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.”