I’m doing something a little different in this edition of All Things Cricket. Instead of the usual rundown of the week’s news, I’m going to review the 2021 season in Minor League Cricket, the USA’s most recent attempt at a professional T20 league.
It’s probably a huge surprise to anyone reading this who is not already a cricket fan that 27 teams in 20 cities played over 200 games of cricket this summer/fall and a national champion was crowned (I’m stealing this copy almost completely from the Sling TV ads, which ran constantly during the tournament – Sling TV, Official Sponsor of Minor League Cricket!). But that really did happen, and this is a review of what happened. While you were all getting emotionally invested in taped-delayed sports you didn’t know the rules of from Tokyo, guys were playing a sport you didn’t know the rules of, live, right here.
We must start with the team names, which ranged from inspiring to clever to what’s-that-now? to trite and overused.
Atlantic Conference, Eastern Division
DC Hawks (eh, been done)
Empire State Titans (old Jets name homage?)
Manhattan Yorkers (first of many “cricket glossary” terms – a Yorker is a delivery bowled near the batter’s feet)
New England Eagles (‘Murica!)
New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers (I like this one: it weirdly has the city after the state but it’s classy, and I’m partial to Somerset)
New Jersey Stallions (after Megan Thee of course, I assume)
The Philadelphians (by far the best name – also sounds a like a club Randolph and Mortimer Duke would belong to)
Atlantic Conference, Southern Division
Atlanta Fire (on the nose for all you “Gone With The Wind” fans)
Atlanta Param Veers (Param Veer is the highest military honor awarded in India – so don’t talk about Pakistan around these guys)
Florida Beamers (a beamer is a delivery bowled at the batter’s head – like naming a team “Beanballs”, so kind of menacing)
Fort Lauderdale Lions (also the nickname of the Sri Lanka cricket team, which is probably not a coincidence)
Morrisville Cardinals (they were going for “best fans in cricket” honors)
Orlando Galaxy (meh)
Pacific Conference, Central Division
Austin Athletics (aspirational – cricket in the US is not yet particularly athletic, but it’s getting there)
Houston Hurricanes (Hurricane Ida came through and no games were called off, so it worked as a talisman to ward off actual hurricanes, I guess)
Chicago Blasters (they didn’t)
Chicago Catchers (they also didn’t – and why not Keepers, which is a real position in cricket and has a double meaning?)
Irving Mustangs (for the stunning Mustangs of Las Colinas statue, so this was another one I liked – only people from Irving or who have been to Irving would appreciate it)
Michigan Cricket Stars (they weren’t, but they played well)
St. Louis Americans (Double-down ‘Murica!)
Pacific Conference, Western Division
East Bay Blazers (like the Hurricanes, several games were affected – but not caused to be abandoned – by smoke from nearby wildfires)
Golden State Grizzlies (a merging of two NBA franchises that would be very strange)
Hollywood Master Blasters (sadly, they didn’t play the Chicago Blasters and were unable to display their mastery over them)
San Diego Surf Riders (best name in the Western Conference by far – although I don’t think there is any crossover with surfing and cricket outside of Australia)
Seattle Thunderbolts (not bad, original-ish at least)
Silicon Valley Strikers (funny because Silicon Valley famously has poor or no unions – yes, it’s another cricket glossary term – the striker is the guy batting at any given time)
SoCal Lashings (this was the most “what the?” name for me. I guess lashing is a term for batting? No idea)
This is Minor League Cricket’s second season, but this was the first one where a championship was played. The 2020 season was cut short by COVID travel restrictions to teams playing each other within their own region, and the matches had a pickup-game feel, with few of them shown on YouTube and no real social media presence or any sense that it was building to anything. The league used the games to do a trial run of how they would manage and operate so many games simultaneously and at least try to get them all on YouTube.
