On Friday, USA will become the 28th country to play a men’s T20I when they take on UAE at the ICC Academy in Dubai. Coming from a place where T20 has been touted as the only possible gateway to crack the broader domestic sports market, the build-up has been low-key for what on paper is a historic occasion.
But that hasn’t kept USA coach Pubudu Dassanayake and his players from appreciating the significance of the new frontier ahead of them. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo on the eve of USA’s first T20I outing, Dassanayake is hoping the two-match series will provide the opportunity to lay solid groundwork for a successful T20 World Cup Qualifying campaign later in the year as well as a lead-in to their attempt at securing ODI status at WCL Division Two in Namibia next month.
“Of course, it’s the first T20 International USA is playing, so we want to win, so winning is important,” Dassanayake said. “But having said that, at the end of this year there’s a big tournament coming up, the T20 global qualifier and regional qualifiers. So we want to see what is our best combination and best players for that version. We’re going to try a few combinations tomorrow and the day after and see what’s best for us.
“When we are talking about T20 into the 50-overs, we want to improve our death bowling, we want to improve our power-hitting ability. So all of these training tours, today, tomorrow and even the T20 games going into 50-overs, we’ve got to cover a few things for us to shape up in the 50 overs as well.”
USA’s biggest obstacle might have less to do with the opponents on the field and more to do with the effects of jet-lag. The squad had staggered arrivals over the course of the previous day, while Roy Silva missed the team’s lone training session altogether after his flight didn’t come in late Thursday morning.
However, captain Saurabh Netravalkar was upbeat about how the team has acclimatised to the 32-degree desert heat after coming out of the winter. Former New South Wales fast bowler Burt Cockley, who now lives in Kansas, has been working with the USA squad to lay out a strength-and-conditioning program to improve their fitness through the winter leading up to this tour, something Netravalkar says will be a key factor in their ability to hit the ground running.
The biggest addition to the USA squad is the recall of former West Indies Test batsman Xavier Marshall, who debuted for his adopted home in January 2018 but was left out of USA’s last three tournament squads to round out 2018. But he has been given a lifeline to re-enter the squad and is expected to come charging hard at the top of the order after top-scoring in an intra-squad trial match last month during a warm-up tour in Antigua.
“The caliber of the player, you have no second thoughts,” Netravalkar said of Marshall. “He has played Test cricket, and his quality is right up there. But the passion that we saw in him in Antigua, the intensity that he put in his training sessions every day, it’s not just in Antigua.
“The intensity and passion that he’s shown to be in the unit and the efforts in practice and performances of course, we believe in him. We are really looking forward to seeing something special from him.”
While the squad is excited at the opportunity to all become a part of history as the first eleven players to play a T20I for the USA, Netravalkar says he is trying to make sure they are mindful not to get overwhelmed thinking about it instead of the opponent in front of them.
“It’s a great honor and really looking forward to the opportunity,” Netravalkar said. “We flew in just yesterday. It looks like a great atmosphere for cricket, great facilities.
“We are really excited, but we want to take it as just another game where we want to go out there and give it our best. We want to focus on the simple things, our preparation and, hopefully, we put up a special performance for people who are watching.”
Don’t care if I’m judged on not winning the IPL – Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli has chuckled at the suggestion that not winning the IPL is a frustration for him, and said it doesn’t matter to him if his legacy is judged based on that.
Kohli has been with Royal Challengers Bangalore since the team’s inception and their designated captain since 2013. Royal Challengers are among the three active teams – Delhi Capitals and Kings XI Punjab are the other two – who have never won the title, although they have been runners-up on three occasions. Under Kohli, they were in the play-offs in 2015 and runners-up in 2016. However, they have finished eighth and sixth in the last two years.
This middling record prompted Gautam Gambhir to say earlier this week that Kohli was ‘very lucky‘ that Royal Challengers had retained him as captain for so long, and that he had a long way to go before being spoken about in the same bracket as multiple-IPL-winning captains like Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni.
