To all the members of the USA Cricket Community,

After a busy month few weeks on and off the pitch for USA Cricket, this represents the second of my monthly updates, via the Straight Bat Blog, here on the USA Cricket website. 

First and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of everybody at USA Cricket to wish you all well for the holiday season and to convey our best wishes to you and your families for a successful and healthy 2020.     

Recruitment and roles with USA Cricket

As advised in my first Straight Bat Blog last month, we have invited applications for 3 critical new roles with USA Cricket at our new offices here in the Bay Area.

I’m pleased to report that we have been inundated with all manner of support and interest from across the USA and globally in these positions and we are now working through the applications in order to get these positions filled as early as possible in 2020.  Based on the quality of the applicants, I am very optimistic that we will secure highly talented individuals who will have a positive impact on the game domestically and internationally and I look forward to introducing the team that we are assembling to you in due course. 

In addition, we are still in the middle of the following important processes and searches for further talented individuals passionate about developing the sport in the United States:

Volunteer Youth Coordinators:  As advertised here, we are seeking expressions of interest from members of the community to act in the role of volunteer youth coordinators to help grow the levels of junior participation across the country.  This is the starting point for USA Cricket in its effort to develop and coordinate resources, knowledge and expertise so that we can together provide more frequent and better experiences and pathways in cricket for girls and boys in 2020 and beyond.  I know that there are successful programs already established in certain pockets of the USA and the creation of these roles represent a critical first step in bringing this together. As such, we would be hugely appreciative if you were all to consider who in your community might fit the criteria for this particular role and encourage them to put their name forward for consideration by no later than January 13, 2020. 

Head Coach – Men’s National Team:  As advertised here, we are in the middle of a recruitment process for the position of Head Coach with the Men’s National Team.  Although the deadline remains open until the end of the year, we have already amassed a long list of potential candidates and are working our way through those.  In the meantime, we are in discussions with James Pamment about extending his interim position until this process has concluded.

Selection Panel:  As advertised here, we are seeking interest by no later than January 10, 2020 from qualified persons interested in playing a role in national team selection for the national teams for women, men, girls and boys.  As explained in the advert, this exercise is part of an overall review of the Selection Policy and its underlying processes in order to make sure that USA Cricket governs manners of team selection in accordance with global best practice.      

Thank you to everybody who has put themselves forward for any of the positions with USA Cricket and to all of you who continue to make sacrifices in your respective communities to further the development of the sport in this country.  Your interests and efforts are much appreciated by many, and I hope that we will be able to develop a volunteer program in 2020 that will allow USA Cricket to recognize, support and nurture all of the volunteer efforts across the country.

International cricketing matters 

  • Men’s National Playing Squad 

The Super50 Cup continues to be a brilliant platform for our Men’s National Team to gain competitive match-play against quality opposition and we are grateful to Cricket West Indies for inviting us to participate again this year.  You may have seen CWI’s CEO, Johnny Grave, express his commitment to support cricket in the United States here.  CWI’s offer of support is across all cricketing matters, and I look forward to developing that relationship over the coming months and years to our mutual benefit.

It is certainly an objective of USA Cricket that we develop a competitive and regular playing schedule with CWI’s national teams (at all levels and across both genders), and hopefully that will begin in the summer of 2020.  For that matter, it is also an important priority for us in 2020 to re-establish our playing relationship with one of our other local rivals, Cricket Canada, with whom we share the oldest international sporting rivalry in the world with, and to put together more broadly a calendar of cricket for our national teams that suitably reflects our aspiration to make significant progress on the field during 2020. 

The final tally in Trinidad read 2 wins and 6 losses.  However, we took a 16-man squad with a focus on getting the playing group as well prepared for the matches in the UAE as possible. Notwithstanding some challenging conditions, we were pleased to be able to show continued improvement and were happy that the reduced 14 man squad that went to the UAE were well prepared for the challenge of Scotland and the UAE.

