Stuart Law: We will find a cult hero from USA in this T20 World Cup

Now leading the USA men’s cricket team, former Aussie batter Stuart Law is set to make his mark on American cricket ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup in June 2024.

Published : May 22, 2024 09:28 IST - 19 MINS READ

Task cut out: Stuart Law’s first assignment with USA is a T20I series at home against Bangladesh.
Task cut out: Stuart Law’s first assignment with USA is a T20I series at home against Bangladesh. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Task cut out: Stuart Law’s first assignment with USA is a T20I series at home against Bangladesh. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The USA men’s cricket team, ranked 19th in T20Is, stunned ninth-ranked Bangladesh with a five-wicket victory in Texas on Tuesday. This marks USA’s second T20I win against a Full Member, following its 2021 victory over Ireland. USA leads 1-0 in the three-match series. Harmeet Singh’s 13-ball 33 coupled with Corey Anderson’s measured 34 proved to be the turning points.

Sportstar had earlier caught up with the newly appointed head coach of USA, Stuart Law. The former Aussie international has transitioned seamlessly from player to coach. With over two decades of experience, Law’s coaching style has proven adaptable and effective, shaping strategies and boosting player performance at all levels of the game.

Beyond coaching, Law has been instrumental in nurturing talent, notably as the first high-performance coach for the Australian Cricket Academy set in 2010. With a career marked by leadership and success, including five Sheffield Shield titles as captain of Queensland, Law’s influence continues to grow.

Now leading the USA men’s cricket team, Law is set to make his mark on American cricket, especially ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup in June 2024.

What was the driving force that made you consider the USA men’s cricket team coaching stint?

When this was presented to me, the opportunity to take a USA cricket team to a World Cup for the first time was pretty inviting, to be honest. I see it as a great challenge to work with some of the great associate cricketers going around and also try to help them become the best they can be. So, it wasn’t something I took lightly. I see it as a fantastic opportunity to get in when USA cricket’s right at the grassroots and hopefully build something strong that can keep on building on top for years to come.

Have you been to the United States frequently?

I’ve come in for work with Sri Lanka a couple of times. When I was with Sri Lanka, we played New Zealand in a couple of matches. And then, when I was with the West Indies, we played a few in Fort Lauderdale. So, I’ve seen a bit of cricket in this country, but now I’ve got a real taste and a real appetite to get into it.

I have seen what Houston and Dallas have. I’m looking forward to seeing not only the temporary stadium in New York but also Fort Lauderdale in Florida to gauge how cricket has progressed and what the USA holds. But talking to the boys, they’re very hopeful that cricket is on the up. If we can get a few more interested, you know, youngsters, involved in the game, hopefully, USA cricket will start gaining momentum and being stronger, which will then obviously hold the sport in good stead in this part of the world.

You talked about the pitches in New York and Fort Lauderdale. You come from a land where drop-in pitches are not a rare commodity. MCG, for example, uses a drop-in pitch when they play their cricket.

The science and technology involved in producing cricket pitches have advanced by leaps and bounds. The boys that have put these pitches together aren’t just doing any type of grass. It’ll be grass that’s suited to survive on a concrete bed. New York will probably not get those direct, super-hot conditions like you would in Texas or Florida, but it’ll be conducive to the conditions. They’ve done it for long enough now. In Adelaide, where the groundsman is from, it can get up to 45 degrees Celsius during the hottest summer, which is quite hot and dry. And then in the winter, it can get down close to 0.

He’ll have all the technology and know-how to produce them. When they first started the drop-in wickets, they weren’t very good. But year after year, the ground staff and the people involved in it have learned how to ensure they can still get that consistent pace and bounce in. So, I think the ones we will see at the World Cup will be excellent cricket pitches. Something I have heard is that hopefully, at the end of the World Cup, they’re going to be donated to USA Cricket in certain parts of the country. It would be great for the grassroots level as well to have ready-made cricket pitches there. We just need someone who knows how to take care of them.

The term “good pitches” is a relative term. What constitutes a good pitch?

A good pitch is an even contest between bat and ball, so there’s something in it for everybody. In my experience, drop-in pitches don’t spin a great deal, but there’s enough there. They can be fast and bouncy. I know the one in Perth at the big Optus Stadium; they say it’s one of the fastest in Australia. Adelaide, they say, is quick as well. So, the guys have the formula to produce good cricket pitches.

When you talk about the life expectancy of a pitch, particularly a drop-in pitch, is there a life expectancy where, after a few years, the drop-in pitch is kind of taken out and something else is planted in its place?

