The 2024 Major League Cricket Domestic Draft: low on hype, high on drama

The 2024 Major League Cricket Domestic Draft featured 20 players taken via a new format. Nate Hays gleans insight from the front office brass of the Washington Freedom, Seattle Orcas and San Francisco Unicorns to help describe how it all went down.

Adithya Ganesh, first overall selection in the 2024 MLC Domestic Draft, was a key contributor for East Bay Blazers in the 2023 MiLC season.

It’s been a year since the inaugural MLC Draft was presented to great fanfare at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The theme of space travel, the final frontier, teased the imagination of cricket enthusiasts who have long wondered what a mainstream American breakthrough would do for cricket. Fans and curious observers could follow the 2023 MLC Domestic Draft as it unfurled live on YouTube, and some even traveled hundreds of miles to bear witness in-person.

This year’s draft took place remotely and was not broadcast or streamed live. Instead, Major League Cricket provided a recap video on their MLC Network YouTube channel as a “premiere.” Hosts Nikhil Uttamchandani and Aaman Patel knowledgeably summarized Tuesday night’s events, interviewed players, and announced a few star overseas names. 

But in spite of the downgrade in hype, budget, and allegory, the 2024 MLC Domestic Draft is a unique, strategic, and creative thing to dissect. 

A new draft format

By the end of Thursday night’s 2024 Major League Cricket Domestic Player Draft and Season Preview, the names and draft positions of 20 domestic cricketers were announced, 13 of which would be joining MLC squads for the very first time.

MLC’s sophomore domestic draft class will join 33 previously retained domestics across Major League Cricket’s six teams making 53 domestics so far, with a supplemental draft scheduled for June 16 to fill out the squads.

While last year’s domestic draft was a simple snake draft, teams would be heading into this year’s draft with varying purse and team sizes. This imbalance necessitated an entirely new approach full of new wrinkles and challenges. 

With ten pay levels replacing “rounds,” decreasing incrementally from $75,000 to $10,000, plus a $5,000 U23 round, teams would have the option to draft, in turn, at each pay level, provided they had the purse available to do so. Teams could also draft twice at each pay level, if they still had the available purse, and only after other teams had a fair opportunity.

Heading into the draft, Texas Super Kings had the largest purse available at $150,000 with a maximum of three slots to fill. This meant that TSK could take one player at the $75,000 round, another at the next highest pay level of $65,000, and still have $10,000 left over to take a final player. Or, if they felt that the market was in their favor and their target would still be available at the next pay level, they could take two players at $65,000 and a third at $20,000. The potential combinations would be limited by their remaining purse after each pick, the available draft pool at each level, and their anticipation of other teams’ priorities and purse. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Seattle had only $60,000 available. The Orcas could draft as many as four players, but wouldn’t be able to pick a player until the $35,000 pay level at the earliest. 

Seattle’s small purse could be seen as validation of a job well done by the franchise in 2023. Four of Seattle’s retained domestics were drafted in the first four rounds, and their fifth retained player was drafted in the sixth. “We were very pleased with our Season One draft picks,” Seattle Co-Owner Sanjay Parthasarathy told Emerging Cricket. “Our domestic players’ consistent performances throughout the first season gave us the opportunity to retain them and to focus on specific roles for Season Two.”

The draft order was determined by the reverse finish in last year’s table, meaning LA Knight Riders ($115k purse) would pick first, followed by SF Unicorns ($110k), Washington Freedom ($70k), Texas Super Kings ($150k), Seattle Orcas ($60k) and MI New York ($95k).

By the time the dust had settled, $570,000 would be spent in total.

Early surprises

The first “round,” the $75,000 pay level, would kick off with only four teams holding enough purse to make a bid. LA Knight Riders had the first opportunity, and surprised many by selecting Adithya Ganesh. The 32 year old veteran from Tamil Nadu featured as a wicketkeeper for East Bay Blazers in 2023 in the West division of Minor League Cricket. In 2023, Ganesh’s Impact Per Innings of 4.8 ranked 25th among batters with more than five innings in MiLC. This rating essentially put Ganesh at 4.8 runs better than replacement (league average) per game in 2023.

