ODI status is spurring an ambitious recruitment drive by USA Cricket that could eventually lead to it fielding active internationals from around the world, writes Peter Della Penna.
That is part of a strategy with its commercial partner ACE (American Cricket Enterprises) to bring in professionals for its Minor and Major Cricket League setup, eventually putting players - potentially the likes of Sami Aslam and Corey Anderson - on a three-year residency path to switch allegiances and represent USA internationally.
Pakistan Test opener Aslam has been the most recent target of such efforts while multiple sources have indicated that New Zealand allrounder Anderson is another, potentially as a marquee player for the Major League T20 franchise based in Dallas.
Anderson has not been picked for New Zealand in more than two years and has spent most of the Covid-19 pandemic in Texas, where his fiancée is based. According to sources, he has been spotted over the northern summer at local cricket matches around Dallas and has not played any part for Auckland in the Plunket Shield nor the Ford Trophy at the start of the 2020-21 New Zealand domestic summer.
"It's about the long-term sustainability of developing the sport in this country," USA Cricket CEO Iain Higgins told ESPNcricinfo earlier this year, ahead of the launch of Minor League and Major League Cricket initiatives.
"It's a balancing exercise. In an ideal world, we would have our entire squad made up of people who had been born in the USA, learned their cricket in the USA, had got into the junior pathways, represented the USA at age-group cricket, graduated, got selected into the minor league team, became a professional in the major league team, and then eventually get selected to play for the national team. That's where we're trying to head to. It's a question of how we get there from where we are right now.
"We want to win cricket games. We want to qualify for World T20s, we want to qualify for World Cups. We want to win cricket matches. By winning cricket matches, we're able to - we don't do this very well at the moment but we need to do this better - we build heroes and role models that are wearing the stars and stripes, and we need to amplify those stories. Sometimes those will be people who have come through the US and sometimes those will be people that come into the team because they have a passport or have qualified on residency grounds. But we want the USA team to be in the forefront of the international cricketing community's minds."
Dane Piedt was specifically recruited by ACE to come to the USA and given a contract earlier this year. Similarly, 23-year-old allrounder Willem Ludick - who represented South Africa at the 2016 Under-19 World Cup before playing in the last three Plunket Shields, was convinced to leave New Zealand for an ACE contract in Texas, despite being the second-highest wicket-taker in the competition this past season for Central Districts. With the Kolpak route to the UK soon to be curtailed after Brexit, USA has fast become an appealing option to South Africans looking to earn good money, with contracts reported to be in the $100,000 range per year.
Overseas American passport holders have also become prioritized targets over local players in the last two years. Aaron Jones, Hayden Walsh Jr, and Karima Gore were plucked from Barbados and Antigua in the build-up to the USA securing ODI status in 2019. Subsequently, the Australian trio of Cameron Gannon, Cameron Stevenson, and Ian Holland have all made USA debuts in the last year. Attempts have also been made to recruit 2019 World Cup winner Liam Plunkett, whose wife is from Pennsylvania where the England bowler regularly spends his winters and he could potentially secure a US passport through her.