By Orin Davidson
It is becoming clear that a changing of the guard has emerged in the batting hierarchy of the United States team, given the performances in the last 18 months.
Once upon a time Steve Massiah held sway as America’s best batsman, but after the team’s exhilarating title winning performance in the just concluded World Cricket League Division Four championship and the previous four tours, that is not the case anymore.
Aditya Thyagarajan has moved ahead of the pack with Sushil Nadkarnie still high in the order and Orlando Baker, Lennox Cush and Rashard Marshall being the main supporters.
Based on consistency of high scores in testing situations, Thyagarajan and Nadkarnie have clearly climbed to the top by showing they can continue to score runs consistently in any situation against any opposition.
However, Massiah, who has carried the team’s batting ever since he became eligible to represent America, has noticeably been unable to match the exploits of the two India-born players — Thyagarajan and Nadkarnie in key matches. Since America’s return to international competition, following the International Cricket Council imposed ban three years ago, the two have more or less taken over.
This was clearly the case in America’s just concluded title win in Italy and its runner-up finish in the Division Five foray in Nepal this year.
In the Americas Championship in Florida in 2008, Thyagarajan made it his coming- out party, specifically when he forged that splendid sixth- wicket partnership with Baker that was the foundation of a thrilling victory over favorites Canada. His 84 not out was a gem. It was a memorable game for Baker who went on to record his best single performance for the US, by returning with the ball to wreck Canada with a five wicket haul.
If that series was Thyagarajan’s eye opener, he cemented his leading status with more valuable displays in the tough Division Five series earlier this year when it mattered most in tight situations, most notably against America’s nemesis Jersey. He followed up with solid performances in the Americas championships this year.
On the other hand Massiah’s scoring influence has dropped along the way and rarely has he produced a match winning performance with victory on the line in the last year and a half. It did not happen in Florida, Nepal, Bermuda and Italy in his favored 50 overs competitions, and likewise was the case in the shorter Twenty20 version in the UAE and Bermuda.
Massiah must now be considered just another batsman on the team while clinging on to the captaincy. Another cause for concern is the decline of Carl Wright’s batting as he has struggled to maintain the high standards set at the beginning of his U.S. career.
In Italy where Nadkarni had possibly his best series for America, highlighted by those three Man-of- the -Match performances, Thyagarajan again proved his value and Cush recaptured his power hitting of yore. The bowlers led by veteran paceman Kevin Darlington continued to impress while Massiah was reduced to a facilitator.
Nevertheless the team played tough and showed the mental toughness made of champions.
It was evident in their rebound victory over Nepal, after losing to Italy when the team’s future was on the line as a defeat would’ve meant the difference between another four years in the doldrums, and a chance to qualify for the 2015 World Cup. America put their loss to Nepal in the Division Five final a few months prior behind them, and did not allow the prospect of facing Rahul Vishwakarma, the spinner who bagged seven wickets for 18 runs in that game, faze them.
It was followed up by that great recovery from the debacle of being five wickets down for 17 runs against Argentina that eventually resulted in a mammoth score of 303 runs which setup a huge victory.
America then ensured they did not relax in the final even with the knowledge of already qualifying for Division Three. They duly thumped Italy to take the title, thanks to Cush’s record whirlwind 101.
These are the type of ferocious innings fans who know Cush expect against such opposition, given his reputation for Guyana in West Indies competition.
The faster and bouncier artificial pitches in Italy would’ve helped his free flowing shot execution.
Fast bowler Usman Shuja clearly reveled in those conditions and recorded his best series display for America, not to mention 20-year-old off spinner Mohamad Ghous who continues to prove he is a class act with every game.
Hopefully the authorizes in New York and elsewhere have noted the benefits of those artificial pitches and consider turning to such until turf strips can be had.