LAKR’s pick of Ganesh left San Francisco with the opportunity to draft their prime target, Hassan Khan.

“Looking ahead at the draft, we had Khan as our number one ranked player and not having that first selection, there’s always a fear of the things you can’t control,” San Francisco’s Graham Manou explained. “Despite having had a look at what other teams needed  philosophically, we thought ‘You know Khan might not be available being the best player in the draft’ and it’s something that, at most drafts, generally you do tend to see the best players go.” 

“We were obviously a little bit surprised, but extremely happy to be able to secure Khan at that price point. We saw a lot of value in what he could potentially bring for the group, particularly with the international players that we are currently compiling.”

It only took a short stint in Minor League Cricket in 2023 for Khan to establish himself as a legitimate star. Khan’s 182 strike rate and 220 runs in 5 innings was enough to lead all batters in Impact Per Game at 20.1, more than two runs better than league runner up Corey Anderson’s 17.8. With the ball, Khan was equally impressive, ranking eighth in Impact Per Over, saving his team 2.39 runs per over better than the league average thanks to 11 wickets at a 4.89 economy. That he put up these figures in the Central division, the toughest in Minor League Cricket, was enough to plant him firmly as the favorite to be selected first overall. And as a left arm orthodox all rounder, Khan fulfilled a glaring need for the Unicorns, who took only 6 wickets with spin in 2023.

But the selection of their top rated cricketer didn’t come without a high cost. Spending $75,000 on a single slot left the Unicorns with only $35,000 for their final three players. And with their U23 slot currently occupied by Sanjay Krishnamurthy, each remaining player would cost at least $10,000. This reduced the Unicorns to spectators until at least the $15,000 round.

Texas delivered the next big surprise, taking young wicket keeper Joshua Tromp as the final player in the $75,000 round. Only a few days shy of 19 years old, Joshua finally clicked at the Minor League Cricket level in 2023, after watching his twin brother Matthew get drafted in the U23 round of the 2023 MLC Draft by Seattle. With 362 runs at a 133 strike rate in a finishing role for Houston in the Central Division, Joshua’s 6.5 Impact Per Match ranked him 15th overall, just ahead of LAKR’s Nitish Kumar (6.1). Though he was fairly certain to get picked before the U23 round, few would have predicted that an 18 year old would go 3rd overall at the $75,000 pay level. 

LA Knight Riders, SF Unicorns, and Washington Freedom did not have the cap space to pick in the $65,000 round, leaving Texas Super Kings to make their move and draft Raj Nannan.

Though his numbers during the 2023 Minor League Cricket season were a bit exaggerated, thanks to the bowling friendly wickets in the East Division, Nannan was a consistent, reliable star producer in Minor League Cricket for The Philadelphians. His 2023 MiLC Impact Per Over ranked just behind Washington Freedom and USA Cricket star Saurabh Netravalkar at -1.82, meaning he saved his team nearly two runs per over better than the league average bowler. And he batted well on those difficult wickets.

Nannan was the second of what would be six left arm orthodox bowlers taken in the MLC Domestic Draft in 2024, indicating that perhaps MLC franchises are taking note of what many have long considered a position of national strength. 

The only other team with enough cap space to pick in the $65,000 round was MI New York.

The purses were quickly getting smaller, and every team except TSK had at least two slots left to fill. LAKR had $40k in space for up to four slots, SF had $35k for up to four slots, Washington had $70k for up to four slots, TSK had $10k for one slot, and Seattle had $60k for up to four slots. This put MINY firmly in the driver’s seat with $95k in cap space with up to five slots to fill.

Teams did not have to end the draft with a full domestic roster, and could fill out their squads with the Supplemental Draft in June. However, each team had to leave the draft with their $5,000 U23 slot filled.

New York could yield their turn to pick in the $65k round in hopes of landing their man in the $60k round, or even the $50k round, without much worry that any team would spend the vast majority of their purse to pick ahead of them. Only Washington could really threaten their pick, but with four players still needed, it was unlikely that Washington would spend that much on just one player in the $50k round, and certainly not in the $60k round. 

