USA Cricket: Women’s team overcomes adversity to make the most of Canadian tour

and a spot in the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier next year in Bangladesh.

Pic (Right): USA Women’s Team [Courtesy: Bryan Vandenburg, ICC]

Standing (L to R) Victor Benjamin (Physio), Joan Alexander-Serrano, Candacy Atkins, Monique Mathee, Louise Browne-Jackson (Manager), Rajashree Mahale, Erica Rendler, Durga Das (Captain), Grace Richards, Lloyd Dixon (Asst. Manager). Seated: (L to R) Doris Francis, Indomatie Goordial-John (Player/Coach), Shondell Ward, Rohini Prabhune, Triholder Marshall, Nadia T. Gruny. Absent: Pauline Williams.

It was an achievement made even more special because the team managed to triumph despite limited preparation and the departure of one player in the middle of the tour to sweep Canada in three 50-over matches before losing two Twenty20 matches.

“I think the team performed tremendously,” said USA women’s captain Durga Das. “I think we took the Canadians by surprise. I don’t think they expected us to come together so quickly in the short time we had and we were able to work as a team. We feel more put together as a team than they were.”

USA’s bowlers had a huge impact on the series. Canada was bowled out for totals of 114, 135 and 86 in the three 50-over games.

“I think the one thing that changed everything psychologically in our side as well as in the minds of our opponents was definitely our bowling,” said Das. “I had even some of the Canadians come up to me and say there wasn’t much they could do. It’s not like we were bowling googlies around them but some of them came up to me and said that our bowling was so spot on.”

Shondell Ward led USA with eight wickets, including 5 for 20 in the first match to set the tone for USA. Das says she announced a wicket bounty before the first game and Ward nearly fetched it.

“I offered an incentive,” said Das. “I basically said six wickets, five thousand dollars and she took five so I gave her $2500.”

On the morning of the second match, USA had to get past some internal strife to regain focus and notch their second victory. Squad member Pauline Williams decided to leave the team due to differences with the team management. Williams came to the ground with the team, but removed herself from the lineup and left the ground by the start of the match due to dissatisfaction with her role on the team.

“I think it was basically unmet expectations on Pauline’s side,” said Das. “Unfortunately, when you play in a team, everybody thinks they’re the best or wants to think they’re the best. But you have different strengths and you have to be prepared to sit out a game and not be able to explore what you think is best for you all the time. If you feel that that’s not okay and you need to play a certain number and play a certain day, well then you should probably play an individual sport like golf so that you can do your own thing. But when you’re playing a team sport, you’ve got to work with everyone and accept what decisions are being made. You can’t lose your temper and pout about it and certainly abandoning the team is not a good thing.”

Williams says that the team management acted unfairly towards her. She ultimately decided to leave the team rather than wait until the end of the series to resolve how she felt she was being treated.

“They became very hostile to me,” said Williams. “They didn’t treat me nice at all. That’s why I had to remove myself from the situation because it could have escalated to something very very unpleasant.”

When asked how the management acted hostile towards her, Williams responded by saying that the coach and captain did not want her to keep wicket.

“I’d been training to be the keeper,” said Williams. “Since they scheduled training in New York, I’d been training to keep. I’d been selected as the USA keeper. However, there’s another girl who keeps as well. She has never been to practice. She has never trained to keep. All the training the day before the first match, I was training as a keeper. However, when we had the first game, they didn’t put me to keep, they put her to keep. I didn’t have a problem with that. I said okay, maybe I’ll keep the second game. But it was surprising to me.”

The other player was Monique Mathee, who played for the champion Northeast squad at the Women’s National Tournament. Mathee completed two catches behind the stumps in the first game, but Williams was unhappy with her role during the same match.

“Actually, they put me to field in a position that I’m not used to fielding,” said Williams. “It was like I was just standing out there with nothing for me to do. I’m very active. They put me in a position where my skills were not being utilized. I was just being neutralized. I wasn’t doing anything and that’s not the position I play. From being the keeper they put me at fine leg.” Williams was also upset that she came in at number nine. According to Williams, she scored the second most runs at the Women’s National Tournament behind player-coach Indomatie Goordial-John.

“So that was the first game. Second game came, right, I asked them if I was going to be the keeper for the second game and they said no, very rudely, and then I decided not to play. They were actually punishing me. For the first game, I went into the tournament as lineup for batting as third. They played me to bat the ninth position. That’s second to last,” said Williams. “I pulled myself out of the second game. They were not going to let me keep and the trainer he actually started insulting me.” When asked how trainer Victor Benjamin was insulting her, she replied, “He was being so rude to me and telling me that [Monique Mathee] is a better keeper than me.”

Mathee wound up completing three dismissals in that second match and scored 70 not out to be named Player of the Match. Mathee completed six dismissals in the three 50-over matches behind the stumps and finished as the second highest run-scorer for USA behind Goordial-John. According to Northeast women’s coach Linden Fraser, Mathee is the better keeper.