In the UAE, we were taking on two sides with greater ODI experience than us, both having made Cricket World Cup appearances in 2015.  We won our first three matches and, were it not for an outstanding Scottish partnership in the final 10 overs of our final ODI, we could have made it a perfect four wins from four. Nonetheless, three victories and a crucial six points was a wonderful return away from home and it puts us alone on top of the table going into 2020.

In particular, the victory against Scotland is probably the greatest One Day achievement by the men’s national team and represented as close to a complete performance as we have seen from this team.  As part of that, there were record ODI scores for the USA (by Aaron Jones) and record ODI bowling performances for the USA (by Saurabh Netravalkar).  

With the top three teams in the league gaining automatic qualification to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier in 2022, there is plenty to play for, and I would like to convey my thanks to all the players and support staff for a busy couple of months.

The next step on this journey is an away series in Nepal (with Nepal and Oman) in early February, followed by a home series in the USA (with Scotland and the UAE) in late March/early April.  We hope to announce the dates of the home series once they are confirmed very shortly.

  • Women’s National Playing Squad 

Although we didn’t have any competitive international matches, a lot of work behind the scenes has been going on to put together a full plan and schedule for 2020.  As part of that planning, the Women’s National Team Head Coach, Julia Price, brought her playing squad together for a training camp in the Bay Area in mid-December. 

2020 is an important year for the women’s team with the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier event coming up in Sri Lanka later in the year.  As part of the preparatory plans for that tournament, Julia led the group through a series of sessions that allowed them to address the overall theme of ‘Reflecting [on performances throughout 2019 through examining other elite sports practices], Reviewing [the squad’s strengths and weaknesses on and off the field] and  Refocusing [on how to foster the development of the game at local, regional and national levels]’. I was invited to join some of the sessions and was humbled to learn of the societal and practical challenges that members of the national team have had to overcome on their journey to this point, and yet encouraged by their collective desire to help grow the game in this country for the next generation of girls and women to follow them.  

I am sure that many of those challenges will be familiar to women and girls across the country and it is our objective to work together with the community to help provide better, safer and more appealing facilities and opportunities for girls and women to play cricket in the United States.  I believe that this can be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) growth area for the sport in this country in the next five years, but there is much to be done by many people across the country if we are to harvest that opportunity. 

Finally, we were delighted to be able to work closely with Julia and the Brisbane Heat franchise in Australia to support her with a coaching opportunity in this year’s Men’s Big Bash League. Julia is breaking new ground by becoming the first female coach in the Men’s Big Bash and it will be a fantastic personal development opportunity for her and something we at USA Cricket are all extremely proud to be associated with. 

  • Youth National Playing Squads 

There has been little activity in this space over the past few months, and I hear regular criticism that USA Cricket has not done enough to support the national age-group teams for boys and girls and to provide a pathway for the best of those players to graduate into the senior national teams.  Such criticism is fairly founded, and we must do better to support the girls and boys across the country who are desperate to play more regular and competitive cricket.     

To this extent, USA Cricket recognizes that regional and national youth programs and pathways are an important part of sustainably growing the player pool in this country and developing high performing senior national teams, and we will soon see the return of National tournaments for men, women and youth for the first time after a number of years, as well as the establishment of National Entry Level programs using the brilliant ‘Rookie League’ materials we have developed.   

The Board acknowledges that the focus on youth cannot be neglected, and we will be announcing specific plans early in 2020 as and when they have been finalized and once we have the volunteer Youth Coordinators in place. 

Domestic cricket matters

Much of the November Board meeting was spent looking at the overall cricketing landscape and the pathways for players across the United States.  The outcomes from that meeting can be found here.

Probably the most important announcement following that meeting was in relation to the launch of a domestic Minor League in 2020.  The Minor League is the first step in helping us to develop a strong domestic structure and a sustainable professional Major League above it. 

The plans for the Minor League include the creation of city-based teams in a conference-based league that will commence in the Summer of 2020. There are a number of factors that will impact upon the exact number of teams and matches in the first couple of seasons, but we are working towards an ultimate objective of having as many as 22 teams across the country playing on good facilities in 120 live streamed and/or broadcast matches, including play-offs and a final series. 