The league is owned by American Cricket Enterprises (ACE), who also run the only cricket streaming channel in the US, Willow TV. Willow mostly brings in satellite feeds from major broadcasters like Sky in the UK, Star in India, and Channel 9 in Australia, slaps some ads in between overs (some of them amazingly hilarious, like a guy named Prem Jyotish who sells astrology readings in California) and collects $12/month or $60/year from subscribers. It’s a slick operation and you would have to say that Americans are incredibly spoiled to be able to watch cricket almost every day of the year from all over the world on Willow. The Willow folks aren’t (or at least weren’t) skilled in running multiple live internet feeds from all over a vast country like the US. The first season was a study in amateurism. At one point, they had a pre-game feed running on YouTube of an empty field with two guys yelling and swearing at each other off-camera for about 10 minutes.
The 2021 season seemed very different from the start. First, there would be playoffs, a final game, and a champion. Secondly, the league hired a social media coordinator and they made a decent effort to reach out to fans (mostly league and team employees, the team owners, the players, their families and friends, and about a dozen or so white guys like me) and to update the website with details on the fixtures. The 2021 season began on Saturday, July 31st. I attended the first competitive game ever played between rivals Austin and Houston at Moosa Stadium in Pearland, TX. Why Pearland, which is 30 miles from Houston (the Hurricanes play their home games in Prairie View, about 50 miles from Houston) and some 140 miles from Austin? That’s because the owner of Moosa Stadium, a car dealer named Sakhi Muhammad, asked Austin if they would play games there and they accepted, not having a real turf pitch of their own to play on.
Lack of real turf pitches is a real problem in the US. The pitch is the 22-yard by 10-yard strip in the center of the field where most of the action happens. Cricket playing nations like England, India, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc. have numerous stadiums and county/state grounds with grandstands and clubhouses, and these grounds have a set of real turf pitches side-by-side in the center of the field that they rotate in and out of service during the season. In the US, in many locations, there are often only patches of grass that have been set aside within a large park for cricket with no facilities or stands, and someone has installed a single slab of concrete in the center and glued a layer of FieldTurf or a rubber mat over the concrete to make a pitch. The artificial pitches provide a simulacrum of real cricket, but a major part of the charm of the game is the variability and changeability of an organically grown surface on which to play. It’s like the real vs. artificial turf debate in football and baseball raised to a much higher level. The International Cricket Council (ICC), like FIFA, will not allow play on the artificial stuff for international matches.
Artificial turf/rubber mat pitches prevailed in the Atlantic Conference even this season, and there were several of them out west as well. The league is strongly encouraging the ownership groups to install real turf pitches to the point where one team had to travel to play an opponent who had a real turf pitch for the quarterfinals even though they finished in 1st place in their division and their opponent finished in 2nd place. Moosa Stadium is one of two facilities in the Houston area with real turf pitches and was a logical selection for a franchise. For whatever reason, ACE granted the franchise to a group from Austin without verifying that they had a place to play. Austin’s loss was Mr. Muhammad’s gain, although he still can’t charge admission at this point.
A team-by-team review:
Atlantic Conference, Eastern Division
New Jersey Stallions – home ground: Howe Athletic Ground, Somerset, NJ
1st place; 11-4-1 no result, 46 points
The Stallions lost their first two games and were at a disappointing 3-4 after seven games. Something flipped, and they didn’t lose again in the regular season. They got great contributions from youngsters Raymond Ramrattan (19) and Sai Mukkamala (17), who led the team in runs scored with 367. Stephen Wiig led in wickets with 27. Jessy Singh and Dominique Rikhi had to leave mid-season for USA Cricket national team duty but made it back for the playoffs.
Empire State Titans – home ground: Idlewild Park, Queens, NY
2nd place; 9-4-3 no result; 42 points
Empire State lost two early games to the Stallions, then picked it up and led most of the rest of the way until a huge late-season loss against Manhattan that could have clinched them the division. One important game for them was in Orlando, when the FieldTurf matting came unglued in the second innings and the game had to be abandoned. It was a real low point for the league in general. Christopher Barnwell and Trevon Griffith were their best players. A statistician named Tom Nielsen compiled “impact” ratings for the league, combining runs scored as a batter and runs prevented as a bowler over expected runs scored and allowed, and Barnwell finished 2nd overall and Griffith 4th. In addition, Damion Jacobs led the league in wickets with 32 (including the Titans’ postseason games).
