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ICC Under - 19 World Cup Qualifier: My Visit To The Games
By Sam Sooppersaud

Sept. 22nd, 2009
A few days ago I returned home after having spent a most memorable and relaxing time in Canada. I had driven up north on the night of Friday, September 4th, along with my wife Sevika, daughter Vanishree, grandson Amir, and son-in-law Rasheed. We reached our destination Cambridge, on Saturday morning.

While there I was able to spend some quality time with relatives and friends whom I had not seen for a long time. I attended the wedding reception of a niece who had gotten married that Friday, and then I visited two of my clergy colleagues and discussed some "church businesses” all of this was accomplished during my first two days in Canada.

US under-19 players during the recently held ICC tournament in Canada. (Photo by Shiek Mohamed)

Once I was finished with the social and business itinerary I grabbed the stick shift and changed gear to leisure, and took off for the next week to watch the games of the ICC Under-19 World Cup Qualifiers which was already in progress, having started on September 1st. The last series of matches of the schedule were played on Sunday, September 13th. All the matches were played at the beautiful Maple Leaf Cricket Ground complex in King City, Ontario, about twenty miles north-west of Toronto. The cricket facility could justly be described as the ideal cricket ground. It is comprised of four cricket fields, all ICC approved, one located on each of the four corners of the complex. In the middle area are the players' changing and sitting areas, the dining room, the cafeteria, the comfort stations, etc.

The outfields of the grounds are smooth with the grass closely cut. The boundaries are delineated with white rope interspersed with colored mini flags around the entire perimeter of the field. Stands for seating of spectators are plentiful. Excellent atmosphere for such an important tournament.

Participating in the Qualifier were Canada, USA, Ireland, The Netherlands, Afghanistan, Papau New Guinea, Vanuatu, Honk Kong, and Uganda. The tenth team, Sierra Leone, was a no-show because of visa problems into Canada. Each team played each other, a total of eight games. At the end of the tournament the top six teams (countries) staked their claim to travel to New Zealand in January 2010 for the Under-19 World Cup. The countries that qualified at this tournament are Ireland, Afghanistan, Canada, USA, Papau New Guinea (PNG), and Hong Kong.

I witnessed some very exciting cricket matches and some not-so-very-exciting ones. The most entertaining of all the teams were the Afghans. They hit so many long shots for 6's- that one would think that the boundaries were too short. The most exciting were PNG whose running between the wickets and in the field reminds one of runners doing the 100-yard dash. In one play they turned a single into a three-run haul. The most consistent in the field, be it in batting, bowling, fielding, or catching, were the Irish. It is no wonder that they came out on top of the lot in the end. Canada played hard-nose cricket, as usual, Australian style. They even resorted to some sledging when they met the USA. Each team in their way contributed to making the tournament a successful and interesting one.

As for the USA, what can I say! How do I put it! To be realistic let me say that at the beginning of the tournament the USA played well enough to win their first four games (including a forfeit by Sierra Leone). Once it was the realization that they needed only one more win to qualify, the USA shifted gear and became just a shadow of themselves. In their match against Afghanistan they had their opponents with their backs against the wall, but in the space of the last six overs completely lost "all sense of play." They dropped seven catches, mis-fielded numerous chances, and allowed the Afghans to reach a total which the USA was unable to surpass. The USA in essence, threw away that game.

In their game against PNG, with the opponent needing 19 runs to win in 17 balls, the USA went into a "let's-lose-this-one-too" mode. They put down two sitters, one after the other, they mishandled fielding chances. In one particular play, a ball was turned to backward square leg. A certain single, no doubt. The USA fieldsman at that position nonchalantly ambled in to field the ball. The batsmen, seeing this, scampered through for a second run. The fieldsman picked up the ball and fired an errant throw to the keeper, allowing the batsmen to cross for a third run. Two sixes later and the USA had lost the match. This was typical of how we lost many of the games that we did.

If we are to put in a good show in New Zealand next year at the Under-19 World Cup, our selectors need to take a long and hard look at the present players. Some serious assessments ought to be made. They have to look at what alternatives (players) are available. Once the selectors are convinced that they have selected the best of the lot, then the coaches ought to get cracking at correcting the various flaws in our play. In Canada these were very evident: our ground fielding, catching, running between the wickets, discipline in our batting, and whatever else has to be done to strengthening our resolve to win. But, most importantly, we need to provide a way - maybe a two-week camp - prior to leaving for New Zealand, for our players to interact with each other, to strengthen ties, to understand each other's play, in essence for the players to gel. During the tournament in Canada it was clear that most of the players were playing as individuals in a team and not as a cohesive unit. I am not suggesting in this article, an indictment against the USA team. We did have our moments of glory. I am merely pointing out some flaws that I feel we need to correct in order to become a more formidable fighting unit. Yes, not all were bad. We did play some exciting cricket, also. In fact, the only individual award given in the entire tournament was cornered by one of our players, Ryan Corns, who was named Player of the Tournament.

While watching the USA vs Canada I had a great time. I met some very ardent Canadian supporters of their team especially Rustom and Jack. They were two sparkplugs in the stands.
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