Major League Cricket announced the Houston Challenge on Wednesday, an elite training camp and domestic series surrounding the upcoming Houston Open set for late March through Early April at Prairie View Cricket Complex.
Three teams of players from the Major League Cricket setup, representing Eastern, Central and Western regions will meet for a series of T20 and 50-over matches from April 6 through April 10 in what will likely be the highest quality men’s domestic cricket played in the USA in 2022.
Along with former full member international cricketers like Corey Anderson, Dane Piedt, Sami Aslam, Shehan Jayasuriya and former India U19 World Cup winning skipper Unmukt Chand, the MLC players list includes First Class cricketers, former Canada skipper Nitish Kumar, and three USA U19 team members, two of which (Ali Sheikh and Sanjay Krishnamurthi) join Marty Kain as members of the USA Men’s National Training Squad.
The third member of the USA U19 squad to participate in the Challenge is leg spin all-rounder, Aditya Gupta. After a rollercoaster 2021, in which Gupta (age 17) suffered a knee injury in the Men’s U19 National Championships, bounced back to finish in the top 14% of bowlers in the entire Minor League Cricket tournament, and joined the USA U19 squad that participated in the Men’s National Championships, “Adi” hopes to use the Houston Challenge to spring into 2022 on a positive note.
“I feel like it’s given me the opportunity to play with players I never had the opportunity to play with before,” Gupta told Emerging Cricket when asked about how Major League Cricket events like the Houston Challenge have benefitted his game. “It’s given me the chance to play in new environments. I know a lot of young players don’t get the opportunity to play with a lot of these players, especially at the youth level. We haven’t had the opportunity up until the last couple years, and I can’t wait for whatever MLC holds for us, they continue to surprise us with great games and great challenges.”
As the official partner of the national governing body, Major League Cricket’s plan for the development of cricket talent around the country includes tasking MLC players with coaching youth through MLC Academies and also leagues local to their 27 Minor League Cricket franchises. The plan also includes assisting with and hosting events such as Minor League Cricket, training camps, national events, “open” tournaments, and elite events such as the Houston Challenge, designed to include USA Cricket team and training group members.
The USA Cricket/Major League Cricket partnership manifested in many positive ways throughout 2021, culminating in December, where USA Men beat Ireland in their first T20 International against a Full Member in Lauderhill, Florida.
Some of these MLC players and coaches have already made their mark on Adi, as coaches, mentors and teammates. “Lahiru (Milantha) has been great. He’s the wicket keeper and has the best point of view,” Gupta said of his Morrisville Cardinals teammate. “I’m very excited to have Dane Piedt in the Cardinals. I feel that with the addition of Dane and another pro or two, getting used to playing at Church Street, getting to know the pitch really gives you a home field advantage here. Dane, being the kind of player he is, on and off the field, is really going to aid us as a team.”
Piedt, representing MLC East in the Houston Challenge, joins the Cardinals this season after playing last year’s Minor League Cricket season with the DC Hawks, and has coached Gupta at prior MLC camps. “I’m so, so thrilled about the amount of leg break spinners the United States have in Adam Khan, Adi Gupta,” Piedt told Emerging Cricket last March in a story about the MLC Elite Talent Development Camp.
While MLC players like Piedt have no doubt made their mark, there is no denying the impact of USA national team players on American cricketing youth like Adi Gupta. When asked which cricketer he has learned the most from, Gupta doesn’t hesitate to name long time USA national team star, Steven Taylor. “The more I’ve gotten to talk to him… first off he’s humble! I’ve learned a lot from him. The way he goes about things on and off the field, I’ve definitely learned a lot from Steven Taylor.”
A fourth Houston Challenge team has yet to be confirmed, but a team composed of USA Cricket training squad members is expected to fill out the Challenge table.
A training camp is to precede the Houston Open, which runs from March 30 through April 3 at PVCC, where 16 teams will compete for a trophy and a $60,000 first-place prize. Both Houston Open and Houston Challenge matches will be streamed live on the Minor League Cricket YouTube Channel.
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