If you haven’t spotted young kids playing cricket in local grounds yet, you are likely to see them soon as cricket seems to be growing in the USA. There is momentum and the drive to make cricket as one of the mainstream sports in America.
2018 was an eventful year for the newly formed USA Cricket. Elections for Board of Directors were held and a new Board was formed with San Francisco 49ers executive Paraag Marathe as Chair of the Board.
The new team with passionate volunteers has been working tirelessly to achieve new strides for the organization. USA Cricket’s application to become an Associate member in accordance with the ICC Constitution was approved and in a historical milestone, ICC welcomed USA Cricket as its 105th member.
USA Cricket Board announced Request for Proposals (RFPs) for a US T20 Premier League that is likely to start in 2021. Working with the head coach Pubudu Dassanayake, the US men’s national team made it to World Cricket League Division 2 in ICC World Cricket League Division 3 tournament held in Oman in November 2018.
The national men’s team will play World Cup League Division 2 in Namibia this April. The top four teams from WCL2 will play 36 One Day International (ODI) matches in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 from 2019 to 2021. The top three teams will play for the World Cup 2023 Qualifier, from which the top two will qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
USA Cricket Board, officials, and the teams are excited due to the recent milestones and the growing interest in cricket. TOI met the vice-captain of the USA cricket national men’s team, Jaskaran Malhotra to understand his journey into the USA Cricket, and the team’s preparation for the upcoming tournament.
Tell us something about your journey from St. Stephens school in Chandigarh to being the Vice Captain, opening batsman and keeper for Team USA. What motivated you to pursue cricket as a profession?
I started playing cricket when I was 14 years old back in India. I was the captain of my school team. I played for the state of Himachal Pradesh and captained under-15 tournament “Polly Urmigar” against Delhi, Virat Kohli was the captain on the other side. My brother was also a cricket player and he still plays it. My parents always supported and motivated us knowing the pressure we had for the studies. My father was also a player once, and he knew what cricket meant to us.
As time went by, I played All India tournament as the captain of Himachal U17 team, I was the highest scorer as a Wicket-Keeper. Based on that performance, I was among the top 20 U19 players from India selected in the U19 NCA (National Cricket Academy). I was youngest in the squad for the U19 World Cup under Virat Kohli’s captaincy. Unfortunately, I could not make it to the final 16, but it was a good experience.
Why did you choose the United States to pursue professional cricket?
Back in 2012, I got an invitation to play a tournament in Seattle, USA. I came just for a week then went back. I played really well in that tournament. After that, I started receiving calls from different tournament owners in America. One day I received a call to play in US Open. I again performed well and from that time, America became another territory for me. I met my wife ‘Preti’ here.
I played several tournaments in the US and made three double centuries.
How was your experience in Carribean Premier League CPL and sharing the dressing room with Darren Sammy, David Warner, and Kieron Pollard?
I was picked for the Saint Lucia Stars, and the experience was great. CPL is one of the biggest premier leagues in the world. Many international players play there, I got to learn a lot. However, I didn’t get a chance to play, I was a little upset as I was really hoping to play but I guess this is how you learn. Warner was so impressed with my batting that he gifted me his own bat. Darren Sammy was very close to me. He was also my mentor. He taught me how to deal with such situations. Even if I was not playing, I was learning many things from the greatest players in the world. I grew as an individual, it helped me in many ways.
Darren taught me “You can only control the controllable”. That means I can do my work only, selecting me to play or not, is the task of the selectors.
You played a brilliant innings of 106 not out from 55 balls against Belize in the WT20 Americas qualifier. What was going on in your mind when you were in your 90s close to your maiden century?
I believe cricket is a ball-to-ball game, I understand that the scoreboard is always there, and achieving personal milestones is equally important as achieving a team milestone. But I keep it very simple, every ball is a new ball. We have to realize during the match, we get nervous, many thoughts pop up in the mind, but still, we have to be ready for the next ball. ‘Switch on and switch off’ is a very important aspect of cricket. After every ball, I switch off for a couple of seconds to give my mind a break and as soon the bowler gets on the run-up, I switch on. It helps me stay focused. So to answer your question, every ball is a new ball and it is a ball to ball game. I focused on the next ball rather than focusing on the scoreboard.
USA Men’s Team recently attended the camp at Olympic Training Center where top athletes from all over the world train. Tell us something about your experience there.
It was a wonderful experience, we loved it. It’s a great facility not only for America but for the entire world. The absolute best athletes are trained there. The center has the best gym, best training center, best yoga room, best swimming pool, as well as other great facilities. We started our day at 5 am and worked till 09:30 pm. We worked really hard, we also had mental toughness coaches there, a yoga instructor, and physical trainers. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
What does your typical day look like in during the season and off-season? What’s your diet and fitness regime?Athletes never have any offseason especially if they are representing their country. If you are a serious athlete and want to be the best, there is no offseason. The season is on for 365 days and we play every single day regardless of the conditions. Similarly, we have to follow our routine every day. If you take your time off, you don’t follow your routine and skip workouts, someone else will fill your place because there is a huge line out there. This is what pulls me up, to do the best every day.
Most of the time, I am on tours and my diet and fitness regime varies. For example, when we were in Denver, we had fitness camps. I used to wake up by 5 am. When we are on official tours, we get up before 6 am. When I’m at home which happens rarely, I get up at around 7-7:30 am. I work on my fitness in the morning and cricket skills in the afternoon. My coach also helps me keep in shape. I train kids and get trained with them too. It helps them and me as well.
For diet, I don’t eat junk food, not even soda. In America, it’s in easy access. You should avoid it in order to stay fit. I eat a high protein diet. I understand that kids have a different diet than adults however, they should include a bit of protein in their every meal to build their muscles.
Cricket has come a long way in the USA, especially 2018 has been very eventful. Team USA qualified for ICC World Cricket League Division 2 for the first time, USA Cricket was approved as an Associate Member to become ICC’s 105th member. Where do you see cricket moving forward in this country?
Firstly, I would like to congratulate everybody who follows the USA cricket and thank the new board of directors, our Head Coach Pubudu Dassanayake and the whole staff that has worked very hard to get us through Division 3. Now, we are an associate member of ICC. USA Cricket is on the fast track. Our dreams are very big, as we want to be the best associate country. We want to be at the ICC World Cup, we have worked really hard covering all aspects of the game including mental and physical skills.
I think good days are coming ahead for USA cricket. In the upcoming tournament in Namibia, out of the 6 teams, 4 will get ODI status, so hopefully, we will be among the top 4. As a team, we are flourishing.
What message would you like to convey to youngsters aspiring to follow in your footsteps?As I said, cricket is a very mental game. My message to all youngsters is, ‘ups and downs don’t matter if your work ethics are right. If you know what you are doing is right, at the end of the day you will have a good sleep. If you work smart and your work ethics are right, you end up getting success. Don’t be impatient, have your time to think about your own game and grow as individuals.’
In cricket, every day is a new day and that motivates me and I try to give my best in every shot. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds I have scored in the past, I want to prove myself every day that, I am better than yesterday, this is the motivation which I take into every game. It helps me and can help any youngster.