‘We’re a family, and we fight hard for each other, which is what great teams do’




Stuart Law is a hard-nosed former Australia cricketer who has coached previously in England, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh. But having taken over the USA side only two months before the World Cup, even he and his Australian optimism didn’t expect to be sitting in Antigua awaiting the start of the Super Eight. The journey for USA has been emotional and fulfilling, and Law candidly takes us along for the ride on their first round of this World Cup.

Do any of your players have to extend their leaves of absence from their workplaces, now that USA are in the Super Eight?
(Laughs) I think there have been a few phone calls made to their bosses at work. It’s probably a nice phone call to make. The boys that do do work, they’ve got extremely supportive employers who understand what they’re doing, and give them that time off to go and represent USA. When you think it’s a global event, representing the United States is pretty special. And I think American companies would allow their employees to go and do so.

Are any of them purely professional cricketers or do they have to supplement their income with work?
There’s a couple that do just play cricket. Corey Anderson‘s been around for a long time and he plays a bit of franchise cricket now. Andries Gous does the same. There are a lot of guys who do part-time work. There’s a couple that are full-time employed as well, who have to take their leave to come and represent USA in a World Cup.

At the moment everyone would love to be a professional. They would love to be able to just do cricket for a living. But the way we’re structured, it’s not quite there at this point, but that’s something that everyone behind the scenes is working hard to rectify.

You spoke about Corey Anderson. He hasn’t had much of a role to play so far, batting at six or seven. What’s the thinking behind holding him back?
He’s had a massive role to play. His experience out on the field has really helped players through tough situations. Just his calming influence in the dressing room. When he has gone out, he’s there to finish games, not set them up.

I nearly got it wrong against Pakistan, where I thought maybe we could have sent Corey in at No. 5 rather than 6. But I just thought that his power at the end, and with one really short boundary, it could have come in handy, but it was actually very good that we didn’t have to use Corey to win that game with the bat. Just shows that we’re not a one-man team.

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05:56

Stuart Law: ‘The World Cup has created massive interest around USA cricket’


Does it also help that the guys in the middle know there’s an international player waiting in the sheds?
Yeah, that’s another point. You want good batters down low as well, so the top order don’t feel like if they get out, the game’s done. You want them to go out and express themselves and play freely. And that’s what we’ve been able to do. We do bat a long way down. You’ve still got Jasdeep Singh coming in after Corey. When Shadley [van Schalkwyk] plays, he’s a decent guy with the bat as well. There’s batting all the way down. That gives the middle, the top order, the confidence to go out and play freely.

Apart from the prize money and automatic qualification in the next T20 World Cup, what does qualifying for the Super Eight mean for the team and for cricket in the USA as a whole?
I think it has created massive interest in the game in a place where cricket’s not very popular. The people that play cricket obviously love it, but the general American person doesn’t understand cricket. I think now that they’ve seen that they’ve got a national team, the wins that we’ve had, the euphoria of beating Pakistan, the way we beat Canada in the first game, it means a lot. It’s just created a massive interest around the USA cricket team.

We have probably exceeded expectations. We didn’t expect to be sitting here in Antigua in the Super Eight. We had the belief that we could upset a few teams, but to actually go out and do it, it’s been really good. And the players have been so confident. I tell them, “Every game, it’s a free hit.” Everyone is ranked higher than us, so we just go ahead and play and enjoy it. If we give our best and we fight hard, you just never know – you might be able to get that win.

I thought it might be rude to ask if you have exceeded expectations or surprised yourselves, so it’s good you’ve mentioned that yourself.
We were realistic with our expectations going into the World Cup. And I think we have exceeded them quite alarmingly. And now we’ve got automatic qualification into the 2026 T20 World Cup, and that leads into the ’28 Olympic Games. It’s awesome news for USA cricket that there’s two global events in the next four years.