Nevertheless, New York shockingly opted not to test Washington at all, and selected Ruben Clinton immediately in the $65,000 round. 

Ruben Clinton took on a compiler role for Socal Lashings in Minor League Cricket, as his team fought to stay relevant in a crowded playoff race punching slightly above their weight in the competitive West. As a result of this batting approach, Ruben’s Impact Per Match rating was exactly 0.0, making him one of two MiLC batters (along with Surf Rider and former USA Cricket all rounder Marty Kain) to finish 2023 exactly at league average production per innings.

In spite of his average production in MiLC in 2023, Clinton impressed during the 2024 Men’s T20 National Championship in Houston just before the draft, clearly catching the eye of MINY scouts when he finished his first ever USA Cricket tournament game as the Man of the Match with two wickets and 30 runs scored. Ruben ended the Nationals as the sixth leading run scorer, along with three wickets at an economy of 4.75. 

The high draft position must have buoyed Clinton after he fell through the cracks with USA Cricket selectors. In spite of his top ten performance with both bat and ball, Ruben wasn’t asked to join the USA Men’s Training Squad following the National Championships. 

Considering the retention of 2023 first pick Steven Taylor, Ruben gives MINY two left hand batting openers who bowl right arm finger spin. This means New York has $130,000 of their domestic purse tied up in one role.

Seattle and Washington make their move

Teams moved through the $60k, $50k, and $40k rounds without a player taken, as only Washington had the purse space to reasonably make a selection. 

At the $35,000 round, Washington had a difficult choice to make. If they passed up their turn, Seattle could easily select one of their targets, considering that Seattle had $60k in space. But if they waited another round, they could potentially double up and still have money left over for solid contributors.

Seattle, already happy with their retained domestics, could either pass on the $35k round, or ensure that they get their guy right now.

Seattle’s guy turned out to be 2021 Minor League Cricket MVP and 2023 MLC and MiLC champion Hammad Azam. And the $35k round seemed like a great place to claim their first pick of the draft. 

“Our plan was to get three or four role players, because it’s a longer season this year,” Parthasarathy explained. “As always, we rely on a combination of data and a player’s fit with our team’s character and system. Hammad was at the top on both counts, so we were happy to get him.”

While Hammad certainly gives Seattle variety, depth and experience, his selection left the Orcas with $25k in cap space for up to three more players. This put Seattle out of contention for the $25k and $20k rounds. 

As it worked out, it also left Washington with their preferred targets still in the pool and the largest purse going at $70k.

Washington would indeed spend two picks in the $25,000 round. First up, Hampshire all-rounder Ian Holland, a versatile veteran of 21 international games for USA Cricket. Holland has proved to be a key role player as the third fast bowler for USA Cricket, taking 29 wickets in 21 matches across ODI and T20i, while adding over 400 runs in 17 innings. Holland has also accumulated 68 First Class and 51 List A matches.

Next, left arm orthodox spinner Amila Aponso, San Francisco’s Wild Card (supplemental) selection in 2023. A veteran of 12 international matches for Sri Lanka, Amila has starred for Atlanta Fire since 2021, currently sixth in wickets all time in Minor League Cricket with 55 in 41 innings at a 5.84 economy.

“We were surprised that Ian Holland went through that low,” Washington Freedom General Manager, Michael Klinger told EC. “We could have picked him up earlier. We took a calculated risk because we only had a small amount of salary cap left. We wanted at least three, if not four, different skill sets amongst that. So we took a calculated risk that he would slip through a touch lower.”

“We also obviously were making sure we kept an eye on other teams’ salary remaining once it got to those levels and the percentages were in our favor to continue, to let it go a couple more rounds. And with the rules in the draft, you’re allowed to pick up two players in the same round as long as everyone else passes and it comes back to your turn.”