The Philadelphians – home ground: Exton Park, Exton, PA
3rd place; 8-5-3 no result; 38 points
The Philadelphians challenged for a playoff spot all season but lost a critical game to the Cavaliers on September 11th and were beaten by the Stallions in their last regular season game to finally end their post-season chances. Jonathan Foo, an Indian-Chinese player from Guyana (you see a lot of guys with internationally diverse backgrounds in cricket), and the team’s best player, led two incredible comeback wins in consecutive weekends against Florida and DC, but it wasn’t quite enough. Against Florida, Foo charged the comms box and knocked over the Willow camera after hitting the winning six.
Manhattan Yorkers – home ground: Canarsie Park, Brooklyn, NY
4th place; 8-7-1 no result; 34 points
Manhattan was another team that faded at the end after a good early start. Their opener was a 118-run win over Orlando, and they were 4-1-1 after six matches. They went 3-6 after that to take themselves out of contention but were able to knock Empire State out of 1st place with a final-game win on the last ball. Raj Nannan was the only Yorker to finish in the top 20 in either bowling or batting impact ratings.
DC Hawks – home ground: Veterans Memorial Park, Woodbridge, VA
5th place; 8-8-0 no result; 32 points
DC had some wild games, including the crushing loss to The Philadelphians and Foo, and a 2-wicket squeaker over Empire State when they were only chasing 75. They were blown out a couple of times, also by Empire State and by the Cavaliers, and then returned the favor on the Cavaliers in the next-to-last weekend. They couldn’t get any consistency and never really challenged. Ravi Inder Singh Mehra finished 13th in overall impact with 564 runs scored and 10 wickets.
New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers – home ground: Howe Athletic Ground, Somerset, NJ
6th place; 7-8-1 no result; 30 points
Somerset (my favorite English County team, so that’s what I’ll call them) posted the highest single game total for the whole league against Atlanta Param Veers in the first weekend of the season with 252 runs, and looked to be a side to be reckoned with, but once play started within the Eastern Division, they never got a foothold. The low point was a 62-run drubbing by DC in their last weekend of the regular season followed by another bad loss to Empire State to close out the campaign. Muhammad Asad Ghous and USA player Xavier Marshall led the club in overall impact.
New England Eagles – home ground: Keney Park, Hartford, CT
7th place; 5-10-1 no result; 22 points
New England, coming from central Connecticut, a decent bus ride from the teams in the NY/NJ metroplex, didn’t get a home game until September 12th. They struggled mightily against their own division, going 2-10 with a huge 173-run clobbering by Empire State on September 11th. They’ll need to improve their home situation going forward or could be a candidate for a move or something worse. Rizwan Mazhar was the only player in the top 20 of either bowling or batting impact.
Atlantic Conference, Southern Division
Atlanta Fire – home ground: Atlanta Cricket Fields, Cumming, GA
1st place; 11-4-1 no result; 46 points
The Fire were on fire from the outset, with a loaded team including USA players Steven Taylor and Aaron Jones and highly regarded South African bowler Corne Dry. They had a miserable weekend in Florida on 8/21 and 8/22, losing to also-rans the Beamers and Galaxy, but then rebounded with three straight wins before another puzzling loss to the Eagles. They won their last three and easily won the division. Amila Aponso and Dry were the high-impact players for the Fire, finishing 6th and 7th overall.
Morrisville Cardinals – home ground: Church Street Park, Morrisville, NC
2nd place; 7-7-0 no result; 28 points
Morrisville is the crown jewel franchise in Minor League Cricket, boasting a real turf pitch in a picturesque ground with actual fans who come to the games and even a few amenities like beer and food trucks. Morrisville is a rapidly growing city in the North Carolina Research Triangle with many South Asian immigrants. The team had very high hopes and were playing well until Jaskaran Malhotra was called up for USA duty, after which their season collapsed. They lost four-in-a-row to finish the regular season and barely held off Orlando for the 2nd playoff spot in the division. Malhotra was a beast when he played, finishing 5th in overall impact, and they couldn’t find a replacement when he left.