Have Americans who don’t have a cricket background come up to you or showed awareness about the game?
A hundred per cent, mate. I was walking with my wife through the fan zone near Ground Zero in Manhattan, and you bump into people, they hear an English and an Aussie accent, and they say, “Are you here for the cricket?” I say, “Well I’m actually the head coach of USA.” And they go, “Wow, that’s cool!” People do start understanding and you got people saying, “Oh, I’m gonna come to watch the game against India in a couple of days.” They’re not a hundred per cent sure what it is, but [they know] USA is involved and USA have won a couple of games. It has created a fantastic interest.

Red, white and lbw: Law says USA's unprecedented success in the World Cup has generated massive interest in the sport in the country


Red, white and lbw: Law says USA’s unprecedented success in the World Cup has generated massive interest in the sport in the country

© ICC/Getty Images


You took over, what, a couple of months before the World Cup? What were the challenges or areas you looked to focus on?
No. 1 was building relationships with the playing group. You’ve gotta have that trust between coach and player to let them know that you’re supportive of them, but also that you have expectations of their abilities.

Gave everyone a role. If they weren’t sure of the role, we worked one out. It wasn’t about coming in and changing techniques. It was just about coming in and making the boys aware that they can go and play the game that they want to play and I’ll be supportive of them while they do it. I understand what they want to do.

Some people outside don’t quite understand what they’re trying to do, and they just see the end result. They just say, look, that’s not good enough. And we say, well, give it time. We beat Canada 4-0, we beat Bangladesh 2-1, which was huge in USA cricket history, beating a Full-Member nation. And then obviously the Pakistan win and the Canada win.

Aaron Jones was one who came to me and said, “I wanna be an aggressor.” And I said, “Okay, go and be an aggressor.” My god, the little man – he’s only a little man, but he packs a punch. To hit ten sixes in that [Canada] innings was unbelievable to see. And just to watch him play with the freedom that we’ve given him was outstanding. And he is just one of a few.

Did the fear of failure and possible repercussions in terms of selection weigh on him earlier?
Yeah, and look, it does on most players, but he was given another role. He was given a role that if the team’s losing wickets, he’s got to shore up the innings, and he wasn’t really allowed to go and express himself the way he wanted to. And I just said, “Well, I’m not like that. I’m not that type of coach. I’m a coach that wants to go out and win the game.”

Coming into this role, we needed to play exciting cricket. We couldn’t just shore up an end and hope we got through. We had to go and play some cricket shots, take the game on. I think we’ve done that. The last couple of months, it’s been really good cricket to watch. It’s been exciting. There’s been some tough moments but we’ve managed to come through them fairly unscathed. So it’s a great show for me that these boys have actually got different types of cricket in them. They can defend and rotate strike, but when the ball’s there to hit, they hit it for a six.

Law on star batter Aaron Jones (right, with Ali Khan):


Law on star batter Aaron Jones (right, with Ali Khan): “He’s only a little man, but he packs a punch. To hit ten sixes in that innings [against Canada] was unbelievable to see”

© AFP/Getty Images


Was the skill already there? Because sometimes it’s a matter of skill and not just a mindset.
Yeah. A lot of ’em have played a lot of international cricket at a lower level. To do that, you need a bit of skill. So yeah, it was always there. It’s just marrying good skill with good mindset, thought processes and good plans. That’s where your senior players come in. Guys like Corey again, who talk to a lot of the batters about – if you’ve got this type of ball, what are you gonna do? And that’s how you learn. Now they’ve got an idea of how to manipulate the ball into different areas and [knowing] what the bowler is trying to achieve. Once you’ve got that in the back of your mind, you feel like you’re one step ahead.

Apart from Aaron Jones, could you give us another example where a player might have transformed after getting a clearly defined role?
I spoke to Saurabh [Netravalkar] about his death bowling. That his slower balls need to have more arm speed, etc etc. That’s not a role change, that’s just a slight technical change. Jonesy was the one who really came to me. He wasn’t that happy as part of the Canada series. He said, “I wanna change, I wanna be a different player.” I said, “Well, go and be the different player.” That was a pretty easy one. The other guys, mate, they play good cricket.

The captain, Monank Patel, has been awesome at the top of the order. His fifty against Pakistan was match-winning.

Andries Gous, he has changed his role for us. He was an opening batsman. He’s now batting at No. 3. He was willing to bite the bullet and take on No. 3. And he’s done a brilliant job for us.