“Strategically, once it got to 25, we knew with 70k salary left that to spend 50k on the two main players we were after was the best way to go. So we went for 25 and 25 for Holland and Amila Aponso, who we felt was the best left arm orthodox in the draft with the most experience, and played the highest level of cricket.”

“We felt getting those two in our first two draft picks was pretty much what we were after.”

LAKR and SF Unicorns play it safe; MINY and Seattle bet on youth

The $20,000 round saw two fast bowlers selected. LAKR brought back Corne Dry, their fifth pick from 2023, but this time at half the cost. Corne has established himself as one of the top fast bowlers in the USA over the past three seasons for Atlanta Fire, where he’s third all time in wickets in MiLC with 72 in 42 matches. A tough rookie season in MLC kept him from being retained at a higher fee.

Corne’s Atlanta rival Heath Richards, of MiLC’s Lightning, was scooped up next by MINY. Richards, injured much of 2023, finished 2022 with an Impact Per Over rating of -1.34, good enough for 28th in Minor League Cricket, after taking 14 wickets in 12 innings.

The $15,000 round was on deck, and it was time for San Francisco to rejoin the action. Coming into the round, they had a strong domestic fast bowler corps in Liam Plunkett, Carmi LeRoux and Brody Couch; talented left arm spinning all-rounders Hassan Khan and Sanjay Krishnamurthi (U23); and sensational middle order batter Corey Anderson. But among those not retained from 2023 was third round pick and batter Tajinder Singh. 

While Tajinder didn’t live up to his third round price point in 2023 (only 22 runs in 5 innings), he presented a safe option for San Francisco at the $15,000 price point. 

“We felt it was really important to maintain our core group of players in the Quicks, you know, they’re a valuable commodity” Manou explained. “We feel we’re pretty fortunate with those that we’ve got in Carmi, Liam, and Brody. And obviously Corey’s an outstanding and proven player and Sanjay is a fantastic young talent and individual.”

“So we needed to create some space. And Tajinder was probably one of those players that we saw a lot of value in what he could potentially bring for the group, particularly with the international players that we are currently compiling. So when it got to our selection, we certainly considered the role that we felt he could play, and there are multiple roles I think that Tajinder can offer. Having him available at that point was great. A known commodity, someone that we’ve really enjoyed working with to date was a no-brainer for us and we’re really looking forward to having Tajinder back.” 

With a talented batting all-rounder in Hammad Azam already in the bag for Seattle and $25k remaining in their budget, the Orcas were feeling good about their domestic squad. But rather than risk waiting through a sure to be busy $10k round, Seattle decided to take their pick at the $15k round, and then fill out the rest of the team with a U23 and a June supplemental pick.

The best available player on their board at this point was 21 year old left arm orthodox all-rounder Ali Sheikh, who had been selected in the 6th round in 2023 by LAKR but not retained. Ali continued to build his resume in Minor League Cricket in 2023, helping his Dallas Mustangs to the league title, with an Impact Per Over rating of -0.5 with the ball, and an Impact Per Match rating of 3.0 with the bat. 

Ali famously took guard in the 10th over of 2023 MiLC Final with his team in a 41 for 4 hole and built a 56 run partnership with Nosh Kenjige to revive the innings and help the Mustangs to a 44 run victory over NJ Somerset Cavaliers to claim the league title. 

“We want to help develop the pool of domestic players and are committed to developing young players with long-term potential,” Parthasarathy explained. “Having said that, Ali Sheikh is a young player with substantial experience. His strike rate and batting averages are good, and compare favorably with many seasoned players. He is a wonderful fielder and has a great attitude.”

Huge value in the final round

Heading into the $10,000 round, LAKR, SF Unicorns, and Washington Freedom had $20k each to spend. Texas, Seattle and MINY had $10k each. This was the last chance to take a senior domestic cricketer before the U23 round in this draft. Any slots not filled by the end of this draft would have to be filled during the Supplemental Draft on June 16.

