to pick that potential, the players to be able to take over from us and build the future, you should always be building four years from now. Kudos to the management team for picking those players.’
September’s (2021) World Cup Qualifier Americas tournament will take place on US soil, giving the women’s team a leg up on what could be a tight field. Unlike the 2019 Americas qualifiers, where USA only had Canada in the group, USA will also have to contend with Argentina and Brazil. Sindhu views the increased field size as a positive for whomever advances. ‘I think it’s a fantastic pathway for all the four of our teams. Being able to play more games, I think that’s what we’ve been asking for, having more competitive games to be prepared when we go into qualifiers. I think it’s good for Argentina and Brazil to come back into Americas. It was just us last time, and just having more people to play more games, that’s how we’ve got to be looking at it…More games, more competition, we would love it!’
One of USA’s opponents for the qualifier, Brazil, made history as the first women’s team to receive full-time central contracts before their respective men’s team.
Emerging Cricket asked Brazil’s Roberta Moretti Avery about the importance of this commitment to these cricketers. ‘I believe this was a big step for us. We have big plans for the team in the short-medium-long term and we needed to ensure all players had the opportunity to be able to focus on this project 100%. And although we had quarantine and a few months away, I believe all players evolved during this season. We can’t wait for 2021. It’s going to be very interesting to play against these teams in the Americas qualifier again. We are very excited about it!
READ MORE: Hannah Thompson’s interview with Brazil’s Roberta Moretti Avery
If you’ve read this far, then you’ve run your eyes over the name Burt Cockley a couple of times. The former Australia fast bowler coordinates the fitness effort for the USA men’s, women’s and U19 teams. ‘We started the year off, we had big plans with all the ODIs, and then COVID-19 happened. It kind of put everything in its tracks. We had to keep everyone going. On my end, it was basically about people just doing stuff, and not taking a break for the next eight months,’ Burt recently told Emerging Cricket.
‘Keeping the guys physically ready to play at a high level, it was just making sure they got some basic physical workload in their bodies so that when we do want to ramp things back up again… we’re coming off of a good base, and we’re not gonna just have guys breaking down with soft tissue injuries,’ he continues.
Follow nearly any USA Cricketer on social media, and you’ll see the posts and stories tagging the USA Cricket fitness coach. Xavier Marshall’s daily run on the same track reinforced the Groundhog Day effect of the summer of 2020. Elmore Hutchinson taking time in between grueling sets to acknowledge friends on Facebook Live with a smile and a few words. Erica Rendler on a balance board, catching water balloons from toddlers while #TrainingAtHome. Burt, himself, doing squats in his garage gym, his infant son more eager to join than those of us old enough to know better. This was USA Cricket in 2020.
Fitness is proactive, and a good fitness coach sees the big picture. Excitement stirred by a talented young crop of American cricketers is balanced by the knowledge that there’s more work to be done today.
‘When they officially pick those (U19 and zonal) teams… then we’ll start working with them and they’ll get on the program. From the development point of view, they’re the big ones, just from my end, they’re really important,’ Burt said of the prospects.
‘Getting the basics right, and teaching them what it’s like to be a professional athlete, what the habits and routines, what the standards and what all the benchmarks are… The current group of men now, they’re going to lead us into an exciting period of cricket, but it’s these U19s and the guys behind, the U17s, they’re the guys that are going to then pass the baton and keep taking it forwards. We just need to make sure that they’re ready to go, just like any elite program in the world, full member, if someone drops down, we’ve got to know that there’s a bowler ready to take his place.’
‘There’s so much to be playing for. With the ODIs, the T20 qualifiers, there’s just so much. We need to hit the ground running,’ Burt said of the Men’s team’s 2021 calendar. ‘We can’t have guys not physically prepared. I’m very clear with my messaging… We’re going to be playing against some high competition, and it’s going to be physically demanding. And we need to be ready for it.’
While some on the Men’s team are under contract (however reduced), and the U19 players still lack responsibilities of adulthood, it’s almost a guarantee that members of the women’s team are juggling a lot. ‘They just work so hard. Some of them don’t have cricket around, they’ve got to make it up as they go. They follow the program, they just do everything, it’s awesome. They just want to do well. It’s going to be good when we get back to playing, and I hope they can make the next stages and do well, and we can get some more people playing. It creates a domino effect, it creates more engagement. (When) girls want to start playing cricket, it’s just all positive.’
‘They do everything and they just feel guilty if they can’t do a session, so that’s the kind of people we’re working with. They’re trying so hard, and they’re working full time. We’ve got a really good group, and I just want to see them do well, get some opportunities, and get back out there.’
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Don’t see any reason why the women’s team haven’t been playing local mens teams. Months and
months pass and they play no meaningful cricket. Crazy.
That would make a lot of sense. USA Soccer and USA Hockey women’s have used that as a way to stay sharp.