This team is a motley crew – there are former Indians there, there’s a software engineer, there’s a Punjabi-Pakistani who’s slinging the ball. There are South Africans. How do they come together?
Very easily on the cricket field. The mix of cultures is probably one of our strengths. They all bring different skill sets to the table. You’ve got the South Africans who’re big and strong and add that power that sometimes we need. And then you’ve got the Indians, who’ve got the finesse and the high skill against certain types of bowling. We’ve got some real good change-up spin bowlers, some medium-pacers who are very skilful with their swing and seam. It all marries together.

We might not spend every waking minute together off the field, but when we come to cricket, we’re a family and we fight hard for each other, which is what great teams do.

The best of all worlds: Law says USA's strength is the many different skill sets the diverse team brings to the table


The best of all worlds: Law says USA’s strength is the many different skill sets the diverse team brings to the table

© USA Cricket


Almost every player in this team is kind of living a second chance. Is there a sort of gratitude, which leads to more discipline and hunger, meaning that you perhaps don’t have to put in too much work as a coach on those areas?
I’ve seen the professionalism of our boys is probably higher than some of the actual pros that I’ve worked with in the past. These guys are semi-pro, they play a bit of cricket. They do a lot of work. Every time they come together, they just wanna work harder and harder and harder. Actually, we’ve got to stop them working so they don’t tire themselves out for the important three and a half hours of a cricket match.

When they come to cricket, they go at it and they go at it with great professionalism. I told ’em at the start, I said, tournament cricket is long. You can burn out in the first two weeks by just doing cricket every waking minute. And then by the last week, all you wanna do is go home, go to bed. So we’ve had to space it out, go and play golf, get the families in. Enjoy New York City. Enjoy Dallas. Enjoy Florida. Enjoy the Caribbean now with your family. But when we go to work, we’re working hard. And then when we play, we play hard, and then the rest and recreation starts again.

When you say they’re more professional than even pros, does that mean only just hard work or are there other aspects to it?
There’s players that have completely changed their diet. There’s players that have not changed religion but adhere to [others’] religion with certain areas. That to me is something that happens in other parts of the world, where players are getting paid a million dollars a year or what have you. Not someone who is a computer engineer and then on Saturday and Sunday goes to that level of professionalism. Not so much in the gym but, you know, yoga and Pilates and things like that. They all pay for that out of their own pocket. We’ve had a little time with them, but for them to be in the shape they are, the mental state they’re in, credit to the players.

You yourself have been a part of World Cup-winning teams and a dominant Australian team. You’ve coached West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh. How different is coaching USA in terms of facilities and finances and also in terms of the kind of human beings you are dealing with?
The challenges are there financially, but they’re always gonna be there for an Associate team. Facilities-wise, I think USA Cricket is investing a lot in different parts of the United States to get the facilities that will promote better players in the future.

Look, you come to this place not really knowing what you’ve got. The people that are involved in cricket, who love cricket, that’s a massive start. So you’re dealing with the normal people who love cricket, who hate losing, who don’t understand why they’re not scoring runs or taking wickets. And that’s why you come in. And that’s the beauty of our game, that there’s not a cut-and-dried solution, but there’s little baby steps you can take to become better. Some players probably haven’t even had formal coaching in that aspect. Forget about cricket, but also in the mental side of things and how to cope with failure, because a big part of success is how you deal with failure.

Law could relate to Netravalkar's costly drop of Suryakumar Yadav against India:


Law could relate to Netravalkar’s costly drop of Suryakumar Yadav against India: “Look, I dropped a catch in front of 750 million people as well, mate, so it doesn’t matter. We’ve all done it.”

© ICC/Getty Images


What were the scenes in the dressing room like towards the end of that Pakistan match? Can you kind of recreate it for us?
The euphoria of Nitish Kumar hitting the last ball [of the 50th over] for four and watching him walk off with his head in his hands. And I’m thinking, “Mate, you just got us to a Super Over, so you can be a bit happier than you are!” (laughs) He was worried that he’s messed it up, and that we should have won the game. There was a joy in the dressing room but then we had to calm it down.

