Minor League Cricket review part 2: Team Mat

New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers celebrate in the MiLC Exhibition

This year’s Minor League Cricket was an exhibition of the depth of skill and talent amongst American and expat players living in the USA.

Most cricket hotspots throughout the country owe their existence to passionate go-getters seeking to enjoy the pastime of their country of origin. As clubs grow to become leagues, public parks and municipal fields install artificial wickets to accommodate demand. Youth cricketers grow up playing on astroturf and mat wickets on mostly undersized, multi-use grounds with lumpy, thick outfields. This, by and large, encapsulates ‘American conditions’.

As ACE, USAC and entrepreneurs with deep pockets add turf wickets across the country, the quality of cricket will improve. In the meantime, cricket leagues around the country add players by the hundreds, and so artificial surfaces will remain the backbone of American cricket for the foreseeable future. This appears true for Minor League Cricket, at least for the next couple of seasons, as franchise owners are obligated to secure turf within the next ‘two-to-three years.’

USA Cricket intends to use MiLC as the standard for national T20 team selection. With 59% of the recent exhibition season having been played on mat or astroturf, clearly USAC will have to factor both turf and artificial surfaces into player analysis.

Team Mat

As discussed in Team Turf, some regions of the exhibition season played more games on artificial surfaces than others. Teams in the Eastern and MidWest regions played all of their games on artificial wickets, while Georgia and Texas regions played games on turf and artificial. None of the California teams played any games on artificial surfaces. Teams within divisions often didn’t play the same number of games. Obviously this should mean that teams in the Eastern and MidWest regions had a better chance of selection in Team Mat than any of the others. Likewise, we won’t see any players from California honoured.
Statistically speaking, it’s impressive how close three of these divisions were in terms of first innings scores. Of divisions with games on artificial wickets, the Eastern Division found runs marginally more difficult to come by in the first innings (9.12 runs/over in first innings), followed by the Chicago region (9.15 runs/over in first innings), then Texas (9.17 runs/over in the first innings), with Georgia scoring nearly a full run per over faster than the rest (10.06 runs/over in the first innings). This has been factored into my team selection. 

Darpan Patel of Atlanta Param Veers celebrates the first ever MiLC century in Atlanta. (Photo: MLC)

Opening Batters – 

Darpan Patel, Atlanta Param Veers – 335 runs from 138 balls across four innings on mat! The 36 year old all rounder was the MVP of the South, finished with two centuries, averaged 83.75 on artificial surfaces, and took seven wickets with the ball across 17 overs. Darpan had not yet played on turf when he failed to score at Church Street Park, but his dominance on the mat in Atlanta was undeniable. If you take away Darpan’s three first innings scores on mat, the first innings RPO (runs per over) for the whole division drops more than a half run from 10.06 to 9.54. 

Rameez Raja, Houston Hurricanes – After Darpan, Rameez was the only batter in MiLC to record two centuries. Rameez is also the only batter to score a century both on turf and artificial surfaces, and narrowly missed out on Team Turf inclusion. Famous name, famous family, but it’s Raja’s 243 runs from 136 balls in four innings at an average of 122.5 which earned him his place in Team Mat, as well as the Central MVP.

Honourable Mentions – Openers absolutely dominated on artificial surfaces, and many deserve mention. NJ Stallion’s Dominique Rikhi scored 211 across four innings at an average of 70.33 and earned the Best Batter award in the Eastern division. Rishi Bhardwaj scored 287 at a strike rate of 156.83 for Atlanta Fire, with three fifties across five innings, earning him Best Batter for the South. Jaskaran Malhotra scored 169 from 114 in three innings on Atlanta mats with three stumpings and two run outs before transforming from super keeper into an all rounder worthy of Team Turf. Chanderpaul Hemraj scored 152 in six innings opening for NJ Somerset Cavaliers, including 6 sixes in one over to help the Cavs beat The Philadelphians on October 4th. His bowling was superb to boot (6.53 ER). Rayyankhan Pathan didn’t waste the power play for Irving, scoring a blistering 134 from 77 balls across four astroturf innings. 

Top and Middle Order Batters – 

Shaheer Hasan, Chicago Blasters – Shaheer Hasan scored 154 at a strike rate of 167.39 for an average of 51.33 for the Chicago Blasters on astroturf, and won the Central MVP. Starting the season as the Blasters’ number three, Shaheer was moved to an opening role. His 101 in an opening partnership with Fahad Babar helped the Blasters to a ten wicket win over the Michigan Cricket Stars in 16.3 overs on September 27. 

Aaron Jones, New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers – 80 runs from 65 balls after the first three games was a below league average start, but USA Cricket’s top accumulator turned it around in games four and five to sail into the Eastern division runs lead, ending with 286. Jones scored 99 from 55 and 105 from 48 balls in his fourth and fifth innings in an October 3 double header against Empire State Titans to blast NJSC into first place for good. 

Karan Kumar, Chicago Catchers – The Catchers captain had one excellent innings in his three games, but it was huge. His 113 from 50 not out put the game just out of reach for the chasing rival Chicago Blasters in the final game of the exhibition season for both teams. Kumar’s massive strike rate of 201.37 and average of 73.5 meant that the rest of his team needed to score at only 131.61 to equal par. Kumar also contributed two wickets in six middle overs of off-break bowling. 

Garth Garvey, Atlanta Param Veers – Darpan Patel might have set the table for APV, but Garth Garvey cleaned it up. Regularly providing a big boost while finishing for the Param Veers, the Jamaican first-class cricketer scored 182 at at a strike rate of 195.7 in four furious innings on mat to help APV to a 3-1 record in Georgia. Garvey did not bowl on artificial wickets, but took one wicket in four overs at an economy rate of 6.0 on turf. 

