Minor League Cricket taking shape: 15 of 24 teams complete draft picks

Nate Hays takes a look at the draft picks completed so far in the Minor League, including insight from key people across owners and team coaches

USA Karima Gore

On Saturday, the 22nd of August, 2020, Minor League Cricket reached another milestone: The Minor League Draft. This coming after a week of significant announcements from USA Cricket, including the long-awaited list of Minor League Cricket franchises and owners, and USA Cricket’s new committee structure. Fifteen teams, divided into 4 zones, drafted players to flesh out their 18 man rosters. 

Prior to the draft, all teams were able to sign nine players: one “wildcard” player (could either be an american pro or an overseas pro), two other “domestic professional” players (when combined with wildcard equals a total of three professional players), three Under-21 players, and three amateur players. The players distinguished as “wildcard” and professionals could receive the benefit of additional pay and perks, though this is entirely on a team-by-team basis. The draft itself was broken into “zones,” for which registered players had preselected their availability. Due to the geographical vastness of the United States, players couldn’t be expected to pick up and move across the country if they were drafted, so the zones were created to allow players to at least play for a team within their home region. The draft occurred in a “snake order” fashion, which means that the team drafting first in the first round would draft last in the second round, etc. 

Franchises which are several hours away from their nearest opponent were permitted to select their teams directly from their designated region without having to “draft”. These three team rosters (DC, Morrisville and New England) were also to be revealed on Saturday, according to USA Cricket’s announcement. As of the publishing of this article, they were not yet announced. This would have made 18 of the 24 teams with full rosters on Saturday, leaving 6 more teams to draft during the first weekend of September from their own respective regions. These teams are the Florida franchises in the South, and Michigan and two Chicago teams in the Central. 

In a statement given to Emerging Cricket, USA Board member and chair of the ACE Relations Committee Suraj Viswanathan said “We are excited on the launch of the Minor League. For the first time, young talent and deserving amateurs from different cities will compete against each other. Plans for better facilities and playing surfaces, professional coaching, and the introduction of a limited number of professionals will elevate the standard of the competition, and will help shape the future of USA Cricket.” 

USA Karima Gore
Karima Gore: the first pick in the inaugural Minor League Cricket draft (Photo:ICC/Peter Della Penna)

The draft began with four of the Eastern Conference teams drafting (Philadelphia, New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers, New Jersey Stallions, and Empire State Titans). With the first pick in the history of the Minor League Draft, Philadelphia selected USA left arm orthodox all-rounder Karima Gore. A cornerstone of the national team in recent tournaments, Gore brings the full package. Excellent fielding, top batting and bowling skills, and a steely mindset make Gore’s selection as the league’s first “number one” fully justifiable. “I was in the draft, and Philadelphia got the chance to pick me, as they got to pick first,” Karima told Emerging Cricket. “I will be available (for the games). I view (MiLC) as a positive move in the country and a chance for players to learn from each other and showcase their talents.” Gore’s team drafted first, and features many local club cricketers, but very few notable names. Players like former Karnataka State and Bijapur Bulls medium pacer Manoj Acharya, former USA men’s team player Quasan Alfred, and former USA U-19 player Vivek Narayan look to help Gore lead the Philadelphians to battle in a strong conference.

Unlike Philadelphia, the Somerset Cavaliers are almost completely full of USA men’s, Jamaica and Windies representatives, and are coached by Pubudu Dassanayake. “I’m happy for the team I got. It’s a balanced squad and I’m looking forward to working with them to get the best performance during the tournament,” the former USA chief told us. “I want to give credit to our team management for the effort they make to get everything on the right track.” 

Three teams from the Central Conference also drafted on Saturday. Houston area cricket pillar Tanweer Ahmed is the primary owner of two of them: Houston Hurricanes and Austin Athletics. “I am part of Orlando too, but a small portion,” the enthusiastic Tanweer told Emerging Cricket. Expressing intent for a hands-off approach to Austin and Orlando, Tanweer did have a hand in the draft selection for Houston. “We are three people internally who decide how to select… I am part of Barbados Tridents ownership, and have good experience when it comes to selection.” Indeed, Tanweer’s Houston Hurricanes look very strong, featuring well known regional names like CPL star Ali Khan, Barbados Tridents ICC Americas player Shayan Jahangir, former Emirati wicket keeper Saqlain Haider (pro designation), Canadian Saad Bin Zafar (Wildcard designation), and former USA representatives Naseer Jamali and Usman Rafiq (pro designation), along with other notable cricketers in the area. 

