Pic (Above): Team USA celebrate a wicket against Netherlands. (Photo Courtesy ICC/Shouber Rahman)
“USA Women’s Road to India World Cup” campaign came to a screeching halt after bowing out of the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier (WWCQ) with a 1-5 record to finish 8th out of 10 teams. For many onlookers, the performance was an utter failure.
However, for the 15 women who traveled across the world to represent the United States of America, the experience, lessons learned, and friendships made, were priceless.
Due to an impasse between the original women’s squad and United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) over the tour conditions, doors of opportunity closed for four players, presenting an opening for four new players to represent the country at the highest level of the sport. The outcome of the WWCQ with the four original players will never be known but as dreamcricket.com puts it aptly, “Even with a full strength squad, they would have had only a marginally better chance at gaining ODI status, let alone World Cup qualification.” In 2012, USA takes a fresh start on the quest to qualify for the ICC Women’s World Cup in 2017 and gain ODI status, in the Cayman Islands from April 15-22.
USA arrived in Bangladesh for the WWCQ seven days before the start of the tournament. To say that the preparation time was adequate for Robin Singh to affect a major impact on the team’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup or earning ODI status would be far-fetched. USA simply did not have enough playing experience and capacity to execute on game plans; however, many players expressed that within the short period of time, Singh lifted the spirits of most, challenging them and succeeding in having them raise their game by at least 20%. We understand that Singh committed countless hours on and off the field to explaining game plans and scenarios – a crucial dimension of cricket that most ladies expressed they were never exposed to. Yet, in match play, it was evident that classroom sessions at that stage of their cricket development could not compensate for the lack of match-practice as a team.
As expected with the sub-continent pitch conditions, spin-bowling was the main attack for most teams. The pitch was reported to be slow with very little bounce. Without preparation, two USA players, Doris Francis and Anahita Arora, changed to spin-bowling mid-tournament to capitalize on pitch conditions. The move helped as Francis bowled her most impressive tournament figures of 10-4-18-1 to help USA win against Zimbabwe. The corollary is that some batswomen seemed to have struggled with the slow pitch conditions. To avoid a repeat of these problems, USACA should commit to the improvement of our national teams’ chances of succeeding in future tournaments by urging and supporting financially, the development of turf pitches across the country.
As much as USA cricket stakeholders would like to have seen winning performances and players’ names figuring in international cricket news, it must not be forgotten that women’s cricket under the auspices of USACA, debuted in the USA only 2 years ago while their group A counterparts (Sri Lanka, South Africa, Netherlands, Zimbabwe) have a combined total of 98 years of women’s cricket experience among them as playing nations. Having been the newest team in the competition, the effort put forth by USA women is extremely commendable.
Indeed there were individual highs and lows. Yet, overall these women took on the challenge to represent a country against test-playing nations and became better citizens through their experiences – an accomplishment that’s immensely bigger than the game of cricket. From the efforts, therefore, USA has begun the work towards the top. An earnest effort must be made now to develop the existing and future players.
Because there are so many few women cricketers, it may be worth considering taking an integrative approach to development. For instance, the head coach can visit cricket “hot-spots” throughout the regions to work with men, youth, and women not necessarily simultaneously but together, on the same trip. Local coaches can also get involved with these sessions so that periodically, players and local coaches can track progress. At the end of the day, coaches and players learn from and build upon the competitiveness of each other. This small step of development should prove to be more economical to mobilize cricketers in their local communities while adding continuity of development between tournaments.
The growth of our current women cricketers lies not only in USACA’s ability to set up an infrastructure for development, but it lies firstly in each player’s interest and commitment to bettering themselves in the sport. Because USA is not likely to have a full-time coach in the near future, players need to develop their basic cricket skills and fitness. This basic preparation will allow any visiting coach to maximize his/her time without having to focus on the fundamentals.
Let us keep our fingers crossed that long-term plans are in the making for a more pro-active approach to cricket development.