USA Women last participated in international cricket in 2012 at the ICC Americas T20 Qualifier. The highly-anticipated final between USA and Canada rained out, forcing USA to finish second due to net run rate. As a result, USA missed the opportunity to play in the recently concluded global qualifier in Ireland. In the continuation of our "Inside the Team USA Locker Room" series, we caught up with team USA member and MVP of the 2012 ICC Americas T20 Qualifier, Nadia Gruny.
"We're hungry to get back into action for USA. Finishing second in Cayman Islands last year really, really hurt us. We don't want a repeat of that next year and I can tell you, many of us have been working quietly on our fitness and our games. Some of us now play regular league cricket with the guys and take any opportunity we get, to play. After having a taste of international competition in Bangladesh and then failing to qualify out of Cayman last year, we're quite self-motivated."
USA Women's first global World Cup qualifier happened in Bangladesh back in 2011. Though USA finished 8th out of 10 teams, the tour would forever be a very special cricket memory to all those who participated.
"Many of us often reflect on the first-day suicide runs on the tennis court; the long bus rides through the heavy Dhaka traffic with armed security escorts around and in the bus. Masood (Akhtar), our physio, even danced on the bus to Shakira's 'Hips Don't Lie'. If the girls hear 'Sheila Ki Jiwani' today, I guarantee you their faces will light up. Erica Rendler, the only American-born player, was a crowd favorite in Bangladesh. So many memories to cherish. But I think all will agree that the nail-biting win over Zimbabwe was the best memory of all."
USA posted 188 on the board versus Zimbabwe with a 72-run contribution by Shebani Bhaskar and a 66-run partnership with Gruny. Doris Francis bowled her full quota at a very tight 1.80 economy rate to keep the opponents under control. Bhaskar's performance earned her the player of the match award.
"The win was within reach and so we decided that we were going to leave everything on the field that day. The field was the best we'd play on all tournament and the game was televised live. We wanted the win so badly that even when Zimbabwe had 1 run to tie with more than an over to go, we didn't stop believing. Not for one moment."
It was that never-say-die attitude that helped USA clinch the win over Zimbabwe. With 2 runs to defend and seven balls remaining, Bhaskar's direct hit at the stumps gave USA an improbable win.
"We celebrated like we won the tournament. It was easily the most exciting finish of the tournament."
As USACA continues to take bold steps toward a new direction, Gruny is encouraged by the future possibilities of cricket.
"Our CEO has really rolled up his sleeves to get to work for US cricket. I see the steps toward more communication and professionalization, which is a great thing. There are so many good people and resources in this country for cricket that with the right structure and platform in place, we can progress. Our CEO has really taken a careful and methodical approach to developing the strategic plan. I really look forward to seeing it come to life."
National USA Coach Robin Singh has been with USACA since 2011. Many national team players and staff have praised his coaching style and knowledge of the game. Robin brings a great sense of urgency and professionalism to US cricket while understanding the challenges of working with an Associate Member. As USACA continues to forge ahead, it has brought in additional qualified personnel such as Andy Pick, Mike Young, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Colin Miller.
"We've been very fortunate to have Robin Singh even within our limited scope of operations. Just as Abhimanyu Rajp and many other players have described him, he is the real deal. He reads a game as if it were scripted. It was his reading and tactical changes that helped us get crucial run-outs toward the end of the Zimbabwe match. I also think his experience with Mumbai Indians and other franchises where there are players from different countries, gives him the edge to really reach and connect with our cosmopolitan national teams."
Despite the quiet women's cricket scene since last year's Cayman Islands tour, USACA has a renewed commitment to women's cricket. One of six pillars of the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan is dedicated to women's cricket and it proposes to include and involve more young girls and women in development programs and regular weekly competitions.
"The keys to our success next year are preparation and guidance. I understand we have limited resources but we can take small smart steps. We have to because there's a lot of desire and commitment in the girls right now that have to be harnessed. I think our success now would really help boost and pave the way for the growth of women's cricket in the US so it's important we do all we can to be ready. There are also a couple of new talented players who should be available next year that weren't previously but we've still got our eyes to the future. Some of us are recruiting and guiding younger girls to take the game forward. As women, our cricketing futures are shorter than the men's so we need to empower the younger generation to carry on the baton."
Gruny and the rest of the USA Women's team are headed in the right direction. USA women are set to go back into action in 2014 and USACA will roll out a plan to help prepare the women for battle.
I've been cricket spoilt, having played cricket in South Africa as a kid and the last ten years playing and coaching at both a club and county level in England, I wasn't expecting to find any Women's cricket in the USA. When I learnt that there were a handful of Women's teams playing across the country I was delighted that my favourite sport had made it across the pond!
My experiences this year have been less about learning new skills or score book averages, but more about embracing the diverse cricketing experiences and cultures of my fellow team mates and opposing players; teaching me that the spirit of cricket runs deeper than the bat, this in my opinion is unique to Cricket USA.
Whilst the development of Women's cricket in the USA is still, in my opinion, in its infancy, I was blown away by the pool of talent already available, let alone to think about the potential untapped talent waiting to be found. Despite only getting a few games with my "home" team and a couple playing for another team what I found within this Women's community of cricket is that all players, coaches, and managers share a love of cricket and are working tirelessly towards the same goal - to get Woman's Cricket USA on the map.
Written by Mandy Prime