USA Cricket announced their Men’s U-19 Squad on Friday night, naming 14 to the team and four reserves.
The announcement is the culmination of a year in which the men’s U-19 age group were by far the most active in the national setup, thanks to the forthcoming Men’s U-19 World Cup Qualifier.
‘The squad selected is strong on all fronts, with batters who have performed at senior level, exciting young pace bowlers, a variety of spin options, and genuine all-rounders who can hold their place in the team in more than one skill area,’ USA Cricket U-19 Men’s Head Coach, Kevin Darlington, was quoted as saying in the announcement.
‘We have a very talented group of individual players, but as we all know, that is just part of the equation that makes a successful team. The proposed camp in Houston will allow us to work closely with the final group of players to develop the cohesion, culture, and spirit necessary to get through the Qualifier challenges that lie ahead. I’m looking forward to getting this group together again soon, so they can build on the relationships and partnerships that started to develop at the previous camp.’
Chairman of the Men’s U-19 Selection Panel, Amer Afzaluddin, was equally buoyant with his remarks, saying ‘We are proud, particularly in these times of COVID-19, that we’ve been able to run a robust selection process so far, with the U-19 National Championship and the U-19 Selection and training camp both being extremely successful. These two opportunities have allowed the selectors to get a wealth of information about each player in making our final decisions. We know the potential strength of this group and have complete confidence in their ability and character to do the job at hand.’
Five of eight zones from the Men’s U-19 National Championship are represented in the squad. Among them are three from the South West Zone and West Zone Reds, two from the South Zone and Colts, and four from the 2021 National Champion Mid-Atlantic Zone.
‘It’s actually a fantastic feeling representing the country,’ U19 member and West Zone Reds batsman Skanda Rohit Sharma told Emerging Cricket. ‘This is what I have been working for since a young age, so seeing my name on the list was a very special feeling.’
Skanda excelled in the National Championships, finishing second in runs scored with 267 runs in four innings, helping lead his team into the finals, and rescuing his team at times along the way. Skanda credits his fitness and mental approach to his performance in the Nationals.
‘I thought that I was in a really good state of mind and I was at my best fitness at the nationals which helped me play my role really well. In the times where the opposition were on top due to early wickets, I took my time to get in and slowly started milking singles. I didn’t really think about who had gotten out or who was yet to come, but just tried to communicate with my partner on how to approach whatever we had in front of us. As said earlier, my body and my mind were 100% which helped me execute my skills to my fullest potential.’
The inclusion of two wicket keepers, Mihir Cherukupalli and Rahul Jariwala, in the reserves bolstered speculation on the ultimate inclusion of Slade Van Staden, currently residing in South Africa. Uncertainty regarding COVID-19 regulations of course play a part in that concern. However, a Twitter account bearing the name of the young South African sensation replied to a question posed by Peter Della Penna with ‘I’ll be there.’
To say that Van Staden impressed in the Nationals, his first competitive cricket on American soil, would be an understatement. Demonstrating power and poise while leading the zone-independent Colts, the wicket keeper-batsman finished fourth in runs scored, with 175 in three innings. Slade’s lone failure came in the form of a caught and bowled golden duck to South Zone all-rounder Rohan Phadke, who was also named in the U-19 squad.
Phadke, the victor on that day, showed promise in the 2020 MiLC exhibition games, winning the Best Bowler award for the South after some stellar figures, and earning a place in Emerging Cricket’s MiLC Team U-21. Phadke credits experience gained in MiLC and the Nationals with preparing him for U-19 selection.
‘MiLC gave me the opportunity to interact with players who have already represented the nationals men’s team,’ the North Carolina native told Emerging Cricket. ‘I played alongside Jaskaran Malhotra and Roy Silva in Morrisville Cardinals and played against Steven Taylor. There was a lot to learn and it gave me an insight into how they prepared and went through practices and games which I then tried to incorporate into my own preparation.’
‘The U-19 nationals was really well organised and a competitive tournament with the best players in the age group around the country, which was great to be a part of as well. The experiences from both these tournaments motivated me to work harder and enhance my skills. I worked on adding some more variations to my bowling and took the experiences of batting on turf to refine my shot selections for different conditions.’
While Phadke performed at times with both bat and ball, it’s his stellar fielding that’s likely cemented his place in the U-19 team. Many view the young all-rounder as the top fielder in the country in his age group.
‘Coach (Alvin) Kallicharan was my first coach. From a young age of about seven, he used to stress the importance of fielding, rating it as important as bowling and batting, if not more important’ Phadke remarked when asked about his commitment to the craft.
‘He used to give us the example that as a bowler you might only bowl ten overs in a 50 over game, but you still have to field for 40 overs. That really resonated with me and I have worked hard on my fielding over the years. It is something that I really enjoy and take pride in.’
As an increase in national events brings more attention to high rated cricketers around the country, pride in representing the USA seems to grow, especially with ICC events right around the corner. The young men on the U-19 team face a chance to earn a trip to the World Cup with a successful qualifier against Canada, Argentina and Bermuda, set for dates to be determined in August.
The pride and opportunity are not lost on Phadke. ‘It’s an honor to be a part of the U-19 team. Representing the country is something that is very special. The really exciting aspect of this is the opportunity to qualify and compete in a World Cup.’
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