Orlando Galaxy – home ground: Silverstar Recreation Center, Orlando, FL
3rd place; 4-4-6 no result; 28 points
Yes, a whopping SIX no results due to the Sunshine State’s predictable rainy tropical weather and the incident against Empire State when the artificial turf came unglued. This is another team that needs an improved home situation, and in their case, they have a part-owner named Mangesh Choudari who manages the pristine real turf pitch facility in Prairie View, TX and who has made himself the leading pitch expert within USA Cricket. I expect much better results from them next year. This year, nobody made a large impact in either bowling or batting, but they were able to scrape together four wins and almost made the playoffs. Tagenarine Chanderpaul was the leading run-scorer with 260 and Ramone Medwinter had 9 wickets.
Atlanta Param Veers – home ground: Param Veers Cricket Field, Rydal, GA
4th place; 4-7-4 no result; 22 points
This Atlanta team lacked fire, both figuratively and name-wise. They were victims of the highest first-innings score in the league by the Cavaliers in the first weekend and didn’t get a win until the fourth weekend. They had two straight matches in Orlando abandoned after scoring 247/1 and 106/2 in the 9th over, both of which would have likely been wins if not for weather. They needed to sweep the rival Fire in the last weekend to make the playoffs and lost both games in the 20th over. Nothing much went right, but they seem to have a decent club and could easily bounce back next season. They opened a new real turf pitch facility near Cartersville, GA, hometown of Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence, and are adding to the facility over the next few years to make it a USA Cricket hub. Zain Sayed finished 8th in overall impact this season.
Fort Lauderdale Lions – home ground: Broward County Stadium, Lauderhill, FL
5th place; 4-8-2 no result; 20 points
Fort Lauderdale also has no home ground problems. Broward County Stadium is the only ICC-approved stadium in the country and has hosted international matches featuring India, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies, in addition to Caribbean Premier League games. It is by far the best cricket-watching facility in the US. Despite that, the Lions struggled from the first weekend. They somehow beat Morrisville at the other top-class facility in this division, Church Street Park, but the wins were scarce after that. The next day after beating Morrisville, they were bowled out for 70 by the Cardinals and lost in the 11th over. No one dented the top 20 in overall, bowling, or batting impact. Devendra Bishoo led all bowlers on the Lions with 14 wickets and the leading scorer was Roy Silva with 274 runs.
Florida Beamers – home ground: MAQ Cricket Stadium, Delray Beach, FL
6th place; 1-11-2 no result; 8 points
The Beamers are owned by a swashbuckling cricket entrepreneur named Mahammad Ahmad Qureshi (MAQ for short) who named his stadium (not a real turf pitch) and his son, who plays for the Beamers, after himself. It was a dismal year for the Beamers, but knowing MAQ, they will bounce back and be a force in the future. Asim Khursid was an impact player with the bat but not much else went their way. They won a stunner on September 28th against the Param Veers as their only win.
Pacific Conference, Central Division
Austin Athletics – home ground: Moosa Stadium, Pearland, TX
1st place; 12-2-1 no result; 50 points
This is my home team and I attended several games at Moosa. Moosa is set amid a trailer park and a lot of scrub brush, but it is one of the most complete facilities in the US as far as having home and away changing rooms, practice nets, seating for a limiting number of spectators, a playground and lately, a practice field in the back. Most of the buildings are in a state of disrepair, but that it ever got built is a miracle, and Mr. Muhammad is doing all he can to keep the place relevant, signing the Athletics this year and possibly in the future. Austin had a spectacular inaugural season, tying with the Golden State Grizzlies for most points accrued. Their opener against Houston which I attended was a shocking loss. Houston needed 10 runs off the last two deliveries, which is almost impossible. Austin’s Ali Bangash was bowling, and he did the unthinkable and bowled a head-high no-ball, which the Hurricanes’ Usman Rafiq somehow miraculously hit behind him over the boundary for six runs plus one for the no-ball. This left a free hit and a final delivery for Houston to get the last three runs, which they did easily. Austin only lost one more time after that in the regular season and beat Houston on the final ball in the next-to-last weekend and Irving for their final regular season game to win the division. Awais Zia was the big gun for Austin, finishing 15th in overall impact.
