MLC Draft Overview: Stars, Surprises and Snubs

Seattle's Harmeet Singh poses with Paxton Elrod as he's introduced as the top pick in the inaugural MLC Draft

All is clear for takeoff now for Major League Cricket, as the inaugural draft has concluded. Dozens of the top cricketers in the USA converged on the Johnson NASA Space Center outside of Houston, Texas in hopes of being selected by one of six MLC franchises ahead of the season launch in July. Here’s an overview of how it went: 

First Round

Harmeet Singh was the favorite amongst prognosticators to go first to the Seattle Orcas. The Left Arm Orthodox all rounder captained the Seattle Thunderbolts of Minor League Cricket to the 2022 MiLC Championship, and finished the competition as the top ranked player (out of 500+). Typically a finisher with the bat, Harmeet began to open batting for the Thunderbolts at the end of the 2022 regular season, with the team needing to boost run rate for any chance to make the playoffs in the hyper competitive MiLC West division.

“I was nervous a little bit, but I’m ecstatic actually, to be representing Seattle again,” Harmeet told Emerging Cricket. His goal in MLC this season is “exactly the same. I love winning, you know me, again, I will give my absolute everything to make sure Seattle wins again.” 

The second pick did not disappoint consensus, as Harmeet’s Minor League teammate, wicketkeeper batsman Andries Gous, went to the Washington Freedom. Gous finished in the top ten in MiLC rankings in 2022, and walloped 68 runs from 33 balls in his lone appearance in the Abu Dhabi T10. Andries ability to find gaps and score quickly with relatively safe shots in the powerplay put him in the top tier of domestic talent. 

Steven Taylor might be the best purely American cricket product since Bart King, and MI New York signaled their faith in the 29 year old star by taking him as the third overall pick. Electric with the bat and underrated with the ball, Steven’s rare talent finally gets overdue appreciation in the franchise cricket world. 

It’s worth noting that former USA Head Coach, J Arun Kumar currently serves the Mumbai Indians as assistant batting coach. Six of nine MI New York players drafted on Sunday have represented USA Cricket, including Nosthush Kenjige (fourth round), Monank Patel (fifth round), Shayan Jahangir (seventh round), Kyle Phillip (eighth round) and U23 selection Saideep Ganesh. 

With the fourth pick overall, the San Francisco Unicorns picked Corey Anderson. A one time record holder with the fastest century in ODI history for New Zealand, Corey is one of only a few left hand batting and left arm bowling all rounders in the country. Rarely taking the ball in two seasons of Minor League Cricket, Corey looked sharp bowling his quota in his lone game during the Champions Open during the MLC Combine in the week leading up to the draft, likely putting any possible concerns to rest. Considering Corey’s rare skillset, it’s fitting that he be the first ever draft pick for the Unicorns. 

It came to nobody’s surprise when the Los Angeles Knight Riders took Ali Khan with the fifth overall pick in the draft. Ali stormed onto the scene with the CPL’s Trinbago Knight Riders in 2018 and never looked back. The right arm yorker specialist has a knack for taking early wickets in big games, and there aren’t many skills with more value in T20 cricket. Already a two time CPL Champion, Ali’s only drawback is a history of injuries, most recently a fluke broken wrist suffered during a USA game against Jersey. But Ali seems back to his usual self, and will represent USA in Namibia next week during the 2023 ICC World Cup Qualifier Playoff. 

The Texas Super Kings brought an impressive entourage to Sunday’s draft. Cowboy hats in the crowd gave warning of the coming hoops and hollers when “Team Texas” announced their first round pick, Rusty Theron. Rusty first represented USA Cricket in 2019, brings IPL experience, and dominated Minor League batters in 2021, his only fully available Minor League Season. For a short tournament such as the 2023 Major League Cricket season, Rusty can prove to be a major difference maker. The Super Kings doubled down on right arm fast medium bowling South Africans when they took all rounder Calvin Savage with the very first “snake” pick of the second round. 

Big Names

The Unicorns added star power with MLC’s most high profile domestic, World Cup champion English fast bowler, Liam Plunkett. Now a resident of Philadelphia, Liam debuted with the Minor League Philadelphians in July of 2022 and immediately made an impact, defending 6 runs in a Super Over in Philly’s second consecutive super over finish. Still quite accurate, quicker than many give him credit for, and loaded with experience and know-how, Liam looked sharp and fit during the Champions Open. 

