By Lloyd Jodah
The USA Under 19 Team will this weekend play the ICC Americas Qualifier for the 2012 World Cup (Under 19) – the first step in what is hoped will be the USA’s 3rd appearance in the Under 19 ICC World Cup.

USA Under 19 Captain Shiva Vashishat (right) and Australia Captain Mitchell Marsh spinning the toss during their clash.

The 2006 USA Under 19 Team , captained by Hemant Punoo, was one of the only non-Test playing countries to qualify for the 2006 ICC U 19 World Cup, despite the fact that the US had only begun an Under-19 Tournament just the year before. The team did so well that reported, “It was the first US team ever to manage a clean 4-0 sweep in an ICC tournament (the Qualifier in Canada. It was the first (USA Team) to qualify for a World Cup tournament. Even in losing, the USA posted better performances than any first-time team in a World Cup. They also made the semi-finals of an ICC tournament (the Plate Championship) in their very first appearance on the international stage.”

The 2010 USA Under 19 Team led by Captain Shiva Vashishat also qualified for the World Cup, in New Zealand, by doing well in the ICC Americas Qualifier and the ICC Global Qualifiers played in Canada. We asked Shiva, now a student at UC Davis, for his insight into what it will take for the USA to make it to the World Cup again.

What was it like to play your first game for the USA in the Under 19 World Cup Qualifier?
SHIVA – It was one of the proudest moment of my life, and I enjoyed representing USA for the first time, and playing on a big stage.

As the team won each stage, and got closer to the actual World Cup, was it difficult to focus on the game at hand? Or did you look ahead and dream of playing in the World Cup?
SHIVA – You can’t let the dream of qualifying for the World Cup distracts you from your actual games. We took one game at a time, one session at a time, one ball at a time. Eventually we qualified for the World Cup.

What could Team USA have done better? Or differently?
SHIVA – Lot of things could have been done better, but mainly we were under prepared. We also needed to play more cricket against our young athletic peers. The fielding of these young guys is of a much more athletic level than the players we usually play with – what you think might be a run could be nothing. In batting Andy Mohammed’s innings, 70 runs, against the Australian pace attack of Mc Dermott and Hazlewood showed what we are capable of.

What advice would you give to the new U-19 Team USA?
SHIVA – Preparation will be the key to extending your USA U19 experience. Don’t underestimate or over-estimate, all you need to focus on is to play the best to your abilities. Keep the pressure on if you’re leading. Strive to win the game you’re playing, and don’t look ahead.

How do you think we will do at the 2011 World Cup (Under-19) Qualifiers?

SHIVA – The team is filled with young players, but the experience of the 4 players that played last World Cup will definitely help the team out. We have to win ICC Americas but Canada and Bermuda will be hardest to beat.

USA Under-19 team on arrival in New Zealand for the 2010 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup.

What were some of the challenges you faced as Captain and batsman?
SHIVA – Focus was tough. As Captain you were in charge on the field and also had to deal with all off-field issues, meetings, coordination – and still try to focus on your batting. Ideally, this is where a good coach can relieve some of the pressure.
A professional like Robin Singh in charge should certainly be good for the Captain Abhijit Joshi, and the team. We were fortunate to work with Deepak Patel, who we learned a lot from, but the time was short.

Four of the players played under you in the 2010 World Cup, and some played as part of your “Special Guest” team at the American College Cricket West Coast Championship – tell us about them:
SHIVA : Abhijit is the right man for captain. He has the composure and has captained his region’s team. Additionally his experience of being at the 2010 World Cup & seeing close up the challenges of a Captain might face will stand him in good stead. As for any captain it will be a challenge to be relaxed enough when batting. Hammad Shahid will probably be the main fast bowler and a lot will depend on him, whilst Salman Ahmed is maturing and showing the ability to put the ball on the money. Steven Taylor opening the batting can be a threat to any opposition and getting the vice captain spot will help him mature as a cricketer.

The American College Cricket West Coast Championship was an important opportunity for some of these guys to get highlighted – they were even featured in the LA Daily News! It was great to play amongst our peers. Two of these are Jodhbir Singh and Krish Goel who have been named as reserves and might get their opportunity.

In conclusion, we thank Shiva for his service as USA Captain (U-19) and his insight. It’s clear Coach Robin Singh has an impressive professional resume, and is a positive addition, however the 2010 USA U19 World Cup Team also had an experienced Coach in Deepak Patel, yet there were, from many accounts, issues that affected the overall team performance. It takes a unique skill set to communicate with, motivate and manage 19 year olds! It’s important that the team know where to look for leadership, it should be one voice, one mission.

Ultimately players win cricket matches, not coaches. A Coach can prepare and motivate a team, and decide strategy, but it’s the players who must deliver. If the team can focus and make 250 runs each time they bat, they will be difficult to beat – it can be as simple as that.

Making it to the World Cup in 2006 and 2010 meant that the USA is one of the top 16 teams in the world at the Under 19 level – a remarkable achievement for a program started in 2005 that struggles each day with the issues that dog USA cricket. Surely a tribute to the talent of the players.

The leadership provided by young players like Hemant Punoo, Shiva Vashishat and now Abhijit Joshi was, and will be a key to any success.

Lloyd Jodah is President of American College Cricket