Players will come from the local affiliated leagues in each region and there will also be dedicated places for our best young talent with reserved spots for a specific number of Under 21 players in each squad, as well as the inclusion of semi-professional cricketers from around the world who are willing to contribute in different ways to the development of the cricket ecosystems that are being built in each city.  

The Minor League has the potential to be game-changing for cricket in the United States and is something tangible on the domestic cricket front that players and fans can genuinely get excited about in the next few months as plans are released.

I also wanted to touch on how blown away I have been since starting in the role at the scale of domestic cricket that is currently being played right across America.  I have enjoyed seeing the large numbers of local league finals and award celebrations as many cricket seasons draw to a close and there is much to celebrate in the grass-roots of the sport across the country – well done to you all and I look forward to familiarizing myself with more of those efforts during 2020.

It goes without saying that all of our plans on the domestic front involve working in tandem with the existing communities and competition structures across the country so that they fully complement each other.  

Other matters 

There are also a few other important matters I would like to give some brief updates on:

  • Board Elections and AGM:  Following the appointment of the Nominating and Governance Committee, we have now announced the timetable for the upcoming elections and nominations are being accepted now. For those of you that are eligible to vote, please get involved and see the full media release for more details
  • ICC Associate Membership: Following our admission as the 105th Member of the ICC in January this year, we have to undergo a yearly membership review and this is something we recently completed and submitted to ICC. I am pleased with the progress we have made and our overall associate membership ranking across all of the relevant metrics is the highest that it has ever been, which reflects extremely well on the potential that the sport has in this country.
  • Cricket in New York State: You may have recently seen the news that a bill proposing the creation of a task-force to develop cricket in the state of New York was vetoed by State Governor.  The cricket community in New York is now rallying against this veto, led by USA Cricket director Ajith Bhaskar, and I encourage you all to support the petition to help set-up the taskforce in NY by clicking here.
  • Passing of Basil Butcher:  On a sadder note, I wanted to express condolences for the sad loss of the legendary Basil Butcher, who passed away at the age of 86 in Florida.  Among many other roles within cricket, Basil was a former coach of the USA and an Honorary Lifetime Member of Atlantis Cricket Club, NYC. He was a great cricket man who contributed significantly to the sport in this country, and he will be sorely missed.

Your Queries 

Thank you for all the feedback to my first Straight Bat Blog.  I’m always happy to answer questions as openly as possible and am looking forward to doing this every month. Here’s the first two to get us started:

  • Sakha Muhammad: “Actions are louder than the words. Cricket community can not get sold without providing domestic structure as first step.”

Thanks Sakha – this is something that we discussed at our recent Board Meeting and we completely agree with you.  We know that a strong domestic cricketing structure is absolutely crucial to sustainable long-term growth and we have made it a real focus for 2020. The plans for the first regional competitions are already moving into place, together with the domestic Minor League and we will be working with the existing domestic leagues in 2020 to see how we can best support and embrace them moving forward.  Our recruitment plans will also provide much needed resources and expertise to be able to develop the domestic structure, as well as nurturing all of the forms of cricket played across the country. I agree that we must have a strong base of domestic cricket to help supply the next generation of national cricketers and hopefully you’ll begin to see that our words and plans for 2020 will be converted into positive action and that the community can support the direction of travel. 

  • Rahul Sharma: “When is the Six Regions going to get engaged and they will start appointing their local coaches selectors?”

Hi Rahul – the detail behind the planned regional tournaments, their structure and team selection is a priority for USA Cricket right now and will be announced early in 2020.  In addition, we will be talking to the existing leagues in each Region early in 2020 with a view to finding out how we can best support the ongoing cricket efforts in each.    

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Once again, please do provide any feedback, or raise any questions or subject matter that you would like me to address in future editions of this Blog in the following way: please send your thoughts via either a) The ‘Contact Us’ Page of the USA Cricket website, with the subject “Straight Bat Blog” https://www.usacricket.org/contact/ or b) via our Facebook page through the ‘Send Message’ function.

With best wishes once again for the New Year,

Iain Higgins

USA Cricket CEO

#WeAreUSACricket