2019 has been a year of ups and downs for Associate cricket. While everyone earned T20I status, there were four main beneficiaries when it came to ODI status, leading up to the World Cup Qualifier about three years from now – Namibia, Oman, Papua New Guinea, and the United States.

Last month was the beginning of the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2, a three-year tournament involving seven teams – Nepal, Scotland, the United Arab Emirates, and the previously mentioned quartet that earned ODI status.

Round 2 of League 2 is set to begin on Friday, and history will be made – as a matter of fact, it’s the first time the United States will be hosting an official ODI event – a tri-nation series against Papua New Guinea and Namibia. The Central Broward County Stadium at Lauderhill, which has previously hosted several international encounters as a quasi-home ground for the West Indies, is now ready to serve as the primary home ground for the USA. All three teams are newly added to the ODI mix, so there’s a lot to play for. 

The teams will lock horns in a mini double-round-robin playoff, with six games total.

Game 1 – USA v PNG – 09/13/19 at 9:45 am EST
Game 2 – USA v Namibia – 09/17/19 at 9.45 am EST
Game 3 – USA v PNG – 09/19/19 at 9.45 am EST
Game 4 – USA v Namibia – 09/20/19 at 9.45 am EST
Game 5 – PNG v Namibia – 09/22/19 at 9.45 am EST
Game 6 – Namibia v PNG – 09/23/19 at 9.45 am EST

So how has each team been doing as of late?

USA

Let’s start with the hosts. The most recent cricket they’ve played was the T20 World Cup Regional Qualifier, which was held in Bermuda. Heading into that tournament, the USA were in a reasonable position, and most would’ve thought they’d finish second to Canada.

However, clinical performances from Bermuda in both encounters ensured that the Americans would get knocked out. As a result, they won’t feature in the upcoming T20 World Cup Qualifier, which will comprise of the top teams that qualified from each regional tournament from around the world.

The USA celebrate after defeating Hong Kong at WCL2, a result that guaranteed ODI status

Disappointments aside, ODIs are a different format, and that should somewhat relieve the camp. The most recent 50-over tournament for USA, back in April, catapulted them to ODI status, after finishing third in the league table, but fourth overall, with Papua New Guinea in third place, Oman as runners-up and Namibia, the hosts, crowned champions.

In March, Team USA visited the UAE, for 50-over games as well as T20I debuts. Overall, the tour was a success, especially when the USA notched up 4 victories in the 5-game 50-over series against UAE, plus a win against the English county team of Lancashire, which had pre-season fixtures in the UAE.

There are plenty of positives to take note of, but at the same time, it’s important to analyze the current team. Not long ago, USA Cricket began handing out central contracts – either a year-long contract or a three-month contract. Two of USA’s consistent performers, fast bowler Ali Khan and legspinning allrounder Hayden Walsh, both chose to opt out in order to feature in Canada’s Global T20 League as well as the ongoing Caribbean Premier League, both of which have players of high calibre from different parts of the world. On a more pleasant note, Steven Taylor, the vastly experienced left-handed opening batsman, bagged a one-year deal. On the other hand, USA’s captain, left-arm seamer Saurabh Netravalkar, received a three-month contract.

If you compare the squad for the upcoming tri-series with the one for the regional T20 World Cup Qualifier, the notable omissions (apart from Khan and Walsh) are the Australian-based fast bowler Cameron Gannon as well as the stalwart allrounder, Timroy Allen. The surprise of this squad was the inclusion of seamer Rusty Theron, who formerly played international cricket for South Africa, and also took part in earlier versions of the Indian Premier League as well as the Caribbean Premier League. After retiring from South African domestic cricket due to recurring injuries, Theron relocated to Florida around four years ago, for higher education. However, he still played frequent club cricket as and when the opportunities arose – he has taken part in the recent edition of the annual US Open T20 league, for Somerset Cavaliers CC. Not long ago, Theron was awarded a three-month deal, and linked up with other teammates for a training camp. Having completed the qualification requirements, he’ll be raring to go for a second shot at international cricket, with a new allegiance.

With a squad mixed with experienced campaigners and a few rookies, the USA should look to put behind them the troubles from the recent past and enter this contest to announce themselves to the best of their ability, as ODI first-timers. Yes, there is the home advantage, but the team’s ability to handle pressure as well as to consistently perform will be put to the ultimate test.

14-man squad:

Saurabh Netravalkar (c), Steven Taylor (vc), Monank Patel, Aaron Jones, Sagar Patel, Xavier Marshall, Jaskaran Malhotra, Timil Patel, Nisarg Patel, Elmore Hutchinson, Jessy Singh, Rusty Theron, Karima Gore, Nosthush Kenjige

Papua New Guinea

Having had a very difficult visit of Scotland last month, the main focus for Papua New Guinea, at the moment, is to pick up the pieces and treat the upcoming contest as a nothing-to-lose affair.