I don’t think that’s the case. They renovate them ever so often, and the renovation should create that growth underneath. I don’t know exactly how all that works. But having talked to a few and seen them in action, if they keep renovating and top-dressing, the pitch should survive pretty much for the long term.

When it comes to coaching the USA cricket team, it’s akin to managing a mini-United Nations, with players hailing from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. How do you bridge these differences and ensure effective communication on the field?

I have had a pretty good upbringing in coaching, having spent time in predominantly non-English-speaking countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. But one thing that is synonymous with it is the language of cricket. The cricket terms are generally the same. You might not understand everything that’s being said, but if they’re talking cricket, I can sort of pick up what’s going on. I mean, talking to the players here, they’re very respectful of the flag that they represent now. Even if they weren’t born here or haven’t been here that long, they’re still very respectful of representing the US people. And I think that’s a great thing. We stand there. We listen to it. We will be singing it, but we listen to the national anthem before the matches. It will be a proud moment for the boys. We want to provide the USA with something to be proud of. And if that happens, I’m sure the boys will be jumping out of their skins. Once we start talking cricket, the language is pretty simple. Right?

Is Stuart Law, the coach, a strict disciplinarian, or is he a friendly guy?

I probably did come in too hard at times. I’ve learned along the way that you’ve got to change. We’ve got to ensure that, as coaches, we’re continually changing, seeking different ways to get a message across. And right now, I still expect players to turn up and do their work. And if they’re not doing their work, the conversation needs to be had. And the one thing that probably has gotten me into trouble a lot is that I tell the truth, and the truth from my point of view. Not from everybody’s point of view, but from what I’ve seen and what I think will make you a better person, a better sportsman, and a better professional. At the moment, I am very friendly. I don’t want you to play the way I want you to play. I want you to play the way you want to play, and I’ll be here to support you and help you achieve what you want to do. And I think that’s the only way you can survive. It’s not the only way you can survive, but I think it’s a way to survive for a while. And if it’s not working, well, then you need to sit down and have that honest conversation with the player. I don’t expect perfection. Cricket is the worst game for perfection. You’ll never be perfect at cricket, but I expect 100% effort and dedication to the cause. The team always comes first.

Regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the USA men’s cricket team, can you enumerate a couple of strengths and weaknesses?

Our batting lineup is looking pretty solid, with Steven Taylor — one of the best Associate players — and Corey Anderson on board. They bring a ton of experience, especially Corey, who’s proven himself in World Cups. Having him around is a huge boost for the younger players and those stepping up to this level for the first time.

We’ve got a variety of spin options. Fast bowling is only going to get better. I haven’t seen Ali Khan up close in a match, but I’ve seen him at practice. I’m told he is very exciting. So, you know what? I don’t think we will be the easy-beats that some people think we might be. I think there will be a few times when our team puts a few people on notice. And, hopefully, we might be able to pinch a win against one of the big teams. That’d be awesome. The good thing about Twenty20 cricket is that whoever turns up on the day — you know if someone has a bad day and we have a good day — you just never know. It just could be that opportunity that we’re looking for, and hopefully, we’re good enough to grab hold of that opportunity.

Now that we are playing in Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, and New York, all venues in the USA, of course, do you think the team will have a home-court advantage playing in front of their crowds?

I think they will be packed. The games in Dallas have been sold out for quite some time. And we play Canada, which is, you know, their first game, and what a first game to start with. The oldest history of international cricket matches is in the USA and Canada. Who’d have thought? So, yeah, whether we have the home-ground advantage, I don’t know. Yes. Some of our boys have played in Major League Cricket in Dallas. They also played Minor League Cricket in Dallas. It’s tough because we haven’t played in New York. No one’s played on the ground in New York. So I wouldn’t say we’ve got the out-and-out home-ground advantage, but what we do have is the excitement of playing in different venues in the USA. And if we do get that support from the home crowd, it’ll be awesome. I just hope that everyone loves the underdog like we do in Australia.

Vast experience: Stuart Law has previously served as head coach for Bangladesh and West Indies, and as interim coach for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. He also coached the Bangladesh Under-19s and led Bangladesh to its first Asia Cup final in 2012.
Vast experience: Stuart Law has previously served as head coach for Bangladesh and West Indies, and as interim coach for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. He also coached the Bangladesh Under-19s and led Bangladesh to its first Asia Cup final in 2012. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Vast experience: Stuart Law has previously served as head coach for Bangladesh and West Indies, and as interim coach for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. He also coached the Bangladesh Under-19s and led Bangladesh to its first Asia Cup final in 2012. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

As the head coach, what are your main priorities and goals leading up to the T20 World Cup?

