By Jalal Uddin
USA Cricket has started taking steps to implement its ambitious three-year foundation plan. In the words of USA Cricket Chairman Paraag Marathe ‘the launch of the foundation plan is culmination of lengthy but important piece of work, which now sets the roadmap for the development of the sport in United States over the next few years.’ USA Cricket’s foundation plan contains five pillars. One of them is increasing participation levels of players, coaches, and match officials at a domestic level.
Zonal cricket will develop a foundation for player identification through a database which will ultimately play a vital role for selection of USA national and youth teams.
My appointment as a selector for the USA South West Zone in last year’s Dallas and Houston trials has given me a ringside view of the status of cricket in the country and the way forward.
A new zonal structure
USA has now been divided into six zones from a cricket administrative and development point of view – West, South West, Midwest, South, Mid-Atlantic, and East.
To ensure maximum participation of players in trials conducted in these zones, the zones are further divided into 14 hubs namely, Bay Area (CA), Southern California (CA), Hartford (CT), Tampa (FL), Atlanta (GA), Chicago (IL), Adelphi (MD), St Louis (MO), Raleigh (NC), Somerset (NJ), New York (NY), Dallas (TX), Houston (TX) and Seattle (WA).
A vital cog in this new system is the creation of a zone-wise database of domestic players to serve as a pool for selection to the national and youth teams. In future, USA Cricket should create another tier under the zonal system, involving city-based cricket teams.
How selection works
USA cricket conducted trials for the current season in October and November 2020. Clubs and academies in each zone submitted a list of players through the USA cricket portal.
USA cricket then provided a list of around 50 players in both Men Senior and Youth categories to the selectors and they were tasked with short listing 30 players based on performance data provided in the dossier. From there on, these 30 players were invited for the zonal trials.
In South West Zone along my fellow selectors, Orlando Baker and Jannisar Khan, and I conducted trials in Dallas and Houston. The trials were for both the senior men’s team and the youth team over two days at each hub. USA cricket had already prearranged the dates, venues, local volunteers, and ground staff for the trials. Ground staff and volunteers ensured the there was adequate water, food, cricket equipment, ground facilities, and medical assistance available.
There was a 95 percent turnout of registered participants at the trials. Following the COVID protocols put in place by USA Cricket, the onsite doctor temperature-checked all attendees. Players were strictly asked to wear a mask and observe social distancing.
Players were tested on three fronts: fitness, fielding and batting/bowling skills. This rigorous process was applied to ensure that we could find complete players, true all-rounders.
The fitness regiment included the yo-yo test, the plank test, the broad jump test and measurements height and weight. The fielding test included high catches, close catches and pick-ups and throws. We split into their respective categories of batsmen, bowler and wicketkeepers and designed pressure scenarios to judge the batting/bowling abilities of the hopefuls.
The game simulation exercises allowed each selector to mark players according to their skill, game sense, fielding, pressure bearing capacity, spin bowling, batting, and pace bowling. We also discussed with players and the designated captains, how to achieve and/or defend a target in order to judge their strategy making ability, situational awareness and to test their overall knowledge of game. Apart from this, the players were divided into teams and were made to play short matches against each other as a further demonstration of their abilities.
A selector’s summation of the talent
As a selector and cricket coach, I am impressed by the depth of talent available in the USA. I believe that if young players are properly trained and honed through a well-structured development program, they could prove to be beneficial to the long-term health and future of USA cricket. To pull this off, USA Cricket needs to build a highly qualified and competent team management that can provide competitive cricket to these young players.
The trials are almost completed, barring Florida which has been hit by a severe wave of COVID-19. There will also be a preparation camp for the 2021 national zonal championship, scheduled to take place in April 2021. This preparation camp will help both coaches and selectors build a strong team, capable of competing hard at the championship. If all the zones pull this exercise off successfully, this will significantly raise the competition level of each and every zone and thus produce a roster of skilled players that can go to benefit the national team. Only time will tell how USA Cricket manages to pull this off, given the challenging circumstances we are living in.
Jalal Uddin is USA South West Zone selector, an ECB Level IV coach, and a former Pakistan Test and ODI cricketer.
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