‘Fifty on artificial is worth fifteen on turf.’ Morrisville Cardinals coach Alvin Kallicharran’s words echoed as I reviewed the Minor League (MiLC) exhibition award winners announced by USA Cricket on Thursday night.
MiLC had been pitched as the primary pathway to the USA T20 Men’s Team. Turf wickets and a centralised and relatively consolidated talent pool was the package deal. The MiLC was also to function as a bridge (finally) for young talent from USA U-19 to the USA Senior Men’s Team. Kallicharran’s comparison might be harsh, but there’s no disputing the importance of turf experience to a nation with USA’s aspirations.
By the conclusion of the competition, just 41% of games (21 out of 51) had been played on natural turf. This presents an obvious challenge for analysis, as the turf games were considerably lower scoring than games on artificial surfaces. For example, Golden State Grizzlies Neeraj Goel’s 6.88 economy rate (ER) positioned him just about at the mean in the only all-turf division compared to average run rate required after the first innings. Meanwhile, NJ Stallions Oraine Williams’ 7.00 ER was better than two runs more efficient than the Eastern division average run rate required (RRR) at the break on artificial wickets.
If comparing results on different surfaces wasn’t a big enough challenge, many teams played half of their games on turf, and every team seemed to play a different number of games. Six teams played eight games, but only two others played more than five. Nine teams played five or fewer games. Two divisions played exclusively on artificial pitches, and only two of the three teams in the Georgia division played on turf. In all, only 8 of 17 teams saw time on turf.
In order to account for some of these differences, I’ve decided to name three “All MiLC Exhibition Teams”: Team Turf, Team Mat, and Team U-21. This edition covers Team Turf. (These teams are not endorsed by MiLC or USA Cricket)
Clearly, the Bay Area division would have a leg up, with all twelve division games on natural turf. The Georgia region played only two games on turf, both between Morrisville Cardinals and Atlanta Param Veers, and therefore it would take a significant performance to earn a place on Team Turf from this division. The Texas division finds itself a bit handicapped for both Team Turf and Team Mat inclusion, having played seven games on turf and five on artificial wickets. Still, Texas earned representation in both tournament teams. If at all possible, I wanted to include at least one player from each of these divisions.
Rahul Jariwala, Silicon Valley Strikers – One of the youngest players in the tournament, the 16-year old USA U-19 wicket keeper ended on a perfect note and helped his team capture the Bay Area division on the last day of play. With his Strikers and the East Bay Blazers tied in the standings at five wins and two losses (5-2), Jariwala produced the second highest individual score in the division, a Man of the Match worthy 77 runs from 57 balls. For the tournament, his 176 total runs were good enough for third most in the Bay Area, and he led all turf openers.
Prajith Mudi, Austin Athletics – This could have gone to three or four different openers, but former Andhra keeper Mudi stepped in and filled a big hole, helping boost the team from the cellar to middle of the division in the process. In Austin’s three turf innings leading up to Mudi’s debut as opener, Athletics openers averaged only 11.17. This left Austin struggling at zero wins, two losses, and a washout on turf (0-2-1), and 1-3-1 overall. Then Mudi stepped in to steady the ship with innings of 44 and 36 to give Austin the foundation they needed to complete chases of 132 and 121.
Honourable Mentions – Rameez Raja’s 103 in a losing effort against Austin Athletics was the only century of the tournament on turf, however he scored only 27 more in his subsequent 3 games. Shiva Vashishat’s pair of fifties for East Bay Blazers led all turf openers, but he scored in double figures in only three of eight innings. Golden State Grizzlies Mario Rampersaud’s 162 runs were good enough for second amongst all turf openers, but he struggled with run rate at times on a team which typically needed to score big.
Top and middle order batters
Narsingh Deonarine, Silicon Valley Strikers (SiVS) – The 37-year-old former Windies Test all rounder started slowly, scoring just 25 runs in his first three innings, but finished with a bang, helping SiVS surge into first place with scores of 47* (29), 83* (48), 36 (28), and 46 (28) in his final four innings. First in strike rate amongst all Bay Area batsmen with at least 100 runs, the left-hander struck at 147.21, and was second in runs with 237.
Sanjay Krishnamurthi, East Bay Blazers – Perhaps nobody in the Bay Area made the most of his chances like Western MVP Sanjay Krishnamurthi. The 17 year old fully arrived on the national radar, leading all batsmen in runs on turf with 264 runs at a brisk strike rate of 132.66. Sanjay scored 37 or more runs in five of his seven innings, accumulating two Man of the Match awards. His left arm orthodox bowling across 16 overs went for a 6.25 ER and four wickets for an average of 25.
Ali Samad, Austin Athletics – Ali Samad was the only batsman to score two half-centuries on turf in the Texas division, recognised as Man of the Match in both. In the first, a three wicket win against Houston on 19 September, Ali entered with the Athletics at 4-55 in the eighth over chasing a steep 169. Ali smashed 57 not out from 35 balls to lead Austin to victory with nine balls to spare. In the second, a six wicket win against Irving, Ali’s off break bowling strangled the Mustangs bats returning him figures of 1-13 off 4 overs, and his 50 runs from 51 balls from one down in the second innings put Austin in position to comfortably chase 132.