Prior to the recent tri-series against Oman and Scotland, PNG earned ODI status after placing fourth in the league phase during the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 tournament in April. That event was a bit of a mixed bag – they lost to Namibia, USA, and Canada, but put together a tremendous effort to pip both Hong Kong and Oman. Consistency has been an issue, and one would say that this was just about good enough to make the cut. However, they did defeat the USA in the third-place playoff match.

PNG skipper – and Emerging Cricket Ambassador – Assad Vala (C)

PNG had ODI status over the course of time from the 2014 World Cup Qualifier to the 2018 World Cup Qualifier. After losing to Nepal during the 2018 WCQ, the ODI status was revoked, but they did demonstrate their ability to bounce back from the lows, and reclaim the lost ground earlier this year. It will all be about redemption and proving their worth in the big leagues during League 2. It’s known that the learning curve is steep, and after a rocky beginning in the first round, the confidence has taken a hit.

Over to the squad for the tri-series – Assad Vala will continue to lead the side; he’s played for his country for almost a decade and a half. The big names include the vice-captain, legspinning allrounder Charles Amini, the prolific opening batsman Tony Ura, seamer Chad Soper, and batting allrounder Lega Siaka, to name a few.

On the whole, this team has relatively more young players that are yearning to seize the available opportunities. Another confidence-testing would have to be the fact that they had to forfeit their potential berth in the U19 World Cup, due to disciplinary violations from 10 players. The promising teenage cricketers are deprived of a chance to play in a world event, and there’s now more pressure for the senior side to make their country proud. Expectations may not be as comparatively high, and the best approach is to take it game by game, innings by innings.

14-man squad:

Assad Vala, Charles Amini, Simon Atai, Kiplin Doriga (wk), Riley Hekure, Hiri Hiri, Jason Kila, Alei Nao, Nosaina Pokana, Lega Siaka, Chad Soper, Gaudi Toka, Tony Ura, Norman Vanua

Namibia

Out of the trio, it seems quite evident that the stars from southern Africa are the strongest of the lot. It all adds up – Division 2 champions in April – having lost only to Oman during the group stage, but delivering a resounding defeat in the final. This exemplifies their improvement in high-stakes games as well as the level of talent and depth in the team, too. It’s safe to assume that they are the favourites, despite the fact that American conditions might be uncharted territory for some.

The 50-over highlight for Namibia this year would undoubtedly have to be amassing a whopping 396 runs against Hong Kong during the Division 2 tournament. Counterattacking centuries from opening batsman Stephan Baard and wicketkeeper J.P. Kotze underlined what was a stellar show. Since then, however, they haven’t played 50-over cricket, but they did play in the ICC T20 World Cup Africa Regional Final, against the likes of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Botswana, and Ghana. Namibia would go on to top the table with ease, and following that, hosted Botswana for three T20Is, in the capital city of Windhoek. Namibia sauntered their way to a rather easy 3-0 series win, making it a clean run in T20s in the past couple of months.

It seemed like Namibia would enter a tough transition phase last year, when the experienced duo of former skipper Sarel Burger and Craig Williams called it quits, and current captain Gerhard Erasmus’ career was in limbo, due to university commitments. However, it’s been quite a roaring comeback since then. Williams making a comeback to top-flight cricket for Namibia would set the tone for a positive run ahead. The current team has the skillset and mentality to take the initiative and deliver when required.

Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus (c)

Gerhard Erasmus, the skipper, has been a mainstay at the middle order since 2011, when he was just 16 years old. Opening batsman Stephan Baard has been billed as a trusted performer, and has featured for Namibia for almost a decade. Christi Viljoen, a seam-bowling allrounder, has the valuable experience of playing abroad – he’s taken part in the past couple of domestic seasons in New Zealand, for the Otago Volts.

Additionally, Namibia takes part in the Africa T20 Cup, a tournament primarily involving provincial-level South African domestic sides as well as a couple of associate African international teams. The wealth of experience against stronger teams is always a key asset to have, especially when the rewards are high.

14-man squad:

Gerhard Erasmus (c), Jan Frylinck (vc), Stephan Baard, Karl Birkenstock, Zane Green, Zhivago Groenewald, J.P. Kotze, Tangeni Lungameni, Bernard Scholtz, Ben Shikongo, J.J. Smit, Christi Viljoen, Craig Williams, Pikky Ya France

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