Honourable Mentions – Former USA smasher Syed Abdullah scored 198 at a strike rate of 157.14 in six innings batting third for the table toppers in the Eastern division. Jaladh Dua scored 187 at a strike rate of 123.84 in three innings for Empire State Titans. Waseem Shahzehd blasted 99 runs in a hurry for Empire State, striking at 198 and averaging 33. 

Aaron Jones and Syed Abdullah celebrate a big partnership for NJSC in the MiLC Exhibition. (Photo: MLC)

All Rounders – 

Adil Bhatti, DC Hawks – DC had their exhibition season cut short to only two games, due to a positive Covid-19 case, but two games were enough for the former USA all-rounder to make his mark. Bhatti scored 63 from 37 and 57 from 33, and took two powerplay wickets in his five overs at an economy rate of 7.4 to keep DC undefeated.

Karima Gore, The Philadelphians – USA’s left arm orthodox all-rounder showed why he went first in the MiLC draft. Gore was typically economical with the ball, finishing with an economy rate of 5.08 in three innings. At the end, it was Gore’s elite fielding and clutch play which sealed his place in this team and, more importantly, The Philadelphians first win. Against New England Eagles on October 4, Gore scored 30 runs not out in the first innings while his team set a target of 140 for NEE, only eight runs more than the Cavaliers had scored against Philly in NJSC’s win earlier that same day. This time, the game belonged to Gore. With four overs for only 12 runs, Gore built pressure and deflated the chase with two runouts, including one on the final ball of the game to seal the one run win.

Honourable Mentions – Assad Fudadin scored 189 across four accumulating innings as MVP in the Eastern division, including an 80-run Man of the Match performance against Empire State Titans, and took five wickets at an economy rate of 6.88 in his 16 overs. Shaker Ahmed scored 144 at a strike rate of 130.91 in four innings for Michigan Cricket Stars and took two wickets at an economy rate of 6.86 in 14 overs with the ball. DC’s Navin Stewart took six wickets at an average of 11.67 and scored 61 lightning fast runs at a strike rate of 254.17 in his two innings, narrowly missing out. Atlanta Fire’s Sahil Charania took seven wickets and scored 119 runs at a strike rate of 208.77 in five games. Shawn Findlay took three wickets in 12 overs at an economy rate of 8.08 for NJSC, but his 129 runs at a strike rate of 184.29 stood taller. Amadullah Adil bowled eight overs at an economy rate of 8.88 with five wickets and scored 47 quick runs at a hyperreal strike rate of 261.11 for Chicago Blasters. 

Bowlers – 

Bruce Blackwood, New England Eagles – The Eastern division’s leading wicket taker, Blackwood did it with an economy well under par, at 6.89. In his five games and 19 overs, Blackwood took ten scalps, five in the death. Leading a deep division in wickets while maintaining such a low economy for a team finishing last is an accomplishment worth recognising.

Nosthush Kenjige, Irving Mustangs – The only player to make both Team Turf and Team Mat, Nosh forced his way in, earning Central’s Best Bowler in the process. In spite of playing just four games on Astroturf, Nosh led all bowlers on artificial surfaces in wickets, with figures of 15 overs, 111 runs, and eleven wickets. His incredible performance on September 27 against Austin Athletics, in which he factored into seven of Austin’s wickets either in the field (four catches), with the ball (four wickets), or both (one caught and bowled) earned the Mustangs a key win.

Jessy Singh, New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers – While Blackwood dominated the death, Jessy dominated the powerplay. The veteran USA quick totalled more wickets in the powerplay (six) than any bowler on artificial surfaces. Jessy’s economy rate of 7.10 put him well under the division mean, and his five wicket haul flattening a potent New Jersey Stallions top order was one of only three in MiLC on artificial wickets. 

Honourable Mentions – Versatile Hunain Amin took nine wickets in four games (four in the powerplay, four in the death) for Chicago Blasters, and did it at an economy rate of 6.75. Sikhander Soleja took nine wickets in 13.4 overs for Chicago Catchers, with five wickets coming in the death. Morrisville’s teenage star Rohan Phadke earned Best Bowler award for the South, and took eight wickets in eight overs on mat, including a five wicket haul against Atlanta Fire on September 20. Gavon Brown took five death wickets in four games for NJ Stallions, and three more in the powerplay, going for a tidy economy rate of 7.05. Manoj Acharya played a crucial role for Philly, taking six wickets in ten overs at an economy rate of 6.30. Junaid Khan took six wickets in four games on Astro for Irving, four in the death and two in the powerplay. Juanoy Drysdale’s minuscule economy rate of 4.92 from 12 overs helped Jessy Singh, Hemraj, and Muhammad Ghous (economy rate of 6.88 in 17 overs) fortify NJSC’s bowling attack. 

If all goes according to plan, there will come a time when all of these cricketers will get their chance to be measured on turf. Even then, the vastness and varied climates of the United States will create unique conditions in every corner. This variety should surely be a strength in the development of American cricket. Hope and opportunity will build as more turf wickets develop, and hope and opportunity will be the theme of Part Three of this MiLC review: Team U21.

Team Mat:

Darpan Patel, Atlanta Param Veers
Rameez Raja, Houston Hurricanes
Shaheer Hasan, Chicago Blasters
Aaron Jones, New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers
Karan Kumar, Chicago Catchers
Garth Garvey, Atlanta Param Veers
Adil Bhatti, DC Hawks
Karima Gore, The Philadelphians
Bruce Blackwood, New England Eagles
Nosthush Kenjige, Irving Mustangs
Jessy Singh, New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers

Next up: Team U21

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