Drafted into Major League Cricket, from left: Zia Shahzad and Sami Aslam (Texas), Hammad Azam (MI NY), Saad Ali (Washington), and Ehsan Adil (MI NY)

Unmukt Chand thrilled India fans in 2012 when he captained the U19 side to claim the World Cup. In his two years in the USA, Unmukt has compiled the most runs in Minor League Cricket. Opening the batting for his Silicon Valley Strikers, Unmukt’s role as captain was to ultimately win games. In a league where U21 and U19 roles make a big difference, this emphasis on responsibility certainly had an effect on his advanced stats, and possibly lowered his draft stock. But perhaps the biggest effect on his draft position is the simple fact that top order batting was the deepest role in this draft. Still, at eighth overall, “UC” showed that he’s in high demand. 

Similarly to Unmukt, Sami Aslam’s abilities cannot be summarized by his Minor League statistics. The former Pakistan batter captained his Golden State Grizzlies in the West Division of Minor League Cricket, probably the toughest division in MiLC. Sami perhaps put too much responsibility on his own shoulders to bat long, but showed serious skill in the format last week in the Champions Open, as he has in other “Open” tournaments. Sami was a bargain as a fifth round selection for Texas Super Kings, where he joins Lahiru Milantha, Milind Kumar and Cody Chetty as domestic batters. Together with wicketkeeper Milantha, Texas feature two of the most versatile left handed batters in the draft. 

Surprises and Snubs

Coming into the draft, fans and faithful of Minor League Cricket would have been curious about how MiLC performances, international history, first class background, franchise experience, age, role, and more would factor into the decisions of Major League scouts. Naturally, every team proved to have a mind of their own, and the draft gives fans a look into their priorities. 

Many had lefty Shehan Jayasuriya pegged as a top three pick. The highest ranking domestic batter in Minor League cricket, and a handy off break bowler, Shehan annihilated bowlers in his role as number three for Silicon Valley Strikers. Shehan settled in with Seattle Orcas in the second round at pick number 12 overall, where he joins Harmeet Singh, Shubham Ranjane and Phani Simhadri of the 2022 MiLC Champion Seattle Thunderbolts, Cameron Gannon, Aaron Jones, Nauman Anwar, Angelo Perera and Matthew Tromp. On paper, it’s an entire team of players who could have easily gone earlier. 

Los Angeles Knight Riders selected 20 year old all rounder Ali Sheikh in the sixth round, 16 picks before the U23 round, a move which would have been very unlikely two weeks ago. Ali’s brilliant performance in the combine and Champions Open with the bat, ball and especially in the field, clearly weighed heavily with scouts, who knew they wouldn’t get him if they waited until the U23 round. 

Burt Cockley and Michael Klinger of the Washington Freedom enjoy their time during the MLC Draft

Likewise, consensus would have had Bhaskar Yadram going before the U23 round. Few domestic cricketers possess the raw power of Yadram, though it comes at the price of quickness in the field. Instead, Yadram slipped to LA as the fifth pick of the U23 round. Since many view Yadram as more ready to contribute in the MLC immediately than Sheikh, the Knight Riders draft strategy played out in the end.  

As always, some domestic roles prove deeper than others. In the USA, the deepest roles are top order batting, wicket keeping, and left arm orthodox bowling. This means that inevitably some deserving players will be drafted late or left out.

Wicketkeeper batsman Smit Patel is roundly considered one of the best in the USA. With Andries Gous, Monank Patel, Jaskaran Malhotra and Lahiru Milantha taken by the middle of the fifth round, and South Africa superstar Quinton De Kock announced for Seattle, San Francisco were able to push back the wicketkeeper selection. The situation proved bad luck for Smit (eighth rounders were paid significantly less), but helped the Unicorns draft a solid team on paper. 

Had any team decided to take Smit Patel ahead of San Francisco, for example had New York decided that Jaskaran would play as a batsman and that they wouldn’t fill that slot with an overseas player, then San Francisco could have still taken West Indies veteran Jahmar Hamilton without concern. 

While USA Cricket players were well represented (16 out of 54 players drafted have represented USA), several failed to find homes. 

