USA Cricket Women’s Regional showcases talent at Church Street Park

USA Cricket Women's
Church Street Park, view from the north hill. USA Cricket Women's

USA Cricket’s Regional leg of their 2021 Women’s National Championships commenced over the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday weekend, with the East Zone and Central Zone facing off in Morrisville, North Carolina.

Originally scheduled for four games, with T20s on Friday and Monday bookending 50 overs games on Saturday and Sunday, a Thursday evening rain storm cancelled Friday’s game, leaving the players with three games to showcase their talent in front of selectors and coaches. 

‘There was no hesitation, there were no emotional decisions made,’ USA Volunteer Women’s Coordinator Asia Sheikh told Emerging Cricket about the decision to cancel the first game.

‘Thursday evening, Jerry Allen, who is the town director, informed us that the grounds are very wet, and Julia Price, the head coach of USA Women’s cricket, did her due diligence with the input of the town and other people, making sure on Thursday that the game on Friday wouldn’t happen, and the game on Saturday would be a delayed start.’

Triangle Cricket League’s well reputed volunteer corps assisted with the City of Morrisville’s grounds crew to help prepare Church Street Park for what would become a weekend of beautiful weather for cricket by North Carolina standards, with temperatures staying below 85 fahrenheit until Monday’s T20 finale.

The Central and East zonal teams were composed of the best performers and talent from the intra-regional round in June, and featured an encouraging number of teenaged cricketers. Already well known are 17 year old Geetika Kodali on the Central team and 16 year old Lisa Ramjit on the East team, both members of the USA Women’s senior team. By the end of the first game, a few new young stars had stood out, likely ensuring themselves a spot in the East team at the National Championship Final.

Central teenagers Bhumika Bhadriraju (5.1 overs, 3 maidens, 5 runs, 5 wickets) and Aafia Khazi (6 overs, 15 runs, 3 wickets) joined forces to steamroll East batting in the first innings of Saturday’s opener, combining for 8 wickets to hold the East to 108 runs. Central batting would go on to finish the win by five wickets in the chase, with Bhumika in the middle at the end as the supporting half of the winning 47 run partnership with game high scorer and USA Women’s veteran Nadia Gruny (34 runs from 62 balls).

It was Bhumika’s wickets of East high scorer Ramjit (20 runs from 51) and former Pakistan vice captain Nain Abidi (155 white ball games for Pakistan) in the first innings which helped earn her the player of the game, and eventually boosted her to become the co-player of the tournament, along with USA batter and Central teammate, Shebani Bhaskar. Both Bhumika and Aafia have been raised in North Carolina’s triangle area, and call Church Street Park their home ground. 

‘It felt amazing to have such a large scale women’s tournament at a ground near home,’ Bhumika told Emerging Cricket.

‘This is the first time an event of this scale has happened for female cricketers in the USA and having it 10 minutes away from home made it even more special. The Church Street Park ground and facility made a perfect setting for the East coast regional tournament. I was so excited to compete with national level players from the comfort of a local ground.’ 

Locals alike were thrilled, including the Volunteer Women’s Coordinators. ‘It was an absolute pleasure to see the young girls, at around 15 years, especially Bhumika, she just had her best five-for of her career, an absolute dream to watch’ Coordinator Asia Sheikh remarked on the young talent visible at the event. ‘And of course Aafia was there, she played really well, those two girls really shined out for me in this tournament. This is a growing pack, and some will take more time to polish and come up, but especially these two girls for me, Bhumika also brought the player of the tournament award, she worked very hard, and I’ve seen these kids playing with us when they started, and they didn’t know how to hold the bat or bowl three years ago, so in three years if they’re making it to this level, I’m pretty confident they’re going to go way ahead from here.’

Sunday’s game saw the East put up a more sporting total, again batting first. Nain Abidi top scored with 26 from 33, and the East batted for 50 overs, scoring 163/8. Among the bright spots in the East’s batting were 14 year olds Taranum Chopra (19 from 54) and Disha Dhingra (16 from 50, not out), but Central’s teenaged bowling attack remained unsolved. 

Geetika Kodali took the wickets of USA teammate Candacy Atkins-Martin and 14 year old Anika Kumar in her 10 dominant overs, with three maidens, allowing only 25 runs. Aafia Khazi again took three wickets, this time good enough to lead the team, conceding only 12 runs in six overs with a maiden, bowling Nain Abidi in the 14th over, terminating a 41 run partnership with Atkins-Martin. Bhumika continued to wreak havoc from her end, bowling ten overs, with two maidens, two wickets, for a miserly 18 runs. Bhumika’s mother, Aparna Bhadriraju, joined in on the action, bowling USA all-rounder Onika Wallerson for the 6th wicket, breaking a promising 32 run partnership.  

