USA coach Pubudu Dassanayake has labeled USA's upcoming tour of the Antigua for the West Indies Regional Super50 tournament as the team's "most important preparation" for their upcoming tournaments this year, including the start of the qualifiers for the World Twenty20 in 2020, and the ICC WCL Division Three.
"When you are playing those kind of tournaments, you have to play proper cricket and learn from those 20 days and you don't get that opportunity for Associate players all the time," Dassanayake told ESPNcricinfo following the news last week that USA will be a part of the ten-team competition this season.
"If you take [sic] Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands especially, they benefited from being a part of the English system. Namibia continuously played in the South African first-class system. Afghanistan players individually have gotten to play in the Pakistan first-class system.
"All of these things have really contributed for those countries. When we're trying to develop as a country, neighbouring Full Member countries are important. If you can be a part of their first-class system, that's the fastest way to develop a country," Dassanayake said.
Since the team returned in early December from their tour of the UAE and Oman, Dassanayake has been holding weekend camps with subgroups of the USA squad in Chicago as well as at his home base just outside of Toronto, with players traveling into Canada to meet him in preparation for the upcoming trip. Though the overall results were not great - USA beat Nepal but then lost four matches to Kenya and Oman - Dassanayake focused on the silver lining of building more cohesion and identifying more defined roles as a playing group while in the Middle East.
"I'm happy about the bigger picture where we are playing as a team," Dassanayake said. "I liked some of the plans that the captain and the bowlers are using. We have confidence slowly building on our fielding. We know if we put runs on the board then we are competitive at that level. [The batting] is an area we need to work on for the coming tour."
Dassanayake coached the combined ICC Americas squad at last year's Super50 tournament which included players from USA, Canada and Bermuda. The idea behind a combined squad was to have strengthened quality by picking the best from each country. However, the squad lacked chemistry and Dassanayake says it was a challenge juggling selection at times taking into consideration the sensitivity of satisfying each country's development interests.
"We were not competitive because of the dynamic of the team with three countries' players playing but of course it was a good experience for the individuals," Dassanayake said. "There's always pressure to give everybody opportunities because its three different countries, but the best performers were given opportunities to continuously play. The rotation was happening mainly with players who were not performing. But I was obligated to give opportunities to everyone."
Dassanayake also felt that the dangling carrot for squad members, a chance at being one of six players drafted by a CPL franchise team through good performances, was good for individual players but at times undermined team results. Even though it was a 50-over tournament, Dassanayake felt that the lure of the CPL draft, however well intended, influenced some players to play in T20 mode with an eye toward future opportunities rather than stay focused on the task at hand. It's another reason why he feels being in charge of just the USA squad this time around will lead to better results.
"When you get a combined team, to have the focus being on the team rather than a future with a T20 cricket [franchise] - it wasn't easy," Dassanayake said.
"More than anything what hurt [team results] was that mainly the players were taking the tour as an entry for the CPL and the focus was on T20-type cricket [to get drafted], and we were not really looking to play as a team to win games and be more competitive. We got through games and were able to win one. I thought we could have won two or three more if we had been playing basic cricket right. But I think going as the USA team is going to have big value especially when we can play as a team."
USA's squad for the Super50 is expected to be named over the weekend. They will depart for Antigua in the last week of January for four to five days of preparation locally ahead of their first match on January 31 against Leeward Islands.