Houston Hurricanes – home ground: Prairie View Cricket Complex, Prairie View, TX
2nd place; 12-3-0 no result; 48 points
Prairie View Cricket Complex is the lifelong dream realized of owner Tanweer Ahmed, who also owns many Yum! Brands franchises in the Houston area. It now has eight cricket fields, five with real turf pitches, and is already a hub for USA Cricket. It sits within view of the Prairie View A&M football stadium, about 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston. The Hurricanes obviously benefited mightily from getting to play and practice at this sprawling facility, amassing 48 points and never being below 2nd place. Despite the incredible opening comeback win against rivals Austin, they couldn’t quite pass the Athletics and ended up losing to them in the next-to-last weekend to put them in a situation where they needed help from Irving to win the division, which they didn’t get. They lost gun bowler Ali Khan for most of the year when he went off to play in the CPL, but they got very strong seasons from USA U21 player Karthik Gattepalli and South African import Willem Ludick.
Michigan Cricket Stars – home ground: Lyon Oaks Cricket Ground, Wixom, MI
2nd place; 10-3-2 no result; 44 points
Michigan was the surprise team of the tournament. The Wolverine State is not a cricket hotbed, with long winters and not many grounds to play on. Somehow, owner Nabeel Ahmed put together a very strong team with Jamaican-American Ryan Scott at the forefront. Scott was third in overall impact, scoring 446 runs. Nicholas Kirton chipped in as a bowler, taking 19 wickets. The Cricket Stars split with Houston and lost both games to Austin, which doomed their playoff hopes, and even a last-weekend sweep of the Blasters wasn’t enough.
Irving Mustangs – home ground: Sandy Lake Cricket Ground, Carrollton, TX
4th place; 6-7-2 no result; 28 points
Corey Anderson was a splashy overseas signing from the New Zealand national team for the Mustangs. His wife is American, and his place in the Black Caps had been slipping regularly to younger players, so he decided to make the move to Texas. He struggled for the most part, except for a bludgeoning 108 not out against the second-tier Chicago Catchers. Irving muddled through the season struggling for runs and wickets against the better opponents and winning enough against the lesser teams to almost break even. Neither Anderson (311 runs) nor top wicket-taker Ali Sheikh (15) finished in any of the top 20 impact rankings. Irving didn’t play many home games in the DFW area and are likely searching for better digs next season.
Chicago Blasters – home ground: BPL Cricket Stadium, Bolingbrook, IL
5th place; 4-9-2 no result; 20 points
The Blasters were the more successful of the two Chicago franchises, and given the results of both, there may be some consolidation in order. The Blasters split their first two with St. Louis and then finished a disastrous Texas trip at 1-4. The managed to get back to 3-4 with an upset of Austin, one of only two Athletics regular season losses, but then collapsed to 1-5 down the stretch, beating only their sad-sack crosstown rivals. Najam Iqbal placed 12th in bowling impact and Shabheer Hasan led the batters with 311 runs.
St. Louis Americans – home ground: ACAC Park, Wentzville, MO
6th place; 4-10-1 no result; 18 points
St. Louis split their first two games and beat Irving to get to 2-1, and then lost seven straight before gaining a split with Houston over the 8/28-8/29 weekend. They were basically out of contention at that point. They beat the Catchers twice on the final weekend to reach four wins. St. Louis was another team where no player registered on the bowling, batting, or overall impact rankings. Jacobus Pienaar from South Africa had 444 runs and Sidarth Trivedi had 17 wickets.
Chicago Catchers – home ground: Washington Park/Skokie Sports Complex, Chicago, IL
5th place; 0-13-2 no result; 4 points
It was a lost season for the other Chicago team. I can’t see them coming back in the same form next season, but you never know. The Catchers came closest to a win against the Blasters on September 11th, losing in the 20th over. They also scored their season high 165 against eventual division champs Austin on August 28th but lost with two overs left. Ranadeep Aleti had 10 wickets to lead the club and Shreyas Ramesh had 266 runs.
