USA look to defend in Bermuda
After being held in Florida in 2008, Division One of the Americas Championship returns to Bermuda for the first time since 2004 when the tournament gets under way tomorrow. Defending champions USA will be one of the favourites, but they will be pushed hard by Canada and the hosts, with Argentina, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands hoping to spring a surprise or two.
There will be two tournaments played over the following ten days - the standard one-day competition running from Friday to Thursday, and the first Americas Twenty20 Championship running on the following three days, leaving Europe and Africa as the only two regions without a Twenty20 tournament.
The USA have made a few changes to the squad that was busy earlier in the year with the World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE and WCL Division 5 in Nepal, with two members of the Under-19 World Cup squad being brought in, a welcome sign for future development.
Their team manager Imran Khan (not THE Imran Khan) has been speaking confidently of his teams chances, though he looked to be preparing excuses when he claimed that the USA don't play as much as the other teams. As far as this year goes, the exact opposite is true, with the USA having already played in two major international tournaments this year. Three defeats to Jamaica in Florida last week showed that they have some work to do, but they should still be pushing for the title again this year.
With their Antipodean contingent missing for this tournament and Ashish Bagai out with a knee injury, Canada aren't at full strength for the tournament, but stand-in captain Rizwan Cheema is likely to enjoy the smaller than average grounds in Bermuda. His presence in the side makes Canada a firm favourite for the Twenty20 tournament, but the one-day tournament is a different matter.
But Bagai is confident that Canada can win the title for the fourth time, and confirm their place as the top team in the Americas. Like their neighbours, Canada have also made a few changes to their squad from the World Twenty20 qualifier, bringing in a couple of members of the Under-19 team.
Hosts Bermuda have the hopes of the home fans behind them, along with the pressure that comes with it. They have struggled in the Intercontinental Shield so far, but vice-captain Stephen Outerbridge is confident that they can handle the pressure.
A number of senior players have retired in the last year or so, leaving Bermuda in somewhat of a rebuilding phase, with a number of youngsters in the squad. At the helm though is the vast experience of David Hemp, who will look to guide his team to their first Americas Championship.
Argentina have often struggled in the Americas Championship, and with this being the first tournament they've played since hosted WCL Division Three in early 2009, they are short of match practice as a team, though the tournament is coming just after the conclusion of their domestic season.
Speaking to the ICC website recently, captain Esteban MacDermott said, "The team has been training hard and if we put in our 100% and play our best cricket, we can have a good tournament." MacDermott will be in the unusual position of having to tell his boss what to do, as Cricket Argentina CEO Grant Dugmore is in the Argentina squad for the event.
The Bahamas are playing in the tournament after winning Division Two title in February. Their stated aim is to stay in the division, though they are realistic in knowing that a couple of upsets may be needed to achieve that goal. Captain Greg Taylor has lofty ambitions for his side, hoping that the Bahamas can emulate Afghanistan in becoming a highly competitive affiliate nation.
Like Argentina, the Cayman Islands are playing their first tournament since WCL Division 3 in 2009. They will be hoping to go one better than 2008 and break into the top three for the first time. Skipper Saheed Mohammed has said that his team are very confident, and have brought in a number of younger players.
The three weaker teams will perhaps be looking at the Twenty20 tournament as a place to pull of an upset. Argentina have a tough group in that tournament, being drawn with Canada and the USA, but one of the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands will be guaranteed a semi-final place. Twenty20 is a form of the game that brings teams closer, and an upset is certainly a possibility.
Three teams in this tournament - Argentina, the Cayman Islands and the USA - will also be participating in WCL Division Four in Italy later in the year. Whilst being regional champions is a nice honour, WCL4 can lead to the greater prize of qualification for the 2015 World Cup. They will no doubt be taking notes on their opponents ahead of their visit to Europe.