In the chase, local star Saba Shah (24 from 48) and 15 year old triangle area native Mitali Patwardhan combined for a 61 run second wicket partnership to put Central well on their way at 62/2 in the 20th over. Patwardhan continued until the 39th, building a 71 run partnership with top-scorer Shebani Bhaskar (55 from 81, not), finally out after facing 119 balls, having scored 28 runs herself. Geetika Kodali (15 from 28, not out) joined Shebani and helped the Central over the line in the 46th over, winning by 7 wickets, to sweep the one day fixtures.

The success of the Central’s youth may have overshadowed the performance of the East’s on the score sheet, but East talents did not go unnoticed over the weekend. ‘The day they (the East team) arrived, the match was abandoned, so we had a net practice at Friend’s Pavilion, and I was just astonished to see these girls bowl, especially Anika Kumar and Taranam Chopra, they’re excellent bowlers,’  Volunteer Women’s Coordinator, Supriya Desai told Emerging Cricket. ‘Both are 14 years old. But they all have a great attitude, I was very surprised they’re all very humble, and they’re all very talented.’ 

Indeed, Chopra (22 overs, 2 wickets, 2.82 economy) and Kumar (15 overs, 2 wickets, 2.73 economy) performed admirably over the three games. Fellow 14 year old Disha Dhingra showed promise as well, scoring 42 runs at 21 average, and bowling three overs conceding ten runs at a 3.33 economy. USA all rounder Lisa Ramjit (12 overs, 2 wickets at 2.08 economy, 26 runs with the bat in 2 innings) of Maryland had moments revealing her class, but the 16 year old East captain’s maturity and attitude stood out more than her figures. 

‘I found her to be extremely humble for her achievements,’ Supriya remarked on Ramjit’s disposition. ‘She was listening to everybody, the entire team’s suggestions. She would listen during the team meets, listen to coaches and senior players and everything. She was calm and composed and not nervous, she handled it well. Nobody had any grievances.’ 

The East were finally able to claim a victory in Monday’s T20, holding Central to 82/6 in the first innings. In spite of the low target, the East’s batting faced 8 runs required to win in the final over, thanks in part to more stingy bowling from Aafia (2 overs, 6 runs, 1 wicket) and Geetika (3 overs, 7 runs, 2 wickets). Central’s Junani Suthan muzzled the East batting, allowing only eight runs in four overs, and yet another North Carolina teenager, 16 year old Aastha Patel, helped keep the game tight, bowling three overs for eleven runs. 

Opener Melanie Henry helped get the East off to a quick start, scoring 25 from 24 runs, a performance that made her the third highest vote-getter for the Player of the Tournament award. ‘After losing both games, my mindset was to go out there on Monday and to perform to the best of my ability,’ Melanie told Emerging Cricket, regarding the former Guyana batter’s frame of mind heading into the final game. Melanie has lived in the USA for two years and eight months, and is intent on making the USA Women’s senior team, and her performance in the final T20 should help her chances in making the next round of selection. 

Aside from the opener’s boost, the East’s run rate was nearly inadequate from there, leaving Holly Charles and young Anika Kumar to pull it out in the final over. After Charles hit a six on the second ball, and a single on the third, Kumar found herself on strike with one needed from the final three balls, and she finally managed a single on the final ball to win the game. 

Over the same weekend, news broke of several Associates appealing to the ICC to host major events. Among the interested parties is USA Cricket. The beautiful setting of Church Street Park, the enthusiastic volunteering from the locals, the coordination between the city of Morrisville and USA Cricket officials helped illustrate what a USA hosted ICC event might look like. The young crop of cricketers on display in the first half of the regionals hint at what USA Cricket’s women’s team might look like by then. 

Regardless of whether or not USA Cricket wins a bid to host a major ICC event in this decade, the American cricket community can add the USA Women’s National Championship to the growing list of domestic events to anticipate annually. ‘This is a new domestic structure for usa women’s and girls’ cricket, and this is how it will happen every year,’ Asia Sheikh informed. ‘This is going to be the way of life for a few years to make sure that there’s a pathway for local talent to showcase.’

‘It was treated like a professional tournament by Julia Price and Julie Abbott, to make sure everything was done in a professional manner. Communication with the coaches and the players was well organized and well informed, and honestly it was very well done.”

Bhumika Bhadriraju, the young co-player of the tournament, shares Asia’s optimism, and this inaugural tournament has already given her memories she won’t soon forget. ‘A tournament and initiative of this size means the world to developing female cricketers such as myself and my peers. This tournament has given us a platform to showcase our skills while competing amongst experienced players. Playing under the experience of Coach Charlotte Dickinson alongside Shebani Bhaskar was an experience I will never forget.’

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