By Orin Davidson
Beset by a series of tactical blunders, the United States crashed out of the World Cup 20/20 qualifying competition, shattering hopes of a potential historic appearance in a prestigious Global championship.
Given the talent available in the squad, the team management badly misused its resources and emerged with two losses and one win. It proved inadequate to progress to the second round from which the top two of four teams would journey to the West Indies for the 2010 edition of the International Cricket Council’s second most important championship, after the 50 overs World Cup.
In their defeats to Afghanistan and Scotland, the United States was guilty of poor team selection, bad use of bowlers and woeful batting order choices, that gifted their opponents victories that could’ve been denied with more thoughtful and objective decision making in the two main areas of the game.
Against Ireland, the U.S. bowling let them down badly, allowing the former team to pile up a mammoth 202 runs tally, their highest score ever in 20 overs competition and so far the most conceded by any of the teams in UAE.
With Ireland, rated the best team in the competition, and needing a victory to keep their hopes alive of qualifying, after losing their opening game to Afghanistan, they applied intense pressure from the get- go and the U.S. crumbled as a result with the captain Steve Massiah unable to counter Ireland’s early batting onslaught with his bowling tactics.
There was an over-reliance on spin by Massiah who used four slow bowlers, a shocking tactic which allowed Ireland to feast for easy runs.
In limited overs competition, the use of even one spinner is a risk, much less in 20/20 where the bowlers are attacked from ball one.
Massiah committed suicide by giving Ireland 13 overs of spin of the allotted 20 and they capitalized fully, that initiated the beginning of the U.S’s ouster.
With only three matches to qualify for the second round, the U.S. needed to play pressure cricket in all three games but they lowered their guard after defeating Scotland in the first game, where they used 11 overs of seam. They reduced that number in the next encounter and paid the penalty.
The captain’s thinking was mind boggling because he had five seam bowlers in Kevin Darlington, Orlando Baker, Usman Shuja, Tim Allen and Rashard Marshall at his disposal, but chose only seven overs of the faster stuff, which is always more difficult to attack.
To add insult to injury, Marshall is one of the country’s most effective seam bowlers, yet he was not given a single ball in all three matches. They chose to play him as a batsman, but these days Marshall has proven to be a better bowler, but the management was blind to this reality.
Incredibly too, was the decision to use Tim Allen as a spinner when the player has been a specialist seamer all his career.
There is a glaringly good reason why slow bowlers are never used by all teams at all levels of competition, at the death of an innings.
If the team’s use of its bowlers was poor, its batting tactics were worst. Dhaniram who has failed every time he represented the U.S. as a batsman was inexplicably used in the top order.
He never scored more than four runs in all three games, and even though he got a total of five in the two warm up games against the UAE, was still persisted with at number four and five thereafter.
In contrast, Dhaniram has good results as a bowler and should’ve been used as a specialist spinner with no place for him batting in the top five. Why the decision makers could not have adjusted is beyond belief.
At the same time, the team bewilderingly underused Aditha Thyagarajan, their best batsman from the Americas Championships one year ago. A shocking omission from the first game, Thayagrajan was only drafted in for the second encounter because Sushil Nadkarnie was unfit. To make matters worse he was used at number seven in the order and promptly exposed the mistake by slamming an accomplished 72, not out, by far the highest for any U.S. player.
Then, to rub salt in the wounds, the team failed to promote him next game in the crucial run chase against Afghanistan, keeping him at number seven which was much too late.
With all of these factors staring the team management in the face, they still regarded Dhaniram a batsman.
And to crown a dreadfully mismanaged campaign, Massiah failed to lead from the front even though he is supposed to be the team’s premier batsman.
The captain has scored all of his many runs for the team at number three, yet he dropped himself down the order when the team needed him most in all three games. Against Afghanistan he appeared as a tail ender at number eight.
And the fact that he never scored more than five runs in the three competition games and a total of 13 in the two warm-up matches, raises serious doubts about his future in the team for 20/20 matches.
Massiah is accustomed to having his way in almost all team matters whether it is team selection, batting order placements or tactics on the field.
And unless there was a steep change of team policy, the disastrous showing of the US team in the Middle East has justified the critics claim that he has no place in the 20/20 team.
If there was no change in that policy, then coach Clayton Lambert’s position should also be in jeopardy as those tactical blunders were inexcusable.
Significantly, by getting dumped in the first round, the U.S. failed to justify the ICC wildcard entry it received for this competition to the annoyance of other teams.
Massiah is more comfortable in the 50 overs version as a batsman and should remain there in the U.S. team setup.
Ricky Ponting, has relinquished his place in the game’s shortest version for Australia and so has Andrew Strauss for England.
Therefore, there is no humiliation in the U.S. captain following suit, given his shortcomings.
And any explanations of the U.S. losing to better equipped teams would not wash with anyone. Does Afghanistan, a war thorn country, among others, have superior facilities, better domestic competitions or better coaches?