Pacific Conference, Western Division
Golden State Grizzlies – home ground: Arroyo Park, Davis, CA
1st place; 12-2-1 no result; 50 points
The Grizzlies were dominant throughout and were the last undefeated team before falling to Silicon Valley on August 28th. They lost to Silicon Valley again on the final weekend, which knocked East Bay out of the playoffs. East Bay wasn’t angry enough to win the final game, leaving Golden State with only those two losses. The number one impact player in the league this year was the Grizzlies’ Hammad Azam. Azam as captain batted himself down in the order but still scored 367 runs, and took 9 wickets as a bowler, yielding a stingy 209 runs in 40 overs for an almost unheard-of economy rate in T20 cricket of slightly over five runs/over. Former USA U19 player Vatsal Vaghela took an amazing 29 wickets.
Silicon Valley Strikers – home ground: Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Complex, Morgan Hill, CA
2nd place; 11-3-1 no result; 46 points
The Strikers really had two seasons: one before former India U19 2012 World Cup champion captain Unmukt Chand left India to play for Minor League Cricket and one after. In the first two weekends, they beat Seattle in the 20th over only needing 110 to win, survived a scare from Hollywood by one run, and lost to SoCal with seven balls remaining. None of those teams made the playoffs, and the Strikers appeared destined for the same fate. Then Chand appeared at the top of their order, on August 14th (he got out without scoring that game) and they lost only two games the rest of the regular season. Chand didn’t appear in the impact ratings because of missing three early games, but his impact was enormous, especially as the playoffs neared. He led all batters with 591 runs (including the playoffs). The Strikers beat both their nearest rivals for 2nd place, East Bay, and the division champs Golden State on the last weekend to earn their playoff spot. USA team captain Saurabh Netravalkar, who missed games while on USA duty late in the season, was the bowling star for the Strikers with 12 wickets.
East Bay Blazers – home ground: Santa Clara Cricket Club, Santa Clara, CA
3rd place; 9-5-1 no result; 38 points
East Bay started 3-0 against the bottom half of the division, but then lost a tough game to Silicon Valley before bouncing back with four more straight wins to get to 7-1. They were 9-2 heading to a showdown with Golden State, which ended in an agonizing loss in the 19th over when they couldn’t defend 146. They still had an excellent shot at the playoffs in the final weekend but lost a season-defining game to the Strikers by 13 runs and then suffered a 20th over defeat to Golden State when they needed a miracle to make the postseason. Sujith Gowda was a standout with both bat and ball for East Bay and Rusty Theron took 15 wickets.
Seattle Thunderbolts – home ground: Khalanie Park, Issaquah, WA
4th place; 7-7-1 no result; 30 points
The Great Northwest’s entry played on what appeared to be one of the worst grounds in the league. It looked on camera like an expanse of bare dirt, although I’m sure it was better in person. Nonetheless, they were able to break even against some talented West coast teams. The ‘Bolts had a 5-game winning streak after starting 0-4, and then finished 2-3 with a last-weekend win over a full-strength Silicon Valley that showed their potential. South African quick bowler Shadley Van Schalwyk had 79 not out in that victory. Van Schalwyk (11th overall) and Andries Gous (9th overall) were the top impact players for Seattle for the season.
San Diego Surf Riders – home ground: Canyonside Park, San Diego, CA
5th place; 4-11-1 no result; 16 points
The team with the great name had a rough year. They beat fellow second-division team Hollywood to open, but then lost a game they had in hand with three overs to play when USA player Elmore Hutchinson went bananas for SoCal and hit three straight sixes on the last three balls, immediately after two wides, to beat them. After a win against Seattle, they went on an 8-game losing streak that put them out of contention. On the plus side, Canyonside Park is a very nice ground and they had one of the best lead commentators, Jimmy Anklesaria, a local entrepreneurial celebrity in San Diego.
