USA 251/9 (50) Jones 77, Hutchinson 42, Pokana 3-40, Kila 3-40 defeated PNG 159/6 (23, target 165) Amini 53, Vala 48, Gore 3-25 by 5 runs

It’s the first ever officially sanctioned One Day International at home. The excitement is immeasurable, the pressure is understandably mounting, but the drive to perform in the first outing is immense. As promised, there was an entertaining, pulsating contest in store, and the USA registered a tense first ODI victory.

The start of the American campaign in League 2 kicked off on a humid Friday the 13th. USA’s captain, Saurabh Netravalkar, won the toss on a pleasant morning, and chose to bat first. Nisarg Patel, the left-arm spinning allrounder, and Elmore Hutchinson, the brawny 37-year-old left-arm pacer, both received their first ODI caps. In addition, Rusty Theron, the right-arm seamer, got an ODI debut for the USA, having previously played four ODIs for South Africa nine years ago. He’s now the 13th cricketer to play international cricket for two nations. Well, how about that?

Negotiating the pace duo of Nosaina Pokana and Norman Vanua wasn’t so easy early on for the openers, Xavier Marshall and Jaskaran Malhotra. Malhotra weathered the storm with a few sparkling drives, before mis-hitting a lofted shot and offering a return catch for Vanua. Attempts at aggressive strokeplay led to the downfall of both Marshall and the experienced Steven Taylor for single-figure scores. It was down to Monank Patel and Aaron Jones to anchor the innings for the hosts.

Aaron Jones (l) and Monank Patel put on 78 for the third wicket (ICC/Peter Della Penna)

The 78-run partnership between Patel and Jones was characterised with frequent rotation of strike, with occasional aggression. Jones got off to his usual stately start, while Patel was the quicker scorer. The middle passage of the innings was kept under firm control by left arm spinner Jason Kila and legspinner Charles Amini. Patel departed for 35, against the run of play, when he tried to go for a lofted flick off Kila. His wicket sparked a middle-order collapse, with Timil Patel and Nisarg Patel falling for 3 and 1, respectively. At 138 for 6, the American innings was in danger of floundering fast.

However, Karima Gore, the 21-year-old left arm spinner showed that he’s no mug with the bat, providing ample support for Jones, as well as playing a few stylish drives and sweeps. Rain was a potent threat throughout this game, with the first instance coming after 34 overs. After the weather delay, Jones and Gore would both be dismissed during the back end of the innings; Jones top-scored with a valiant 77 from 117. It may have been a touch too slow, but more importantly, he was the contributor-in-chief. 

The run rate was well below 5, and it was time for a late-innings kick. Elmore Hutchinson came in at No. 9, and blitzed his way to 42 from 21 balls, with one four and four sixes. Alei Nao and Nosaina Pokana bowled superbly at the death, but a nervous last over from Nao gave way. Nao couldn’t nail the yorker length, and Hutchinson made sure his errant deliveries would be duly battered over mid-wicket and long on. A 24-run final over catapulted USA over the 250 threshold, thus finishing at 251-9 in their 50-over quota.

Elmore Hutchin during his crucial knock of 42 from 21 deliveries (ICC/Peter Della Penna)

Just as the preparations for the second half of the game were starting, inclement weather changed the script. A two-hour rain delay after just two overs meant that the chase had to be shortened by half, and the DLS target for Papua New Guinea was 177 in 25 overs. Tony Ura was run out before the delay, courtesy a tremendous direct hit from Timil Patel at mid-off. Norman Vanua and PNG captain Assad Vala were watchful early on, especially with the early introduction of spinners Karima Gore and Steven Taylor. There seemed to be a hint of turn, but Vala delivered a forthright attack in Taylor’s second over – slog sweeping a full delivery over midwicket, followed by cutting a wide half-tracker to the point boundary. Right when the PNG batsmen were gaining momentum, Gore’s double strike in successive deliveries put on the brakes. Vanua was bowled when trying to go for a risky slog, and Lega Siaka’s defences were breached first ball by a quicker delivery.

The experienced pair of Vala and Charles Amini added 61 runs in 47 deliveries, a vital partnership to arrest the slide as well as boost the scoring rate. Vala was the more watchful, while Amini frequently cashed in on poor deliveries. Both players assessed the conditions well, as the pitch was gradually becoming more and more spin-friendly. However, the introduction of Nisarg Patel created the much-needed opening the hosts were longing for. A missed reverse-sweep attempt trapped Vala in front, and once again, PNG had to rebuild. A mid-innings rain break further shortened the chase to 23 overs, with a target of 165.

Ball after ball, the pressure was building, and boundaries were starting to dry up. Kiplin Doriga last 11 deliveries, but soon became Gore’s third victim when he edged a slog to Xavier Marshall at short third man. Amini was the man to take his side home, and struck consecutive boundaries off Rusty Theron. Gore had bowled tidily, but conceded 10 in his final over.

With 22 to score in the final two overs, it was anyone’s game. A clinical penultimate over from captain Netravalkar, conceding just 6 runs, made sure the Americans had their noses ahead. Theron, with his wealth of experience playing plenty of international and T20 league cricket, was trusted to close it out.

Amini had scored a half-century, but on the first ball, completely missed his leg-side scoop and played onto his stumps. That was the dismissal that ended PNG’s hopes of scoring their first League 2 win. 10 runs came off the last five deliveries, but to no avail for the visitors.

It’s been an incremental development in 50-over cricket for USA, since the beginning of 2019. Quite a few newcomers have shown their skillset at the top level. Aaron Jones has continued his purple patch in the middle order as well as his composure during difficult situations, and Karima Gore has shown promise as a potential bowling all-rounder. Additionally, the team, on the whole, have demonstrated their increasing ability to tackle big-match nerves. First and foremost, every game serves as a learning opportunity. The learning process never ends, even when you’re playing to win.

Today’s game will go down in history – it was an ODI debut for the Central Broward County Stadium, and fans had a chance to witness Team USA complete a maiden victory. It’s a fitting start to this tri-series, which promises intriguing contests. Despite their T20 troubles, USA was commendable when it came to handling pressure as well as taking the initiative to seal the game. Expectations may have been relatively smaller, but it’s elicited a stronger all-round performance from the hosts. With another three games to go, two against Namibia and one more against PNG, it’s time to keep the ball rolling and build on the early progress. When one challenge is completed, the next one is set to arrive soon.

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