My main goal was to get to know and understand the players and staff around me and build relationships with them. Good relationships can create really good environments. So that’s been the number one thing. It’s been a little bit disjointed because we were in camp together, and then we had a week’s break. Then we came back, and we played the series against Canada. I felt we started building good momentum together and enjoying what we were doing. And then we had a bit of time away. My goal is simple: I want to see our team approach every game with a smile, embracing the joy of playing the sport we love. Beyond that, I expect us to compete fiercely at every opportunity, striving for excellence on all fronts. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose. I just want to see the competitiveness. And if we get some of the boys with a real competitive spirit firing on the day, then wins will come. It’s all about progressing through the next phase. That’d be a dream come true. I think we’ve got to be realistic in our expectations as well and make sure that we maintain those expectations throughout the whole process. But number one, just build relationships and enjoy each other’s company. World Cups are very special to play, and they don’t come around very often. Fingers crossed, we can get out there and give a good account of ourselves.

Obviously, in the Canada series, the USA did remarkably well, blanking the Canadians. With the Bangladesh series coming up, it will be a good litmus test for the USA team because now you’re playing against a team that is known to surprise many people in the previous World Cups.

Yeah, it is a great challenge for us. That’s for sure. Bangladesh has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. They’ve got a very good pace bowling attack now. Everyone knows they’re renowned for their spin bowling, but they now have a good pace bowling attack. And their batsmen have always been productive. So what a great challenge for us. We have four matches, three in Houston down at Prairie View, and then we come to Dallas and play a warm-up game against them at Grand Prairie. We’ll get an idea of what we’re up against, and they’re a pretty good benchmark to see where we’re actually at. So, I think all the boys are excited about playing against Bangladesh. I’m always excited to play international cricket, but against some of the boys I coached many years ago, it should be nice catching up with them. It would be even nicer if we snuck a win or two against Bangladesh.

The Impact Player and two-bouncer rule have been implemented in the Indian Premier League (IPL). What are your thoughts on those?

I like the two-bouncer rule. It is a real weapon if you have fast bowlers. That’s one thing. This game, particularly the T20 format, is stacked in the batter’s favour. The batter is not punished if he swings and misses; however, if a bowler oversteps, he or she must bowl another ball. Impact rule, I am not 100% convinced. Don’t mess with the fabric of the game of cricket. I’ve seen it used in different parts of the world. Cricket isn’t football, where you can sub three or four players. You cannot score 80 odd runs and then not do the fielding. And part of the game is, you know, you’ve got to be fit, you’ve got to be skilled, and you’ve got to show commitment to the team. And, generally, it’s a 40-over game. It’s not a 20-over game because you have to bat for 20 overs and field for 20 overs. I disagree with the Impact Player rule.

How do you envision USA cricketers contributing to nurturing and developing cricket talent domestically and fostering increased interest in the sport among youth?

I’m sure there are people out there, kids watching or knowing the game of cricket. The one thing in this country is that not many people know about the game of cricket. When you mention cricket, they think about a mobile phone company. They might have seen their heroes from, you know, other worlds, but I reckon that if we play well and put up something inspirational on the cricket field in the World Cup, it’ll trigger something in young kids in the USA. So every player, coach, and administrator has a role to play in increasing cricket’s profile in this country, and the way we can do that is for players to talk positively about the game. And, hopefully, on the cricket field, we can show them how far it can go. So everyone’s got a part to play, not just certain individuals. But we will find a cult hero from the USA in this World Cup. I guarantee we’ll find one that fans will jump on and love. It might be that they become the face of USA cricket.

Prolific player: Australian batter Stuart Law cuts Dion Nash of New Zealand during the 1996 ODI World Cup quarterfinal.
Prolific player: Australian batter Stuart Law cuts Dion Nash of New Zealand during the 1996 ODI World Cup quarterfinal. | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Prolific player: Australian batter Stuart Law cuts Dion Nash of New Zealand during the 1996 ODI World Cup quarterfinal. | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Do you perceive a trend emerging regarding increased injuries among cricket players compared to your generation?