So, right, we’ve got to bat first [in the Super Over]. This is the order that’s gonna go out. Ali Khan came up to us and said, “I want to bowl the over.” And the captain came up to me and said, “Who do you think?” And I said, “Well, for me, there’s only one choice.” And the captain goes, “Saurabh.” I went, “Correct, he’s had a great day out, so let’s let him finish it off.” Nothing against Ali Khan or any other bowler, but under pressure Saurabh has shown that he can keep it cool.

And he just executes. Corey was at cover and just said, “Mate, it’s okay. The plan’s right.” He had gone for a wide outside off stump, but that was a good wide for us. Had he then gone straight and got hit for six, that’s a bad change. So keep trying, just execute better, execute better.

During the chase, did you feel like you were like letting slip the greatest opportunity you might have had?
In a way, but you know what, I’m glad we didn’t. Then we go onto the India match, and now I am thinking we should have won that one, you know? That’s the flip side. The boys said we threw away an opportunity away there, we should have won. You go, well, you probably should have. But that’s what champion sides do. They find something different and they find another gear to beat the team that’s nipping at their heels.

And Saurabh held himself guilty for dropping that catch of Suryakumar Yadav in the 13th over. But that was not an easy catch.
That wasn’t an easy catch. And you’re talking to a guy who’s dropped a catch in a World Cup final [1996], so I know (laughs). I said, “Look, I dropped a catch in front of 750 million people as well, mate, so it doesn’t matter. We’ve all done it.”

The batting order for the Super Over – did you have an idea beforehand or did you decide it in the moment?
We wanted to go left-hand, right-hand. Also wanted that to make sure that we had players in there that could go from ball one. Aaron Jones was the obvious choice. He was still not out [at the end of the 50 overs], in the best form. Harmeet Singh, not many people have seen him, but he can hit sixes from ball one, against pace and spin, it doesn’t matter. He was not my obvious choice but I thought it just might throw a spanner in the works because they might not be expecting it. And whether that was the case [contributing to Mohammad] Amir bowling wides down the leg side [I don’t know]. He tried to keep it close to [the batter’s] leg and the reverse swing went way down leg side a couple of times.

Left-right spanner: Law says sending Harmeet Singh out to join Aaron Jones in the Super Over was a calculated move to throw Pakistan's plans off


Left-right spanner: Law says sending Harmeet Singh out to join Aaron Jones in the Super Over was a calculated move to throw Pakistan’s plans off

© AFP via Getty Images


We had to think of the plan quickly. We didn’t plan for a Super Over at the start of the game. When you’re getting close, you think, okay, you’ve got to start switching on about Super Over etc. You don’t wanna involve too many people.

As a coach, do you get mad when something like losing those five runs against India happens for just spending too much time setting the field between overs?
I probably didn’t get as mad as people expected. We’ve only got ourselves to blame. The umpire came to us two times previously and said, “Look, you’re on your last warning here.” And we chose to do nothing about it.

Everyone’s looking for a scapegoat, but it’s all of us. We should have been better at getting around in that game. And you’ve got to think too of the enormity of the occasion – 30,000 screaming fans, some of the boys are playing against their childhood heroes. All that takes its toll and you’re trying to soak it all in, but you are also trying to focus on the game and something’s gotta be missed. Those five runs, I don’t think it changed the result.

And then how was it waiting for the match to be called off against Ireland?
You walked out on the ground and it was so wet, it was unbelievable. The ICC and the umpires have got a duty of care to look after the players. Talking to the Ireland boys, even Paul Stirling said there was no chance of play. The water just wasn’t going away. In the end I think we were supposed to play a five-over game. As we’re about to get dressed up and ready to warm up, the cloud popped up and shedded down for about five minutes and the ground was a lake again.

When you see that the outfield is so wet and there are almost, like, squishy areas on the field, you kind of relax, thinking you won’t get a game. And then suddenly, when the prospect of a five-over game came into the equation, what did that make you feel?
It was okay. I knew we had to warm up. You look out the window and you could see there was a massive storm on its way. We didn’t actually get to the stage where we were going [to play]. We stood around, they were still discussing with the match referee, and we were sitting in the same room, looking out the window because there was a lightning warning and everyone had to come inside. We weren’t allowed to stand near windows. And then all of a sudden, we just see the rain start.