SoCal Lashings – home ground: Woodley Park, Van Nuys, CA
3rd place; 4-11-0 no result; 16 points
Someday I’ll figure out what a “lashing” is. These Lashings didn’t have much success, but they played on what may be one of the Olympic venues in Los Angeles in 2028, if cricket is voted into that games. Hutchinson led them to that opening win down south, and they won a low-scoring game against the Chand-less Strikers the following weekend. They then embarked on a dispiriting 9-game slide after that, finally beating San Diego again at Woodley Park on September 12th. Harpreet Singh was the top impact player, with the 3rd best bowling figures in the league.
Hollywood Master Blasters – home ground: Woodley Park, Van Nuys, CA
3rd place; 2-13-0 no result; 8 points
Co-tenants at Woodley Park with SoCal, Hollywood opened the season 0-5 before surprising Silicon Valley with a 19th over win chasing 147. They didn’t win again until September 18th against their groundsmates, the Lashings. They suffered a 124-run blowout against East Bay, a 9-wicket loss to Seattle, a 7-wicket defeat to Houston, and a 59-run drubbing by SoCal in their final game. Silicon Valley was the one team they could handle, winning that first game and losing by one run in the return encounter. Cody Chetty had 470 runs to finish 10th overall in the league in that department and Khalid Zadran had 13 wickets.
In a rare move for cricket, but common for most every other US sport, Minor League Cricket elected for a best-of-three series in the quarterfinals. This was followed by a conventional (for cricket) one-game knockout round in the semifinals and final in the showplace ground of Church Street Park in Morrisville, NC.
New Jersey Stallions vs. Morrisville Cardinals, Morrisville, NC
This series was played in Morrisville to take advantage of their superior real turf pitch and the fact that the semifinals and finals would be played there. Morrisville ran out of gas when Malhotra left to play in Oman for the USA team, and he didn’t do much for them after his long trip home. New Jersey easily chased 103 (Morrisville lost their 10th wicket on the last ball in their innings) with 16 balls remaining in the opener and then New Jersey put up 183 in the 2nd game, a total Morrisville had nowhere near enough firepower to catch and they fell 41 runs short. The 17-year-old Mukkamala led the scoring for New Jersey with 28 in game 1 and Rovman Powell had 61 off 37 deliveries in game 2 for the Stallions.
Empire State Titans vs. Atlanta Fire, Cumming, GA
The Fire were not favored, despite hosting the series, and Empire State took game 1 behind a 25-ball 50 from Bhaskar Yadram and some clutch death bowling by Barnwell to get the rampaging Hanchard Hamilton (55 off 33 at that point) out in the 19th over and by Yadram to limit the Fire to only three runs off the first four balls of the 20th over when they needed 11 to win. The Fire came up one short when their attempt at a desperation three on the final ball was thwarted. Atlanta bounced back in game 2, chasing down a huge 209 total from Empire State with a ball to go. Barnwell’s 82 off 40 was not enough as Taylor and Sagar Patel opened with 80 and 73 before Shamar Springer got them over the line with a walk-off four. Game 3 was all Empire State. They limited Atlanta to 147, getting Taylor for no runs and Patel for only 8. Dry’s 28 not out cameo was helpful, but Empire State finished the chase with Barwell and Griffith at the crease in the 17th over.
Austin Athletics vs. Silicon Valley Strikers, Pearland, TX
Silicon Valley, surging behind the golden bat of Chand, came into this series as a slight favorite despite having to travel. Shehan Jarasuriya, another stalwart all season for the Strikers, led the scoring in game 1 with 78 off 51, and the Athletics’ chase was stymied by the huge wicket of Hamza Bangash (Ali Bangash’s brother) in the 19th over when he was at 67 for 50 balls. Austin fell eight runs short with Bangash in the shed. In game 2, Austin limited Chand to one run, and even with Pranay Suri’s 77 off 49, they were able to keep the total to a reasonable 155. The chase was clinical, with opener William Perkins sticking around into the 9th over for 53, and Jahmar Hamilton anchoring the effort with 41 off 30 to get Austin the victory. Game 3 was the Chand Show, though. The Strikers captain wouldn’t be denied, leading the way with an incredible knock of 132 not out in 69 balls as Silicon Valley won the game and the series with three balls remaining to eclipse the Athletics’ healthy 184 total in the first innings. This was the signature innings of the tournament for Chand and showed exactly why Minor League Cricket was happy to see him come to the US. Amazingly, Bangash repeated the dubious feat his brother Ali performed in the opening game of the regular season against Houston, bowling a no-ball in the 20th over, which certainly didn’t help Austin’s chances.