“I have seen all the wicketkeepers in that tournament. The best wicketkeeper, I’m not speaking because I’m from the Northeast, I’m speaking because the best wicketkeeper from that tournament was Monique,” said Fraser. “Technically, she knows most of the little points in keeping wickets. Against the spinners, you can not stand back to spinners and that is what Pauline was doing. For her to stump anyone off the spinners, she’ll have to throw the ball into the wicket.”

After the tournament, Williams penned an email to the USACA board in which she blasted the team, saving her harshest words for Das and Goordial-John.

“Whatever is said and done, she had a lot of choice things to say about me and she commented on Facebook and elsewhere about my decisions but all I have to say in response to that, whether it’s with you or to anybody else who asks me, is whatever decisions were taken were decisions taken between the manager, coach and myself,” said Das. “They were joint decisions and they were decisions that were taken in the best interest of the team and our focus and goal which was to win. There are other players who sat out and they certainly didn’t react the same way.”

Playing all but one of the matches with a 13-player squad, USA became worn down by the time the twin Twenty20 matches were played on July 17. USA lost the two games by 38 runs and eight wickets.

“By the Twenty20s we had seven or eight players who were injured,” said Das. “Hamstrings, elbows, ankles, knees, everybody was injured in some form or manner. So I certainly think that eight out of 13 girls injured is not a good sign. So I really think that working on our fitness levels and that goes for everybody, old, young, everybody. I’ve heard comments that the older people were unfit and the youngsters pulled it all together which is utter rubbish. In the last Twenty20, we had five of the youngsters unable to play. Tired, pulled hamstring, shins, what have you. So I think it’s a common problem.

“I think fitness is a common issue across the team. We certainly need to work on our fitness levels. We should be able to play seven, eight games one after the other and still be able to hold our own. I remember our camps when we used to train [in India] it would be 45 days, non-stop, eight hours a day. So that’s the kind of fitness levels we need if we really want to compete at the world level. Playing Americas is one thing, but playing England and Australia and India is a whole new ball game.”

Even though Benjamin was sent with the squad to be a trainer, Das claims it’s not his fault that the team sustained so many injuries.

“He met the team like 24 hours before we left and there’s not that much you can do to fix issues in 24 hours,” said Das. “He doesn’t know the girls enough. I think he was good with the training. I think we certainly need a physio, somebody who handles our physio a little differently. To be fair to him, he did the best he could. I mean how much can you do knowing the girls in 24 hours? So it’s important to get the team together a little sooner.”
“It’s important to identify key management and players well in advance so that everyone is mentally prepared. It’s important for the trainers and coaches to understand the players, their strengths and their weaknesses at this point. I’m sure we’ll learn from this experience. I think everybody, the management, the board and the players did a fabulous job given the short notice. But certainly this is not supposed to be done again. We have to give everybody time to come together and do their part the best way they can.”

As part of the tour review, Krish Prasad, chairman of the USACA cricket committee, says that USACA will be looking into the situation involving Williams.

“USACA has not addressed the situation as yet because the president asked us to appoint a disciplinary committee to look into what took place and then to make a decision of what we are going to proceed with,” said Prasad.

Williams claims she’s still part of the USA squad. She believes she should still be considered for selection when the team is picked to go to Bangladesh next year.

“I’m still a part of the team,” said Williams. “I’m still a member of the team. I’m still a part of the team until they give me like a notice or something like that. But so far I’m still an active member and a team player. I’m still on the team because I haven’t received anything, any notice of dismissal or anything from the USACA board.”

Das is willing to look past the decision Williams made, as long as she apologizes.

“I think she’s young,” said Das. “I think she’s lost her temper and she reacted, but people make mistakes. Right? No matter how badly she speaks of me, I still don’t think I would react in the same fashion. I’m sure she realizes that she made a mistake by walking out on the team and she should be given a chance and she should be given an opportunity to prove herself and if she proves herself, well good for her and good for the team and good for the country.

“As long as she speaks to the board and apologizes for leaving the team. It’s not about apologizing to me personally. It’s just about apologizing to the management that put together this team and if they accept her apology and give her a chance to show them her skills, she should.”

Aside from the turmoil, Das says the experience of leading the team to victory was a high point for her.

“For me it’s a dream come true,” said Das. “I had this opportunity 22 years ago and miraculously I’ve been given this opportunity this time and I was just so glad that… I was a little anxious about how the team will bond because there was so much going on before we all got together. I was called the captain just a week before we left. So going to New York and talking with the girls and getting to know them and play with them and getting their acceptance probably was the high point of my life. It was amazing. Every one of the team’s players, barring one I guess, basically stood behind me. They were very supportive, they were very kind.

“They really made this special for me. I owe everything to the team. It was an outstanding performance. For them to have made this so special for me, I can only thank them.”


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