I’ve never seen him move so fast straight to the window, staring out the window – Javagal Srinath, the match referee! And all of a sudden you couldn’t see ten feet in front of you.

You can’t beat the weather. I hear that people are upset that they’re playing this World Cup at this time of year, but you know what, if you played in England, you probably wouldn’t have played a game this year. So it’s just the luck of the draw. But we’ll take the one point, thank you.

Blame it on the weatherman: USA's match against Ireland in the T20 World Cup was washed out after hours of uncertainty


Blame it on the weatherman: USA’s match against Ireland in the T20 World Cup was washed out after hours of uncertainty

© ICC/Getty Images


You said that you like to connect more at a human level with the players. Could you share with us a couple of interesting human stories the players might have?
You can’t single out one or two. Everyone’s got their own little idiosyncrasies or characteristics that you really enjoy. There’s some really good characters in our group. There’s some dry-witted humour. There’s also some serious people around. And it just makes you smile. You know they’re all there trying their hardest to do the one thing and trying to do it together. But they provide the entertainment. A team really works well when players don’t take themselves too seriously. Or anyone in the group doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

It just makes the job and the tour, the series, so much more entertaining. And it just creates a really good feeling among the group. I think I’ve got a really good relationship with all of them. Some of them probably don’t like me at the moment because they haven’t played a game, but you know, it’s a World Cup, not the Under-16 national trials, where everyone gets a go. People can think what they like about me. I love ’em all the same. I treat ’em like my sons. But also there’s got to be that element of respect both ways. And I think I get that.

It so happens we’re talking on Father’s Day.
I’ve got a lot of sons here (laughs) and one at home that I haven’t seen in ages.

Which is why you gave up international coaching in the first place.
(Laughs) Yeah, mate. I had a great time coaching the Under-19 Bangladesh side. What’s really nice now is that everyone [from that team] to a man has texted me to say, well done, coach, you’re doing a great job. And from that U-19 team, we made an impact and we changed a few kids’ lives, so that’s great. That makes me feel better than the results we had on the pitch.

They must be playing international cricket now?
There’s quite a few. Najmul Hasan Shanto is now captain of Bangladesh. Mehidy Hasan Miraz. I think there’s a couple from the recent U-19 Bangladesh side that are very close to maybe not playing international cricket but being recognised to train with the big boys.

Law with Shakib al Hasan in 2011. Since 2009, Law has coached Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan, aside from county and Under-19 teams


Law with Shakib al Hasan in 2011. Since 2009, Law has coached Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan, aside from county and Under-19 teams

© BCB


I was lucky enough that I coached Travis Head in the U-19 Australian team as well, back in 2012. To see him doing what he’s doing on the world stage is just something special. You didn’t create him but you sort of helped him.

I’ve been curious about Canada and the US – what kind of music plays in the dressing room? Canada has been taken over by Punjabi music, whereas the representation here is slightly more even, so what plays in the dressing room?
We don’t have much music in the dressing room, but Steven Taylor does have dibs on the team speaker. It’s a lot of hip-hop.

What kind of expectations do you carry into the Super Eight?
Nothing’s changed. We’re definitely the underdog. And every game’s a free hit for us. And it doesn’t matter as long as we stand up and give a good account of ourselves against some of the better teams in the world. We are now up against some of the real heavyweights in world cricket – South Africa, West Indies and England in the next three games. I’m excited. I really am. It’ll give a real indication of where our boys are at.

Any of those teams you fancy taking on more than the others?
Not really. I just wanna put some frighteners on them. If we can put someone under pressure for long enough, they tend to make mistakes. But we’ve gotta be good enough to grab hold of those mistakes.

I’m so looking forward to it. I’m so, so thrilled with what the boys have achieved. I can’t wait to see them go out there against these teams. We said that making it through to Super Eight might be a bridge too far, but here we are. You just never know on the day in T20 cricket.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo






 






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