Golden State Grizzlies vs. Houston Hurricanes, Davis, CA
Golden State completely outclassed Houston in this one, winning both games easily. Sami Aslam, a big signing from Pakistan for Golden State (he played against Chand as the U19 captain for Pakistan in the 2012 World Cup), led all scorers with 65 off 58. Houston’s chase effectively ended when Ludick was sent packing at 59 off 33 in the 14th over. Khan, back from the CPL, chipped in 19 not out off 12 deliveries, but Houston came up 11 runs short. The second game was not as close. Houston only managed 136/9 thanks to a 4-wicket haul from Abheyender Singh. The Grizzlies had few problems in the chase which was led by Zia Muhammad Shahzad’s 74 not out. Khan took the only wicket for Houston in the first over, bowling Karan Chandel.
Semifinal 1: Empire State Titans vs. New Jersey Stallions, Morrisville, NC – October 2nd
New Jersey beat Empire State both times in the regular season and got off to a great start in this game, taking all 10 Titans wickets and keeping the total to a low 125. Ramrattan was caught behind in the second over of the chase without scoring, but Rihki, back from USA duty, and Barnwell took up the slack to get New Jersey in position. Jon Ross Campbell, the big man from Jamaica, finished the game with a timely 32 not out off 20 to send the Stallions to the finals.
Semifinal 2: Silicon Valley Strikers vs. Golden State Grizzlies, Morrisville NC – October 2nd
Silicon Valley won both games in the regular season as well, and Chand and his fellow opener Rahul Jariwala contributed 59 and 45 not out respectively to post a 168 total. Golden State lost the dreaded three wickets in the power play, and as often plays out, the middle and bottom order were not strong enough to reach the target. Abishek Paradkar and Kulvinder Singh were especially tough on the Grizzlies batting lineup, each taking two wickets, with Singh giving up a scant 19 runs in his four overs. The Strikers won by 33 runs and advanced to Sunday’s showdown with New Jersey.
Final: Silicon Valley Strikers vs. New Jersey Stallions, Morrisville, NC – October 3rd
Netravalkar, returned from Oman, and Singh upped their bowling game in the final. Singh had the ball moving in the air and took three Stallions wickets, and Netravalkar only allowed 17 runs off four overs with two wickets of his own. Rikhi and Mukkamala each had a good run for New Jersey but could never really accelerate, with Mukkamala falling to Singh on a vicious in-swinger in the 12th over and Rikhi going down in the next over against Netravalkar. Wiig had a nice cameo of 17 off 9 to get the total to 141, but everyone knew that with Chand padding up to open the batting, this would be a difficult number to defend. Chand, Jariwala, and Jayasuriya were all dismissed during the power play, giving New Jersey some hope, but Silicon Valley’s deep batting lineup stepped up. Narsingh Deonarine, a 38-year-old veteran from Guyana, took over the scoring and along with another West Indies mainstay, Roshon Primus, they finished the game with 11 balls to spare. Deonarine’s relatively careful and surehanded 52 off 43 and Primus’ equally circumspect 31 off 25 was all that was needed for the low target of 142. Silicon Valley took home the inaugural title as Deonarine took Player of the Match honors. Chand hung around and signed autographs and spoke at length to about 15 or so local youth players after the game. It was a great scene for Minor League Cricket, which is based in the Silicon Valley area, to see one of their flagship franchises take the trophy at one of their best grounds.
League MVP honors went to Hammad Azam, captain of the Golden State Grizzlies and leading overall impact player. Eastern Division MVP was Christopher Barnwell from New Jersey. Southern Division MVP was Corne Dry from Atlanta Fire. Ryan Scott of Michigan won MVP honors from the Central, and of course Azam won MVP in the Western Division as well.