Gary Graham, Silicon Valley Strikers – Graham opened in the first game and scored three runs from 18 balls in a low scoring loss. Luckily for the Strikers he was moved to a finishing role. From that point on, Graham struck at a strike rate of 142.85, and finished the tournament with 133 runs at an average of 33.25. Graham also tallied two run outs in a close win over Golden State.
Honourable Mentions – Leaving Muhammad Junaid Malik out of the Turf XI was a tough choice. The big hitter finished fourth on turf in scoring with 162 runs and second in strike rate with 143.36. Shivam Mishra of the Blazers scored 128 at 109.4 and won Man of the Match honors for his 61 runs from 49 balls on 26 September against GSG.
Shadley Van Schalkwyk, Silicon Valley Strikers – Third on the Strikers list for runs with 139, the Wildcard from South Africa factored heavily into the team’s division-leading 6-2 finish. Shadley’s 67 runs from 54 balls on 19 September in a win over GSG earned him Man of the Match. With the ball, Shadley took 6 wickets in his 21.3 overs at a thrifty 6.09 ER. The First Class veteran also finished with two run outs in the field.
Jaskaran Malhotra, Morrisville Cardinals – Hoping to play his way back in the USA Men’s Team, Jaskaran captained the young Cardinals to the top of the table in the Georgia division. The wicket keeper batsman inserted himself as a bowler into the power play against Atlanta Param Veers on the turf at Church Street Park. The move proved to be much more than an experiment, building pressure in the first game, and sinking APV’s top order in the second to capture two big wins. Angling across from around the stumps or cramping batsmen from over the stumps, Jaskaran’s quicker right arm off break deliveries stymied APV and earned him figures of 3-30 off eight overs with a miserly 3.75 ER. Tack on four catches from the field, 35 runs across the two turf innings and a Man of the Match award, Jaskaran’s versatility earned him the lone spot in the team from the Georgia division.
Honourable Mention – Evroy Dyer scored 35 runs from only 13 balls in a Hail Mary effort against Morrisville, and was a reliable limiter with the ball, returning with 1-40 off 8 overs. Shayan Jahangir was a rock for the Houston Hurricanes, with turf figures of 5-73 off 15 overs with the ball and 69 runs off of 66 balls with the bat. Muhammad Waqas was leaned on by Irving, 5-58 off 14 overs bowling and 97 from 104 batting. Saurabh Netravalkar performed as advertised for Golden State Grizzlies at 9-188 off 32 overs with a 5.88 ER, and tacked on 72 runs from 65 balls across seven innings in a finishing role. Josh Dascombe always found himself in the middle of the action for East Bay Blazers, scoring 124 runs from 115 balls and claiming ten scalps across 24.2 overs at an efficient 6.37, plus one Man of the Match award.
Nosthush Kenjige, Irving Mustangs – Always a team minded player, the Central’s Best Bowler award winner’s line of 3-60 off 15 overs over four innings helped the Mustangs clinch the Texas division. In the middle, Nosh produced a frantic 26 runs from 17 balls, with only one dot and one boundary. Famous fitness, sharp fielding, and continued USA Men’s experience makes Nosh the perfect compliment to Irving’s youth.
Rusty Theron, East Bay Blazers – Leading from the front, Rusty looked a mile ahead of the competition during the first half of the tournament. Productivity slipped as the season went on, but not enough to keep Rusty from achieving the Western Best Bowler award. Ending at 12-188 off 32 overs and an ER of 5.88, the USA fast bowler immediately set the standard for the league.
Nick Mclachlan, East Bay Blazers – Appearing in six of the Blazers’ eight games, the left arm pacer took at least one wicket every innings and did so every 11.2 runs. Nick finished with an eye-popping line of 10-112 off 23.4 overs and his 4.73 ER made every innings a mountain for his competition.
Honourable Mention – Sheryar Khan’s 10-161 off 26 overs for SiVS made him a tough pass, and his 21 runs from 10 balls with the bat is a tempting bonus. Abbas Jafri was right there with his SiVS teammate, 10-168 off 26 overs, and bashed 12 runs from the only three balls he saw. Saad Khan was a highlight for GSG, going 6-103 off 18 overs. Adnan Haroon was terrific in four turf innings for Houston, 6-70 off 15 overs. Rohan Phadke built the pressure for Morrisville Cardinals going 1-22 off 6 overs, and Abhiram Bolisetty knocked them down 5-37 off 7 overs, with a Man of the Match in the Cardinals first turf win against APV.
Though they were lower scoring, the turf games in the MiLC were fun to watch, and often very close. Here’s hoping USA and ACE bring more turf grounds to the MiLC soon.
Rahul Jariwala, Silicon Valley Strikers
Prajith Mudi, Austin Athletics
Narsingh Deonarine, Silicon Valley Strikers (SiVS)
Sanjay Krishnamurthi, East Bay Blazers
Ali Samad, Austin Athletics
Gary Graham, Silicon Valley Striker
Shadley Van Schalkwyk, Silicon Valley Strikers
Jaskaran Malhotra, Morrisville Cardinals
Nosthush Kenjige, Irving Mustangs
Rusty Theron, East Bay Blazers
Nick Mclachlan, East Bay Blazers
Next up: Team Mat
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