Major League Cricket, game 1: Get to know the domestics for TSK and LAKR

MLC 2023 Trophy

It’s July 13 in sunny Dallas, Texas and that means it’s finally time for Major League Cricket. The inaugural game features Ali Khan and the Los Angeles Knight Riders against Rusty Theron and the Texas Super Kings at 7:30pm local time. The international stars of MLC are well known by cricket fans around the world, so let’s take a look at the domestics who live and play right here in the USA.

Los Angeles Knight Riders

One of the things I love about this team is that their acronym is two letters shy of Lakers. That begs the question: Who is the Magic Johnson of the Knight Riders? This team is packed with an exciting variety of dynamic domestics. Let’s take a look at how each might factor into LAKR plans.

Ali Khan is the most internationally famous American product since Bart King at the turn of the 20th century. A veteran of the T20 franchise cricket circuit, Ali is also a major star for USA Cricket. Known by many as the “Yorker King,” Ali specializes in bowling the most difficult lengths for batters and consistently comes through in the toughest moments for his team. If Ali can claim wickets early, it will set the stage nicely for international stars Lockie Ferguson and Adam Zampa at the end of the power play and into the middle overs.

Jaskaran Malholtra almost certainly finds himself as the team’s wicket keeper, as no overseas options are included in the team. A world record holder, along with three others for smashing six consecutive sixes in an international over, Jaskaran is also featured in Jomboy Media’s ongoing Ball In Play League, an indoor hybrid of cricket and baseball designed in part to teach cricket to baseball fans.

Unmukt Chand is well known for helping India claim the 2012 U19 World Cup, but his record in Minor League Cricket has shown that he still has a knack for winning big games. Unmukt captained the Silicon Valley Strikers to the championship in 2021 and back into finals weekend in 2022. Unmukt is also the career leader in runs for Minor League Cricket. It appears as if Unmukt will open the season in the playing eleven and serve as LAKR’s backup wicket keeper, should Jaskaran not perform.

A fast bowling all rounder position will most likely be filled by a domestic as well, and LAKR have three strong options. 

Steady veteran Shadley Van Schalkwyk, a true all rounder for the Minor League Champion Seattle Thunderbolts, is the most balanced of LAKR’s options. Shadley possesses the experience and the mentality required to bowl reliably in the death, and would be a steadying presence in the late middle/early tail of the batting from the left side. 

Corne Dry brings a lot with the ball, as he’s shown for two seasons in Minor League Cricket leading the way for the South Division’s top team, the Atlanta Fire. The tall right arm quick can also put the ball into the seats with the bat. 

Bhaskar Yadram is a true powerhouse with the bat, blasting sixes as far as you’ll see anybody hit them. With the ball, he almost bowls off of the wrong foot, but is effective and skillful. Though not the swiftest in the field, the U23 selection has a bright future ahead of him and is too talented to hold back for long. 

Along with the splendid balance of Zampa and Narine, LAKR might want to add another spin option in their opening game against TSK. Luckily, they’ll have a good variety of spin styles to choose from domestically.

USA U19 all rounder Ali Sheikh’s tremendous performance in the draft combine resulted in his name being called before the U23 round, bringing attention to the young talent which abounds in the USA. Ali’s athleticism and effort in the field are difficult to match, and his left-arm finger spin bowling gives LAKR another bowler to trouble right handed batters. 

With so many quality left handed batters in the TSK lineup, don’t be surprised to see Nitish Kumar in the team. The former Canadian Captain moved to Texas in 2021 and though his primary role is as a top order batter, Kumar is a solid right arm off spin option. 

Top order batter Saif Badar, who moved to the USA from Pakistan recently, could also be used as a legbreak option if LAKR opt for his bat in the team. 

Gajanand Singh is coming off of his first ever ODI Century for USA, one of the few bright spots of the World Cup Qualifier tour. Gaj gives LAKR a left hand batting option in the middle of the order, and some handy off break bowling if needed. 

Predicted in the XI: Ali Khan, Jaskaran Malholtra, Unmukt Chand, Shadley Van Schalkwyk, Nitish Kumar 

Texas Super Kings – 

Essentially playing at home, as well as being part of the most followed Franchise cricket brand in the world, TSK should have immense fan support at Grand Prairie Stadium on opening night. 

The Super Kings first pick in the domestic draft, few cricketers enjoy the spotlight more than Rusty. While the pick surprised many, as Rusty has withdrawn himself from availability in recent tours for USA, it makes good sense when the brevity of the tournament and scarcity of quality fast bowling domestic options is taken into account. 

Fast bowling all rounder Calvin Savage lives up to his surname in the T20 format. A knack for early wickets with the ball, Calvin sets up his slower ball well. As captain, Calvin led the unlikely Chicago Tigers to the Minor League playoffs in 2022, where the defending champion Silicon Valley Strikers needed all three games of the Conference Semifinal to knock them out. Calvin’s big bat is a major bonus and puts him in rare air among American all rounders. Along with Rusty and Jaskaran, Calvin also features in Jomboy’s Ball In Play League. 

Possessing perhaps the best gloves in the USA, wicket keeper Lahiru Milantha also brings a versatile, aggressive left handed bat to the TSK order. Able to take advantage in the power play, or finesse and punish spinners in the middle overs, Lahiru never looks outmatched by pace or spin. 

Skillfully finding gaps, especially to the off side and behind point, Sami Aslam’s batting more closely resembles swordplay than the violent ball bashing that dominates T20 cricket. But when he’s unburdened by the responsibility of leading a team, Sami’s scoring rate climbs and his talent for the format shines. 

Will TSK play both of these talented left handed batters, or will opt for a right handed domestic batter to balance out the order, considering LAKR’s versatile and varied bowling attack? 

Milind Kumar was one of the top performers in the East division of Minor League Cricket in 2022. Able to accumulate and score quickly, Milind can bat in the middle overs and handles spin bowling very well. He also provides TSK the option for right arm off break with the ball, if necessary. 

Cody Chetty brings versatility from the right side to TSK, as he can bat at the top or middle order. Though he doesn’t bowl often at higher levels, he can provide an over or two of off break bowling if needed. 

With the recently announced arrival of legbreak legend lImran Tahir, and Mitchell Santner already in the roster, the question of how many domestic spin options TSK include is an interesting one. 

By taking Mohammad Mohsin in the recent “wildcard” domestic draft, TSK could be signaling the desire to double down on spin that turns away from right handed batters.

Zia Shahzad was taken in the initial domestic draft, an all rounder who is possibly the top right arm legbreak spin bowler in the country, and so the edge would logically go to him to start the tournament. Shahzad should gain eligibility to play for USA this year. 

Considering the inclusion of Dwayne Bravo, Daniel Sams and Gerald Coetzee as overseas in the roster, it seems unlikely that right arm fast medium bowler Cam Stevenson would be in the same eleven along with Calvin and Rusty. But that doesn’t mean Stevenson won’t be included in place of one of his domestic teammates. Cam has been reliable in his role with USA cricket and has experience in T20 franchise in the BBL. 

And that leaves Saiteja Mukkamalla. There is perhaps no better young batting prospect in the country than TSK’s U23. USA Cricket’s youngest centurion, Sai is mature beyond his years and opened the batting for his New Jersey Stallions on their way to back to back finals weekend appearances in 2021 and 2022. 

Predicted in the XI: Rusty Theron, Calvin Savage, Lahiru Milantha, Zia Shahzad, Milind Kumar 

How to watch

Fans in the USA can watch Major League Cricket by subscribing to Willow TV.

 

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