I think everyone’s a little bit more aware of their bodies nowadays. If we had a slight hamstring problem, a calf problem, or a broken or cracked finger, we could still get the right way of playing, but it was a bit uncomfortable. Our senior players told us to just get on with them. If I went into an MRI scanning machine and had my whole body scanned, I’d come in with about 45 injuries. Cricket’s not easy on the body. Everyone says, ‘Oh, you just stand there’, but that’s not the case. For a fast bowler, it’s the most unnatural movement for a human body to go through. So, if you don’t always get it right, there will be problems. I’ve got to be careful what I say here because the sports science that has come into the game was designed to prevent injuries. They haven’t. The injuries are still there. They might not be as severe as they possibly could have been, but they’re still there. So they haven’t prevented them, but they have stopped the player from playing earlier. Otherwise, you would have kept playing through back in the day, and it would have been career-ending. So, they stopped them playing earlier, and then they knew how to rehab them. And I think that the shining example of that is Pat Cummins. As a young kid, he got stress fractures in the back and missed five years of cricket. You know, he was trying to come back, but he was still injured, and Cricket Australia took him aside. They gave him a programme.

Who is your favourite Indian pace bowler?

I must say my favourite is Mohammed Shami. I know he’s injured now, but I saw him when I was coaching the West Indies in India in a Test match. And my word, the skill level of that bowler is unbelievable. He’s fast. He’s not tall. He’s very strong and accurate. He’s skinny, but I just love his seam presentation. He’s always at you. He looks like he’s injured running in. It looks like he’s hobbling on one leg, but then he comes in and bowls at 145 kmph. Jasprit Bumrah is a real-class bowler with very difficult actions to correct your rhythm and timing as a batsman.

And then you have Mohammed Siraj... He’s in your face. He’s the one who stirs the pot, but he’s also got some good skill and pace. India has produced some world-class fast bowlers for many years now, the last five to 10 years, and I think it was something that was missing in their repertoire. They always had spin. They had skilled bowlers who could bowl swing and a little bit of seam, but now they have some of the fastest bowlers on the planet. Mayank Yadav is quick. I was watching him in the IPL.

Shami had an Achilles injury and surgery, so he will be out for an extended period. But regarding his comeback after an Achilles injury as a coach, do you think he will be the same Shami that we saw pre-Achilles surgery?

It’ll depend on which leg it is. I’m unaware of which leg it is, whether it’s his left leg that he lands on or, you know, if it’s not his landing leg, he’s got more of a chance, but he probably won’t be the same. One thing that won’t leave his body is his skill level. I hope he comes back. If he doesn’t, I think that’ll be understandable considering the injury he’s had, but, fingers crossed, he gets fit and is back, terrorising the batsman.

Regarding the Australia team for the World Cup, were you surprised by any exclusions or inclusions?

To be honest, not really. Probably the biggest talking point will be Steve Smith. Everyone else will say Jake Fraser-McGurk, but the big talking point will be Smith missing out. I think for a long time, he’s been a wonderful player, but he’s probably not where Twenty20 cricket is now. You know, the way that those teams are set up now, they don’t have a player who bats at number 3. If they lose two quick wickets, they go in to stop the wicket flow.

They just send someone in to try and hit six and some, so that’s how the game’s gone. So maybe it doesn’t suit certain players, necessarily. Smith, I think, as I said before, is a wonderful player, but there may be better options in Australian cricket. The rest of the team is the team that won the 2021 World Cup in Abu Dhabi. It’s pretty much how it should be.

Have you been following the IPL closely?

Not closely, but close enough. It’s a bit difficult to get coverage in the hotels here in the US on the IPL. The wickets have grass on them; there is good, even bounce as well, and the boundaries are 65 metres. So, there is not much chance for the bowlers in those conditions, but some of the batting has been unbelievable. Sunrisers Hyderabad have been great in that respect, with Travis Head opening and playing brilliantly and Heinrich Klassen coming in and finishing it off. It has just been good to watch.

Who do you like better? Stuart Law, the cricketer, or Stuart Law, the coach?

If you ask someone else, they probably don’t like either. All day long, I’d rather be a player. But having said that, I’m pretty comfortable with what I did and where I am right now. I’m just happy being who I am and enjoying my time. You know, it’s been a long ride in the game of cricket. The game of cricket has been great for me. So I’ve only got a few more years left to be the coach, but we might be playing every day of the week.

What kind of legacy does Stuart Law want to leave behind?

As a player, I always wanted to be a tough competitor. I think I achieved that in my career. As a coach, an understanding coach, it took me a while. It’s been a long ride, but getting the terms took me a while. So, I was still in my early years as a coach and probably more swayed by the playing mentality than the coaching mentality. I want to leave with the memories of the people I coached who said I was hard but fair. I was always, you know, approachable, and hopefully, I’ll produce some good cricketers for years to come.

I look back fondly on the boys I’ve coached in under-19 Bangladesh. We had Najmul Shanto, who’s now captain of Bangladesh. I had a bit to do with him during an under-19 World Cup, and seeing them perform well on the world stage gives me a really good feeling inside. I’d like to continue doing that.

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