After drafting a wicket keeper and a fast bowler, LA Knight Riders kicked off the busiest round of the draft with a left arm orthodox bowling all-rounder. Trinidad born Derone Davis, former CPL veteran with Windies U19 experience, earned a place in the draft thanks to three seasons of rock steady performances in MiLC’s East Division. Davis finished 2023 in the conversation for East Division MVP after producing a 4.4 Impact Per Match rating with the bat and a -0.51 Impact Per Over rating with the ball for perennial contenders New Jersey Stallions. On top of his competency with bat and ball, Davis seemed to make a jaw-dropping play in the field every single weekend.

San Francisco was up next. With $20k remaining and two players needed this round, the Unicorns would need to wait for Washington after making their first selection of the round. With plenty of batters and wicket keepers still available, San Francisco would settle on Karima Gore. Overlooked last season after missing the combine, Gore’s resume includes 24 games of International experience for USA Cricket, regular playing time as a part of the Leeward Islands, and a terrific record in Minor League Cricket. 

Gore has batted more than bowled for Leeward since his last appearance with USA in 2021, but his fielding prowess is almost unmatched in the Associate cricket world. His recent form thrust him into the conversation for Major League Cricket, in spite of a wealth of left arm orthodox options across the country. Just a few days prior to the draft, Gore scored 240 runs in an innings in Antigua’s domestic two day competition. With San Francisco in possession of two left arm orthodox all rounders, Gore gives the team options at a position they’ve clearly got pegged for a domestic. And you won’t find a better option for a 12th man fielder if he fails to crack the playing eleven. 

Washington would indeed select in the $10,000 round, making San Francisco wait on their final pick. Lahiru Milantha, TSK’s third round selection in 2023, scored 32 runs in at a 94.11 strike rate and was dropped after two innings while TSK’s overseas keeper Devon Conway finished fourth in runs. This made Milantha an expensive redundancy, but his reputation with the gloves and proficiency as an opener in Minor League Cricket made him an appealing selection to backup star opener and keeper Andries Gous. After three seasons in MiLC, Milantha ranks 12th in runs with 1,031 runs at a 131.67 strike rate in 34 innings. Gous, should he miss games, leaves some big shoes to fill, ranking first in MiLC career runs with 1,579 at a strike rate of 137.9 in 44 innings. The selection of Milantha gives Washington the two highest drafted keepers from the 2023 draft at a bargain total price.

“We were keen to get a spare keeper batter, just in case anything happened to Andries Gous, as it did last year with a calf injury at the back end of the tournament,” Klinger explained. “We’re really happy to get Lahiru Milanth, such a high quality player who’s played for his country, at quite a low (price) level. To be able to get him to play for us, he could also play as a spare batter if required as well.” 

While Washington’s domestic output in 2023 was among the best in the league, they played the entire season without a left handed batter until the seventh position. Milantha gives Washington more “freedom” to make matchups with their batting order.

The round then came back to San Francisco, who selected Jahmar Hamilton with the final pick of the draft before the U23 selections. A standout with the gloves and a basher in the late middle order, Hamilton gives the Unicorns an option for another domestic role in their team. A teammate of Karima Gore in the Leeward Islands setup, with one test and one ODI for West Indies to his name, “Pup’s” sensational keeping and explosive finishing have helped solidify Atlanta Fire as a top team in Minor League Cricket.

“We feel really fortunate to have been able to secure Gore and Hamilton,” Manou told EC. “Gore certainly, in conjunction with Khan and our stable of quicks, allows us a few opportunities for how we will strategize with our international players now as we look to fill out our list there. But yeah, two extremely well credentialed cricketers and both currently in really good form.”

With no U23 needed, San Francisco had wrapped up their 2024 domestic draft, and were happy with their haul. 

“It’s nice to have a raft of options to fit in the XI and even Sanjay (Krishnamurthi), who’s still of rookie age, having spent some time with him out here in Australia playing against some of our local and interstate talent. We’re really buoyed by what he can offer in the future and, and possibly even this year he’s gonna fit in nicely if he does get his opportunity.”

“Going back to Hamilton and Gore, again, we’re really, really excited by those two joining our group. And again, it provides some great flexibility to what we’re offering. You just never know what opportunities are around the corner, particularly with the amount of cricket that some of the players are playing with injuries and so forth there, their role and responsibility may be quite impactful as the tournament plays out.”

