By Orin Davidson
They were expected to walk away with at least the Division Five title prior to leaving for its Middle East tour.
But the United States flattered to deceive towards the end, and in the nick of time justified its supporters’ faith with a gusty display in the decisive match to march on to a Division Four promotion on Friday after toppling home team Nepal.
The win which carried the US top position in the round robin series among the six teams, was a fine example of mental toughness in very trying conditions.
Nepal is not considered a force in any level of competition by observers from afar, but the team from Himalayas Region proved they are an underrated lot and good enough to feature in any conversation among any of the International Cricket Council’s associate member teams.
With the U.S. facing serious humiliation in the event of a defeat and elimination from the third lowest of the seven Divisions as stipulated by world governing body ICC, for the second straight time, the Stars and Stripes squad showed true grit and determination in turning back Nepal
The fact that the U.S. clearly was not fazed by the Nepal challenge and an intimidating crowd estimated 12, 000 was testimony of a team hardened by past experiences.
Captain Steve Massiah finally came out and led from the front with a crucial contribution of 42 attacking runs that steadied the ship and paved the way for Sushil Nadkarnie’s subsequent blitz that ground Nepal into the earth.
Massiah doused any suggestions of him retiring all together from the game with an authoritative performance that means he still has a lot to contribute to the 50 overs team. After failing in the Twetny20 series in the UAE, Massiah, probably sting by criticism, batted at his regular number three and sensibly took the attack to the previously unbeaten Nepal team. There is an old expression which says that the best form of defense is attack and Massiah must have used it as a motivating tool.
Nadkarnie’s quickfire undefeated 59 showed that the left hander has not lost any of the class he displayed early in his career for the United States. It was a clutch performance in the team’s most important game of their tour and justified the selectors’ decision to retain him , despite his previous failures.
Aditya Thayagarajan, as he as done since his first match for the U.S. was once again valuable in the middle and must be considered the team’s key batsman.
Nadkarnie won the Man of the Man award but my most valuable player was medium pacer Kevin Darlington. His superlative bowling spell that gleaned three wickets for a miserly 23-run tally, rocked Nepal so hard they never recovered after deciding to bat first.
Darlington is a wily customer and he showed that challenges bring out the best in him, as Friday’s display reminded fans that his devastating display against Atlantic region that literally won the Eastern Conference title last year for New York, was no fluke.
He was ably supported by Orlando Baker who produced glimpses of his match- winning qualities with two key wickets early in Nepal’s innings.
It is said that form is temporary but class is permanent and Baker proved his worth as he called on the qualities that almost singlehandedly beat Canada two years ago that netted him a five-wicket haul and a valuable 38 run contribution down the order.
The United States was on its A game and the fact that the management was on the ball in closely monitoring the required rate of scoring to realize the winning net run rate suggests a fine all-round effort. It does not however mean that changes are not needed in the management structure as the overall tour performance should’ve been better.
As for the Nepal crowd, its abominable behavior in littering the field with stones in anger with its team on the verge of defeat should’ve resulted in a stiff penalty for the country. If it was a soccer game, Nepal would’ve been disqualified pronto from the competition and handed a fine by FIFA.
And to add insult to injury, the delay caused by the rock- throwing, probably cost Singapore the second place finish as a full 50 overs game would’ve left them with the second best net run rate, at the expense of Nepal.
Singapore would do well to protest the series outcome to the ICC.
It is the least they could do to appease disgruntled fans of their own.