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Cricket news - Making American Cricket great again

Ali Khan won the CPL trophy with Trinbago Knight Riders.

This week in Namibia, the USA men's national side will compete in the ICC's final ever World Cricket League. They feature in the six-team Division 2 tournament for the first time in the country's history.

It is the USA's cricketing zenith but one that could be emphatically eclipsed should they clinch a top-four finish that secures inaugural full ODI status and a place in the three-year ICC Cricket World Cup League 2. That would guarantee 36 ODIs over its duration, as well as clearing a path to the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.

Having regained full ICC status just three months ago, USA Cricket is in rude health on and off the pitch. To get to where they are today, it's been a rough ride.

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It's Ireland, 2005.

The ICC Trophy offers the richest reward for Associate Nations in World Cup history, with the tournament's top-five teams joining Kenya at the most inclusive edition of its kind. The USA are one of those teams vying for qualification to the 2007 event. But four losses and one washout from their five matches mean they fall short and finish 10th out of 12. It's disappointing for all involved and is played out to the backdrop of increasing pressure from the ICC on the sport's custodians in the States; the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA).

USACA has been under the microscope for some time. There are bitter back and forths between them and their disputed board members, while ICC CEO Malcolm Speed is the first of three men in the role who, over the next decade, will attempt to first rebuild and then sift through the ruins of USACA.

A month after the ICC Trophy, USA were barred from competing in the Intercontinental Cup, with USACA unable to agree on a team for the tournament.

"Neither party should see this outcome as a victory," Speed wrote to USACA. "Regrettably, the game of cricket in the USA and the cricketers who seek to play cricket for USA at the highest level are again the losers."

At this point, the country are in exile; banished to the most remote, barren lands of cricket's outskirts. Funding has been taken away and the precedent has been set for a long, arduous fight to unfold.

The infamous President Gladstone Dainty retained power not long after. By way of a character reference, try this: in 2012, USACA barred 32 of its 47 members from voting in Dainty's re-election, with the remaining 15 all giving Dainty their backing. All through this, the ICC stated it had "significant concerns about the governance, finance, reputation and cricketing activities of USACA".

Attempts from the American Cricket Federation (ACF) to take stewardship of the game followed and Kenwyn Williams, executive secretary of USACA, posted his now legendary rant on social media that has all the hallmarks of a pining, drunken teen sending a desperate late night text to an ex that puts the fear of God in you when sobriety hits the following morning, head swelling with the weight of your bad decisions the night before.

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Ten years later, with the USA stripped of all its status by the ICC, the latter's team covering the Americas region stepped in to, initially at least, try and re-establish USACA as a member nation.

"It was quite a unique landscape," says Wade Edwards, who was part of the ICC Americas team that worked with USACA in 2015. "It was daunting at times but there was also this sense of a real caring community that wanted support and wanted guidance and wanted leadership and wanted the best for cricket in the country.

"Without throwing USACA under the bus, because I understand how challenging the landscape is, the community probably didn't know what true leadership from a national federation was."

A constitution was drawn up, a board elected, a brand created, social media handles and websites put together and the start-up that is USA Cricket was born; with Edwards and Eric Parthen establishing a brand new cricketing federation out of the ashes.

"Our goal was to set up the right structures and build a world-class organisation," adds Edwards. "If we didn't have that strong foundation and those values and ethics, we knew it would be a challenge long-term."

Some criticism has been levelled at the scale of funding the ICC Americas were given, with a reported USD 1.5m per year pledged to the cause by ICC chief David Richardson.

But the results are clear. The team has never been in better shape, nor the administration. Cricket is now played in every State in the US, there are over 250,000 active players and there are believed to be 30-35 million cricket fans in America just waiting to be engaged even further.

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"Personally, if I get the USA to full ODI status is a personal big achievement. I want them to play in a World Cup and I think we're on the right track."

Having taken over the role of head coach in September, 2016, former Sri Lanka international Pubudu Dassanayake has enjoyed the sunnier parts of the USA's journey. He has orchestrated the side's progression to Division 2 and to have World Cup and full ODI ambitions firmly within the realms of reality shows the remarkable development he has overseen.

The USA's ascension over the past two years has been engineered in tandem with both the development of USACA off the pitch and Dassanayake's handy work on it.

"As a coach, this is the best support system that I have had," Dassanayake tells Cricbuzz. "Wade and the guys in the office have given me a lot of freedom and everything I ask is there. All of these little things have helped give us these results.

"We have a new board in place and they believe in what we're doing. They are fully backing us for the national team and all of our programmes. When the whole organisation is on one page, it's a great feeling and I don't think anyone can stop you when that makeup is there."