Rookie roulette

The U23 round began with only LAKR, Washington, Seattle and MINY needing to draft. 

Los Angeles, with last season’s U23 Bhaskar Yadram aged out, drafted first and selected Matthew Tromp, twin brother of TSK’s Joshua Tromp. After spending 2023 as Seattle’s U23, Tromp struggled a bit in Minor League Cricket, but his undeniable talent meant that he was sure to be picked up again this year. 

Washington, who’s U23 slot was vacated by retained 24 year old offspinner Akilesh Bodugum, picked next and took young USA Cricket leg spinner Yasir Mohammad. With six international matches behind him, Yasir is challenging for a permanent place in the USA squad. At only 21 years of age, Yasir gives Washington a player to develop for years before he ages out.

“We felt he was probably the best leg spinner left in the draft,” Klinger explained. “There’s obviously a couple who are already in other teams. So we did a fair bit of research on him. He’s a confident young player, which is very important in a leg spinner.” 

“He’s very good in the field and gives, you know, Ricky and our captain, once that’s named, an option if they want to go with an extra spinner, or a little bit of an X factor in the team. So working with someone like Ricky Ponting and some of our overseas players that we’re going to announce in the coming months, I think he’s going to learn a heap and only going to get better and better.”

Training camps with overseas partners have been a big part of development for many of the MLC teams, particularly Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington. 

“Washington Freedom, in conjunction with Cricket New South Wales, ran a training camp over the BBL period last year. If we’re able to do that again, someone like Yasir to come out and train with the BBL clubs and play matches against high quality opposition is only going to help him going forward as well and help him hopefully make the USA team down the track.” 

Seattle surprised some when they didn’t retain 2023 U23 Matthew Tromp. With three players claimed under the age of 24 in the senior rounds, and Matthew taken first overall in the U23 round, it appeared that Seattle had taken an unnecessary risk. But the U23 pool presents a decent amount of talent left to choose from.

Left arm pacers don’t grow on trees, and Ayan Desai is a rare fruit. Leading the 2023 Socal Lashings bowling attack with 14 wickets in 10 games at an economy of 5.76, the 21 year old ranked 13th in MiLC Impact Per Over at -1.99 in 2023, which was fifth among bowlers who appeared in more than 7 games. Desai had also just been selected to represent the West Zone in the 2024 Men’s T20 National Championships. 

With Desai in the fold, Seattle had ended their domestic draft. Confident with their domestic situation, and happy with their approach and preparation, Seattle will enter the June Supplemental Draft with $5,000 left to spend. 

“We are very fortunate to have GMR Sports, co-owners of Delhi Capitals, helping us with our team,” Parthasarathy told EC. “Their advice and relationships have helped us throughout the process.”

 “The domestic draft is important to us for multiple reasons,” Parthasarathy continued. “Domestic players are the future of cricket in the USA. Developing the domestic player roster is what will build USA’s national team in the long run. And of course, it’s been shown the world over that domestic players determine the success of teams in franchise tournaments.” 

In 2023, MI New York selected Saideep Ganesh as their U23, but the young opener never joined the team after suffering a back injury. Wicketkeeper Slade Van Staden was flown in from South Africa to fill the role, and even played in a game. But New York did not retain Van Staden, and now picked last in the 2024 U23 round.

Rushil Ugarkar, the preferred U21 for the 2023 MiLC Champion Dallas Mustangs, earned his selection thanks to an immense performance in the 2023 MiLC postseason. In three Super Eights games, Ugarkar took 10 wickets at a 7.75 economy, helping Dallas into the final. Though he did not bowl in the Championship Final, his throw from the boundary to runout Adil Bhatti ended the game, officially sealing the championship for the Mustangs.

Ugarkar’s selection represented the end of the 2024 MLC Domestic Draft, but the June Supplemental Draft gives a second life to a few quality domestic cricketers who were left out. Any cricket played between now and then is cricket that matters for a fortunate few.

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