Athletic all rounder Karima Gore heads the list of recent USA players who went undrafted. Joining Gore are Marty Kain, Ryan Scott, Gajanand Singh, Nisarg Patel, Sushant Modani, Xavier Marshall, Jessy Singh, Siva Kumar Duvvarpu, Abhishek Paradkar, Dominique Rikhi and Ian Holland. All of them have represented USA at one time or another since 2021. 

Perhaps the most surprising snub is former Sri Lanka bowler Amila Aponso. A veteran of 12 internationals for Sri Lanka, Amila is considered by many to be the top pure left arm orthodox bowler in the USA.

Amila’s exclusion underscores a painful reality for USA Cricket hopefuls in the role. With so many effective left arm orthodox bowlers in the country, it’s all but a requirement to be considered an all rounder in order to land a spot in the team. To Amila’s credit, his batting production was significantly above average in Minor League Cricket in 2022, and boosted him into the top 8% in “Total Impact” in Minor League Cricket. 

Also surprising was the omission of Michigan’s leg break googlie all rounder, Mohammad Mohsin. Mohsin was the top ranked all rounder to miss out, 14th overall amongst domestics in Minor League Cricket in Total Value. 

U23

Saiteja Mukkamalla is considered by many to be the top young batting prospect in the USA. Already with international experience, Sai will be only 19 by the start of the MLC season in July. In two Minor League Cricket seasons, Sai has twice helped his New Jersey Stallions to Finals Weekend batting at the top of the order. In spite of his accolades, Sai went last in the U23 portion of the draft to Texas.

With Ali Sheikh already off the board, the selection of Matthew Tromp at number one of the U23 round did not merit surprise. Washington and Los Angeles took the two U23 most ready to contribute immediately in Akhilesh Bodugum and Bhaskar Yadram. San Francisco took local prospect Sanjay Krishnamurthi, a highly regarded all rounder with a huge upside. New york, with the third U23 pick, settled on USA and East Bay Blazers (MiLC) batter Saideep Ganesh, who certainly bats with the intent appropriate for the format.

Still, being selected in the U23 at any slot is a feat, considering the young talent that went unselected. Former USA 19 representatives who have shone brightly in Minor League Cricket, such as Ray Ramrattan, and Abhiram Bolisetty failed to find a team, and others who have already represented USA Cricket at the senior level, such as Vatsal Vaghela, Rahul Jariwala, Yasir Mohammad and Ritwik Bahera were also left unselected.

A Second Chance

Considering the many talented cricketers that find themselves on the outside looking in, the importance and quality of Minor League Cricket cannot be understated as a proving ground for future drafts. 

Players who went unselected in the draft still have a chance to make a Major League team. Major League Cricket will bisect the Minor League Cricket season this summer. After the first half of Minor League Cricket, MLC teams will each have the opportunity to draft one additional player, meaning Gore, Mohsin, Aponso, Hamilton and MiLC standouts like former USA U19 Pranay Suri all have a chance to earn a spot. 

The squads as they stand:

Seattle Orcas – Harmeet Singh, Shehan Jayasuriya, Shubham Ranjane, Cameron Gannon, Aaron Jones, Nauman Anwar, Phani Simhadri, Angelo Perera, Matthew Tromp (U23), Quinton de Kock, Mitchell Marsh

Washington Freedom – Andries Gous, Mukhtar Ahmed, Obus Pienaar, Saurabh Netravalkar, Saad Ali, Dane Piedt, Sujith Gowda, Justin Dill, Akhilesh Bodugum (U23), Anrich Nortje, Wanindu Hasaranga

MI New York – Steven Taylor, Hammad Azam, Ehsan Adil, Nostush Kenjige, Monank Patel, Sarabjeet Singh Ladda, Shayan Jahangir, Usman Rafiq, Saideep Ganesh (U23)

San Francisco Unicorns – Corey Anderson, Liam Plunkett, Tajinder Singh, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Carmi Le Roux, Brody Couch, David White, Smit Patel, Sanjay Krishnamurthi (U23), Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis

Los Angeles Knight Riders – Ali Khan, Unmukt Chand, Jaskaran Malhotra, Nitish Kumar, Corne Dry, Ali Sheikh, Saif Badar, Shadley Van Schalkwyk, Bhaskar Yadram (U23)

Texas Super Kings – Rusty Theron, Calvin Savage, Lahiru Milantha, Milind Kumar, Sami Aslam, Cameron Stevenson, Cody Chetty, Zia Shahzad, Saiteja Mukamalla (U23)

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