By Sean Devers
Founded in 1999 by Ashook Patel the United States of America Cricket Academy (USACA) is now a major
part of the cricket landscape in the United States and in 2003 was adjudged winner of the Best Junior Development Initiative ICC Global Award.
Affiliated to the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) and located in New Jersey, the Academy in association with the Guyana Cricket Board (GCB) recently completed a one-week tour to Guyana where three of their age group teams (U-13, U-15 & U-18) participated in six rounds of matches with three games being contested each day.
They USACA teams played matches against Guyana’s U-15 and U-17 teams, County sides, Association teams and Clubs sides and matches were held in West Demerara, East Coast, Berbice, Georgetown, and at the Guyana National Stadium at Providence on the East Bank.
According to USACA Global Operations Director Rahul Sharma, the main aim of this tour was to provide the under-18s with the exposure of playing in different conditions and pitches while at the same time experiencing new Cultures as the players prepare for the ICC 2016 under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.
But first they need to win the qualifiers when they come up against Canada, Bermuda and Suriname in the division one tournament.
The winner automatically qualifies for the World Cup next year January, while the runner-up team has another chance of qualifying for the event which includes the 10 full members of the ICC and six Associate teams.
American players can make the USA team or an Americas X1.
Sharma informed that two USA National selectors made the trip to Guyana to have a look at the player’s performances in a foreign environment.
“Chairman of Selectors Barney Jones and Wesley King were here but had to return home before the tour ended. They had to return to the US to pick a provisional 30-man squad for encampment before an 18-man squad is short listed in June,” Sharma disclosed.
The American U-18s seemed a very professional group of players and most of them showed tremendous talent although they struggled to adjust from the ‘matting’ pitches in the USA to the low and slow turf tracks they played on in Guyana. Gauranshu Sharma, Sagar Patel, Jash Patel, Neil Tagore and Skipper Chetram Persaud are among the players that caught the eye.
“I am pretty much satisfied with the trip which has given us a good idea of where we are now that the 13 players in contention for the World Cup have had an opportunity to play here,” the 44-year-old Sharma added.
“The biggest difference for us is the pitches. We play on matting pitches back home since in America there are only four turf pitches in LA, where most of the ICC tournaments are played. There is one in Houston and a few in Florida. The pitches here (Guyana) are slow and kept low and was not too conductive to getting big scores,”
“We toured India last December with the under-17 and under-19s but we added the under-13s for this trip because we want to create a feeder system. Since there is no youth league back home a lot of the younger players don’t get enough opportunities,” Sharma continued.
According to Sharma, the U-13s learn from being around the senior guys and education is always encouraged. In India, 13 year-olds get contracts for a minimum of 48,000 Rupees (US$1,000) per season. If they play for their districts the money goes up. The youngsters in India get time off from school, free meals and free gear.
“The Government in the US does nothing for the development of cricket while the local Government would only upgrade a venue as a business investment and would want to know what the community gets out of the deal. How many major tournaments would be played there? How would the hotels benefit?…. and such like,” Sharma informed.
He said that the ICC has started a ‘Let’s Play Cricket’ mainly in the New York, New Jersey area which introduces the basics of cricket in the schools with plastic balls and bats. Sharma added that schools are now training PE teachers for t10 schools cricket and explained that now more and more school’s cricket is being played in New York.
The USACA’s ultimate aim is for every American born child to understand and play cricket but Sharma said that in terms of getting cricket to compare with other sports like Basketball and Baseball is very hard because the US is so large and its difficult to get everyone involved so tours like this helps to solve some of those problems.
“We are trying to provide as much exposure as possible to the players and we have been to Trinidad, Barbados, England and India and the biggest moment for us on this tour was playing at the National Stadium since it’s important that if any of these players play at the International level they would have had some experience of playing at these venues,” Sharma feels.
Almost a decade ago the USA qualified for the 2006 under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka and Sharma’s wish is for the USA to once again qualify next year.
“The Academy has produced a number of quality players and in 2004 we had William Perkins. We spend thousands of dollars every year on cricket and we manage funding on our own. Because of the passion for the game, we get together to make these trips happen,” Sharma said.
Sharma reveled that he is not satisfied with the pace of progress of the development of cricket in America.
“A lot more has to be done and school’s cricket needs to be played. We beat Bermuda twice and Canada in the last ICC under-17 tournament but our biggest challenge is to get the players to know each other before we embark on major tournaments that’s why tours like this one is so important,” Sharma concluded.
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