Ali Khan CPL USA
Ali Khan has been drafted by the Houston Hurricanes (Photo: CPL)

Asked how he feels about Minor League Cricket’s impact on the community, Tanweer replied “I feel good, because I believe in developing a local team and giving a fair amount of chances to the local talent. If we all can see the opportunity of giving chances to the local talent instead of bringing outside in, we will have a good USA team soon.” Acknowledging that three of the Hurricanes team members will be coming from overseas at the conclusion of the CPL to play in planned exhibition games, Tanweer explained the quarantine policy. The players will ”get tested before boarding. If the test is negative then upon arrival they go to self quarantine for four days and also get tested. If results are negative, then they can play.” While this is less drastic than the CPL policy, the state of Texas appears to have no official quarantine policy in place for people arriving from international flights.

In the Southern Conference, only the two Atlanta teams participated in the draft, with the three Florida teams scheduled to draft in early September. The Param Veers signed one of the biggest names in American Cricket as their wildcard player, Florida native and long-time USA Cricket representative Steven Taylor. For Atlanta Fire, it was Memphis native and USA capped Sagar Patel who earned the distinguished title. The Morrisville Cardinals wrap up the conference, and have yet to name their team, but are one of the teams excluded from the draft process. Just today, Morrisville announced a selection committee consisting of Windies batting legend Alvin Kallicharran, experienced USA coaching regular Anand Tummala, and South African expat and local coach Robert Caine. Morrisville is home of the Triangle Cricket League, known well for their vast and energetic volunteer corps. Majority owner Praveen Chakraraj told Emerging Cricket “having our own team in the USA Minor League, represented by local players, is a huge step in the right direction. This team will rely heavily on community support. We expect TCL and the Town of Morrisville to provide major support, in addition to many volunteers who have shown the desire to be part of the Cardinals team.” The Cardinals will call one of the nicest grounds in the continent home: Church Street Park, originally planned to host the first league championship.

USA Steven Taylor
Steven Taylor will be part of the Atlanta Param Veers franchise (Photo: ICC/Peter Della Penna)

The Western Conference was the only conference to hold a draft with every team. Wildcard designations by team are: Former Maharashtra batsman Mansingh Nigade for East Bay Blazers; local Srinivasan Mohan for Golden State Grizzlies; South African transplant and veteran of 97 first class games Shadley Van Schalkwyk for Silicon Valley Strikers; owner and member of USA Cricket’s recently announced Finance and Commercial Affairs Committee and former USA cricketer Abhi Rajp for SoCal Lashings; and former Central Districts All Rounder Marty Kain for San Diego Surf Riders. 

Marty Kain, player/coach for San Diego, has coached in the area since arriving from New Zealand in 2017. He explained his views on the likely practice schedule for the organised team to Emerging Cricket. “During the offseason, I would suspect once per week as a team. Once the season is closer, increase to two per week. Expectation will be that players are accountable for themselves as well and take care of their own needs outside of training.” Marty’s former Central Districts teammate Willem Luddick features as the Wildcard Player for Austin Athletics. “I’m very excited to see a teammate of mine coming over here. Wish he was closer by, but looking forward to seeing him and potentially battling on the field,” Marty added. 

All told, 270 players were selected in the draft, many of them with U19, International, First Class or professional T20 experience. By the time the remaining nine teams fill their rosters, there will be 432 cricketers on Minor League Cricket teams in the USA. Exhibition games planned for September, with nine teams yet to name rosters, tempts us to assume that the exhibitions won’t include every team. There are many questions left unanswered, and even more created by the past two weeks of USA Cricket news, but Minor League Cricket feels more real than ever. 

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