The Sad and Sorry Saga of USA Cricket in the 21st Century: Part 2
Part II 2005-2007: ICC suspensions, Massiah’s captaincy and the emergence of USA’s U-19 team
Less than a year after squaring off against cricket’s Full Members, USA experienced a steep fall both on and off the field. At the 2005 ICC Trophy which was held in July in Ireland, they were placed in Group A with Ireland, Bermuda, the UAE, Denmark and Uganda. USA lost four matches and was spared losing a fifth against eventual champion Ireland when their match with them was washed out. When the groups crossed over for the knockout/playoff phase, USA beat Papua New Guinea by eight wickets, but then lost to Oman by three wickets in the ninth place game to hand Oman their only win of the event. Oman needed 346 to win and were 211 for 7 when number eight Farhan Khan turned the match upside down by hitting 94 off 47 balls, including nine sixes, as part of an unbroken 137-run eighth wicket stand with captain Azhar Ali. They passed the target with five balls to spare. Massiah finished tied for eighth in the aggregates list for runs.
A month later, USA should have been playing against Canada and Bermuda in the I-Cup, but they were removed from the competition and Cayman Islands took their spot. Since the summer of 2004, trouble had been brewing in the governance of USACA with elections failing to take place that July ahead of the Champions Trophy. Similar to the election fiasco that has dragged on over the course of 2011 into 2012, the elections were delayed until March of 2005 and the results disputed after president Gladstone Dainty disqualified several candidates, despite the fact that the election had already taken place, when it was discovered that those candidates had tallied more votes than some of his political allies. This resulted in a battle between the Council of League Presidents and the Dainty-controlled USACA board over the stewardship of cricket in the country, including who had the legitimate power to select teams to represent the country.
The USA came very close to not participating in the 2005 ICC Trophy as a result, but the standoff briefly died down in order for the ICC to recognize the squad sent in by USACA and thus give USA a chance to qualify for the 2007 World Cup. Afterward, the CLP and USACA reignited their dispute to the point that legal action was pursued. ICC CEO Malcolm Speed sent notice to the two sides to resolve their differences or face the consequences. When the two sides couldn’t come to a resolution about who was in charge and who could pick representative sides, the ICC declared that no side from the USA was going to be represented in the I-Cup and as a result the men’s team was suspended from international cricket.
The same fate almost occurred with the U-19 side, but they were spared and traveled to Canada at the last minute for the 2005 ICC Americas U-19 tournament. Not much was expected of the team, especially since they had managed only one win at the event in 2003, finishing in fourth place behind Canada, Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Their only win had come against Argentina.
So it was a great shock to Canada when USA stormed into Toronto on the first day of the tournament in August of 2005 and walked out with a 39-run win. Ravi Timbawala, a 16-year-old born in Los Angeles and raised in Gujarat, had moved back to the USA to attend high school and in the process found himself in USA’s U-19 team in 2003. With two more years of experience under his belt and with more talent around him in the team, he anchored USA’s turnaround in fortunes with a top score of 67 opening the batting in USA’s total of 246, which was more than enough to get past the hosts. The next day against Bermuda, off-spinner Abhimanyu Rajp wiped out the opposition by taking 5 for 7. The islanders were all out for 87 as USA coasted to victory by eight wickets, proof that the first-day win against Canada was no accident. Rajp took five more wickets in a seven-wicket romp over Argentina before a six-wicket win on the last day over Cayman Islands sealed USA’s perfect record in the tournament and clinched a spot in the 2006 ICC U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, the first time USA had qualified for a Cricket World Cup at any level.
In a magnanimous gesture by the ICC, they supplied USACA with funding to help prepare the USA U-19 team for the World Cup, even though USACA was suspended and as a result was not receiving any of their annual ICC funding for being an Associate Member. The squad wound up going on a tour to India for a series of warm-up games before continuing on to Sri Lanka. USA lost all three matches in the group phase to West Indies, South Africa and Australia, but a record of 0-3 doesn’t tell the whole story. By all accounts, USA could compete talent-wise with their group opponents, but were held back by their lack of situational experience compared to their counterparts.
By the end of the U-19 World Cup, the standoff between the CLP and USACA had ended and the USA resumed planning for international contests with the men’s squad. In July, a group of local organizers in New York put together a pair of 40-over matches at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn between a USA XI and a West Indies XI, which featured many of the West Indies first choice players at the time including Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Smith, Daren Ganga and Wavell Hinds. USA lost the first game by five runs, falling just short in their chase of the West Indies total of 214 for 6. In the second match, West Indies won by six wickets after Lara made 70 and Gayle 62 off 33 balls to go past the target of 235 with 10 overs to spare.
In August, the men’s team participated in the 2006 ICC Americas tournament in Canada where they finished runner-up to Bermuda. From the U-19 World Cup squad that had returned from Sri Lanka, only Dodson toured with the team and he never got a game. Several people who were part of the squad in Sri Lanka believe that Audain was the most ready of any of the players to be elevated to the senior level, but he never got a chance with the senior team and now wallows in anonymity in New York league cricket.
While Massiah captained the USA XI against the West Indies XI, the ICC Americas tournament was when he was fully recognized as the new USA captain replacing Richard Staple. His first match as captain in Canada was also the debut match for Sushil Nadkarni in a USA uniform.
Nadkarni is a man built like an artillery tank with a reputation for blasting the ball out of the ground at will. A former India U-19 player, the left-hander had been lighting up the Texas league cricket scene for several years and was just now getting his chance to play for USA at the age of 30. On debut, Nadkarni scored 111 off 132 as an opener against the Cayman Islands. Massiah turned in 136 not out as the two put on a 229-run second wicket partnership in USA’s total of 300 for 2 before winning by 106 runs. It would be Massiah’s last century for USA in a live contest. Massiah would finish as the leading run scorer overall on the week with 283 runs in four innings at an average of 141.50.
USA was scheduled to play next at ICC World Cricket League Division Three in Darwin, Australia, in May of 2007. It was the second tournament in the brief history of the WCL, the new World Cup qualifying ladder system leading to the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier. USA’s competition at Division Three was supposed to be Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Italy, Uganda, Hong Kong, Cayman Islands and Tanzania, all teams that were historically below the stature of USA.
However, USACA’s shoddy governance reared its ugly head again when they could not complete the straightforward task of adopting a new constitution and hold elections by March 1, 2007. As a result, the ICC suspended USACA for the second time under Dainty’s reign as president. The men’s team was barred from international competition once again but unlike in 2005, this time around the U-19 side was cast into the wilderness as well, denied a chance to defend their ICC Americas U-19 tournament title and prevented from qualifying for the 2008 ICC U-19 World Cup in Malaysia.
Argentina, a team that USA has never lost to in ICC Americas tournaments, replaced USA at WCL Division Three. To rub salt into the wound of USA’s suspension, Argentina finished second to advance to Division Two in Namibia where they would play Denmark, Oman, the UAE, Uganda and the hosts. It wouldn’t be the last chance USA had at qualifying for the 2011 ICC World Cup, but the devastating consequences of this suspension would be fully realized a year later. A slim margin for error exists in WCL tournaments and USA was about to find this out the hard way in their attempt to climb back up the WCL ladder.