“Obviously, you want to win the IPL,” Kohli said on the eve of the IPL season-opener in Chennai. “I am doing what I am supposed to do. I don’t care whether I am going to be judged on this [not winning IPL] or not. There is no real, sort of, parameters you set. I try to perform wherever I can. I try to win all the possible titles, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. We have to be practical about why we haven’t won one. That boils down to bad decision-making in pressure situations.
“If I think like people from outside, I can’t even sustain five games. I would be sitting at home. I know people talk about it a lot and they like to grab opportunities to talk about these things. But I have a responsibility here and given a chance, as a captain, I would love to win the IPL for my team. We all are motivated to do so.”
Kohli reiterated the point he made last week that decision-making in pressure situations had cost Royal Challengers in big matches, adding that he sees enough proof that his team are contenders this year.
“It [winning the title] has not happened and that’s the reality,” he said. “No excuses for that. Only acceptance of the faults that we made in the past. The fact that we played six [five] semi-finals means that we have been a side who are always in contention. If we make better decisions, we can go further than that. That’s how I see things.”
Concerns for Mumbai’s pace attack as Adam Milne pulls out of the IPL
New Zealand fast bowler Adam Milne is understood to have pulled out of the IPL. ESPNcricinfo understands Milne, who was signed by Mumbai Indians at the IPL auction for INR 75 lakhs (USD 104,000 approx on the day of auction), has a swollen heel.
Milne’s pullout means Mumbai have lost a second overseas fast bowler in quick succession. Lasith Malinga has opted to skip the first six matches of the IPL to fulfill the condition set by Sri Lanka Cricket to play in the domestic 50-overs competition in order to qualify for World Cup selection.
Although there has been no statement from the franchise on Milne’s injury, Mumbai are believed to be keen on roping in the young West Indies fast bowler Alzarri Joseph as a replacement. Also, as per IPL rules, the amount a franchise can pay the replacement player cannot exceed that paid to the original player. So any player that replaces Milne cannot be paid over INR 75 lakhs.
Mumbai, who play their opening match at home on Sunday, against Delhi Capitals, currently have three overseas fast bowlers: New Zealand T20 freelancer Mitchell McClenaghan and the Australian pair of Jason Behrendorff and Ben Cutting.
Prasadani Weerakkody, Udeshika Prabodhani left out of Sri Lanka’s T20I squad
Sri Lanka women decided to stick with more or less the same squad that was whitewashed by England in the ODI series, making only a few tweaks for the three-match T20I series starting on Sunday. Hansima Karunaratne, Sugandika Kumari and Inoshi Priyadharshani retained their spots, having been brought in for the ODIs, while the uncapped 24-year-old Madushika Meththananda also found a place.
Making way were teenagers Tharika Sewwandi and Kavisha Dilhari, and the veteran pair of Prasadani Weerakkody and Udeshika Prabodhani. Weerakody and Prabodhani have played 93 T20Is and 106 ODIs between them, but poor form meant both players were left out of the playing XI by the end of the ODI series.
Following a forgettable T20 World Cup campaign in November, the Sri Lankan selectors had voiced their desire to give younger players a chance, which could bode well for Meththananda and the 17-year-old Umesha Thimashini.
Thimashini had been left out of the ODI squad but retained her place in the T20I setup where her offspin may be of more use. Meanwhile, Meththananda, who bowls right-arm medium-pace, has been part of several squads in the past is yet to get a game. With Sri Lanka’s bowlers having thus far struggled to trouble England to any reasonable extent, and with the team playing just one seamer in the final ODI, Meththananda may find herself with some game time this time around.
Just like their ODI record, Sri Lanka’s T20I record against England is not promising. The two sides have faced each other five times in T20Is with England emerging winners on each occasion.
All three T20Is will be played at the P Sara Oval.
Squad: Chamari Atapattu (capt), Umesha Thimashini, Anushka Sanjeewani, Hansima Karunaratne, Hasini Perera, Sugandika Kumari, Harshitha Samarawickrema, Sashikala Siriwardena, Nilakshi De Silva, Inoshi Priyadarshani, Imalka Mendis, Achini Kulasooriya, Madushika Meththananda, Inoka Ranaweera, Oshadi Ranasinghe
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