The 48-year-old, who played 11 Tests and 16 ODIs, knows the dysfunction of Associate cricket all too well, having previously worked with Nepal; a country that possesses both enormously talented players and an enormously passionate fanbase but also a governing body that closely ran USACA as cricket's most disorganised gatekeepers.

With performances in the national team soaring, he believes the wider game can benefit all across the 50 states of a country long seen as an enormously profitable breeding ground by the ICC.

"When you talk about the on-field performance of an Associate Nation like the USA, we need to have the international team performing and that can feed into the system easier rather than feeding into the bottom of the game and building up.

"If we can go on to become a full ODI nation then that can feed back into the system, we can build proper pathways from there and help the youngsters below grow."

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Attock, Punjab. Sometime in 2008.

An 18-year-old fast bowler brought up on Pakistan's harsh yet immensely fertile grounds of tape-ball cricket is told he is moving to the States. Ohio to be precise. His uncle sold the American dream to his parents and the Land of the Free awaits. Little did he know that professional cricket would, too.

"I didn't think there would be any cricket so I didn't take any of my kit," Ali Khan tells Cricbuzz when discussing the move to Daytona. "But when I got there my uncle told me there is cricket, that he was founder of a club and that he went to the Mayor's office back in the day and got the ground for them to play on."

"He took me to the club and on the first day they saw me I was bowling quick so they asked me to come play on the weekends."

It was a matter of time before Khan would be noticed. A chance meeting on social media took him to first the US Open Cricket Tournament and then the 2015 ICC Americas Combine, where the 28-year-old would impress selector, and West Indies legend, Courtney Walsh.

"I did well. I bowled quick, bowled a lot of yorkers and then got selected for the second trial as one of the 14 to come through phase one. We then joined the phase two guys, who were already pre-selected. I did well there again and got selected as one of the final 15 that was going to Trinidad for the Super 50 in 2016."

Khan played a couple of games, took four wickets and a year later found himself in the Guyana Amazon Warriors set-up for the Caribbean Premier League as their designated ICC Americas player.

Those combines continue to be a major resource for the US in terms of trialling new players with a number of the current side coming through similar initiatives aimed at bringing such a huge volume of players spread across a vast country together in one place. Khan, in particular, hasn't looked back since.

A CPL trophy winner and full-time professional thanks to stellar T20 franchise and national team performances, Khan is a combine success story, showing the next generation of cricketers in the USA that the sky's the limit.

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Back in October 2003, Virat Kohli is captaining home side Delhi's Under-15s in the Polly Umrigar Trophy at the Jamia Millia Cricket Ground. In the other camp is 14-year-old Jaskaran Malhotra, keeping wicket for Himachal Pradesh. And while Kohli has gone on to become a veritable GOAT contender, it's been a different story for Malhotra.

As the 29-year-old says, it's not easy as a player to balance work and family life at the best of times, let alone whilst also making cricketing history with an Associate Nation.

"It's hard to control your personal life and then work, pay bills and manage your athlete life as well," says Malhotra. "Hopefully, if we get the ODI status, we will get the bucks!"

Those bucks may well follow, with ICC funding very much a carrot at the end of the stick. Edwards clearly outlines just what success in Namibia can do for cricket all across the country.

"The reality is, this changes the organisation, at least the performance programme, from an amateur programme to a professional programme," says Edwards, explaining full-time contracts, ambassadorial and development officer roles could all be drawn up with ODI status.

"We would have two-and-a-half years of continuous cricket just off the back of this ICC qualification, without even talking about the T20 Pro League that will be built and how this ties in with our domestic structure.

"The money will come and not just in terms of the ICC pool but the broader money will come from the US market or the cricketing world."

Malhotra, who has played his part in recent success with the unbeaten 66 in the Division Two-sealing victory over Singapore last November sparking wild celebrations as USA secured promotion, is now in pursuit of making yet more history with his adopted country.

"We will be the guys who create history if we get ODI status. We will definitely leave a legacy for any youngster playing in America or budding cricketers playing there and we are pumped up for that."

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It's April 27, 2019. Windhoek, Namibia.

The final of World Cricket League Division 2 has just played out at the Wanderers Cricket Ground

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This date may well prove a seminal one upon reflection of cricket in the USA when the annals of the game are perused in 15 years' time.

Thanks to so many people like those above, the future of cricket in America finally has just that; a future. It can resign the likes of Dainty and Williams to mere footnotes of a long-forgotten time, and finally gain closure on a past that nearly saw it consume itself.

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