From John Aaron with the USA Men’s team in Antigua & Barbuda, WI
Coolidge, Antigua – Despite losing for the third straight outing in the Windies Super 50 Cricket Festival Series currently under way in Barbados and Antigua, the USA men’s cricket team went the distance for the first time. Playing against the Jamaica Scorpions at the Coolidge Cricket Ground, formerly the site of some exciting cricket in the Stanford T20 Twenty Million dollars stakes, Team USA batted 49.2 of the allotted 50 overs in a 95 run loss to the Scorpions.
The Jamaica Scorpions won the toss and elected to take first strike, no doubt looking to get in some batting practice in their quest to stay among the top dogs like Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad & Tobago in the 50-overs tournament. However, it was not until the USA bowlers started tiring that the Scorpions began to sting the North American bowlers finishing at 255 for 8 off 50 overs.
With the Scorpions scoreboard reading 170 for 8 in the 39th over after Andre Russell had his sticks rearranged by Elmore Hutchinson and posting only 17, one was sure the Scorpions was headed no where near the 300 par scores of the tournament, and the USA would restrict them to around 210-220. However, that was not to be, as the Jamaicans piled on the runs in the final 10 overs to reach 255, a range somewhere beyond the altitude of the USA. Hutchinson would end up with figures of 10-2-40-2. It was similar to the run totals of the other bowlers who posted between 4.00 and 5.50 economy rates, with the exception of Timil Patel who gave up 17 off two overs.
It was Jamaica’s ninth-wicket unbeaten stand of 85 runs posted between Nikita Miller and Odean Smith that put the brakes on an otherwise decent bowling attack and disciplined fielding by the USA players. Miller’s 52 knock off 41 deliveries was the only one beyond the half-century mark for Jamaica. Elmore Hutchison is fast becoming the go-to all-rounder man for Team USA. The left-handed pacer bowls a very good line and finds remarkable spots to place the ball.
Coming off of a surprising loss to the Leeward Islands, the Jamaica Scorpions looked a bit timid after losing three wickets in the space of 10 runs (Powell, Taylor and King). They would lose another two wickets at the 147-run mark, and would have found themselves in a disastrous outing for the second time, were it not for that ninth-wicket stand. From 169 for 8, Jamaica would go on to post 254.
Team USA in return was off to a decent albeit slow start posting a partnership of 24 between Jaskaran Malhotra, (9) and Sunny Sohal, (65). Malhotra never looked quite comfortable and at times seemed to be on the receiving end of a bit of sledging from the Jamaican wicketkeeper, which may have resulted in his dismissal shortly after. Did the Scorpions keeper get into Malhotra’s head? Nonetheless it was Sohal who showed a gritty persona facing 112 deliveries for his contribution of 65. The opening batsman was fortunate to have survived his numerous attempts to flick the ball down the leg-side and missed on at least seven successive tries. The bowlers seemed to be enticing him into getting a top edge as they kept putting the ball in that zip code area. He needed someone to partner with him and it was not going to be the aggressive Xavier Marshall who arrived and departed soon after contributing only one run, as he received one from Christopher Lamont that came back into his off and middle stumps. USA skipper Ibrahim Khaleel was looking to play a skipper’s knock, contributing 40 and as one of only three USA batsmen to post double-digits, the other being the big man himself Elmore Hutchinson. In the end it was former USA national Steven Taylor who was offered the ball for the last over and was successful in getting Nosthush Kenjige caught by Nikita Miller off his second delivery at mid-wicket, to end the USA inning at 159 off 49.2 overs.
Take-aways from the match from the USA perspective would include hope and a greater sense of optimism, compared with their two previous matches of the series, including the two failed outings of Sunny Sohal. For the opening batsman it must have been a tremendous confidence booster going into Thursday’s match against Kent. The other big plus is the team was able to get as close to 50 overs than they had previously done. It seems as though the USA is still trying to gain confidence in itself and to place the previous losses fully in their rear view mirror.
From a 30,000 feet perch, Team USA batsmen need to find the gaps to score more runs and to restrict the amount of dot balls headed in their direction. In comparison and despite the regular fall of wickets in the Jamaican batting where 8 of the 10 batsmen all scored double figures, the USA played some timid or half hearted shots. At times it appeared as though the simple rotation of a wrist here and there would have steered the ball between two Jamaican fielders. The batsmen were either going for the big hits or not capitalizing on the bad balls. As an elder female Jamaican spectator shouted “Lik de bawl nah bwoi.”
Cricket in the Caribbean is made so much more colorful by the fans’ astute knowledge of the game and their unbridled willingness to be both coach and commentator, all at the same time. The women spectators in particular are given a lot of latitude by their male counterparts in providing unsolicited opinions, such as, “Ah Test match dem ah play?” when the batsmen are scratching around to score singles or became bogged down in defensive postures, or “Lik out e middle stump,” when the bowlers are having trouble getting the batsmen out. A classic example of their desire to see quality cricket despite rooting for the home team would be, when Sohal inched toward his half century while partnering with his skipper Khaleel, one West Indian woman shouted words of encouragement to Sohal, and returned to her support of Jamaica immediately after the batsman passed the milestone.
With the exception of one dropped catch at deep mid-wicket, the USA fielding was on par with Jamaica’s and it would have been interesting to see Team USA’s response had Jamaica scored only 200 runs.
The USA batsmen need to add to their repertoire of hook shots, as many a chance at scoring in T20 and 50 overs cricket is dependent upon capitalizing on such opportunities a la Sir Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharran and Rohan Kanhai, to name a few of yesteryear who batted sans helmets. Today many a short-ball went untouched, as the USA batsmen appeared to be focusing on getting out of the way by ducking.
Team USA plays English County side Kent on Thursday at the Sir Vivian Richards stadium. Hopefully, Team USA would have learned a thing or two in their three previous outings to put up a fight against the Englishmen, and usacricketers.com will be there to bring you another report.