Five days of group stage games set us up for Saturday’s playoffs. For the first time this week, all eight teams were in action on the same day, playing for pride, bragging rights, and for two teams, the National Championship.
Championship Final – Mid-Atlantic vs South West Zone
The National Championship Final featured the two undefeated teams in their respective groups. South West Zone entered the final as the tournament’s most statistically dominant team, with a net run rate of 2.99. Mid-Atlantic had swept through Group A, overcoming the strong batting of the Colts (second in runs), and the elite bowling of the South Zone to reach the final.
Unfortunately for the South West, their dominance in the group stage did not carry over against the Mid-Atlantic in the Championship Final.
Rehman Dar continued to pile on the runs, locking up the top run scorer spot, with 65 from 99 before being bowled by Yasir Mohammad (9 overs, 35 runs, 4 wickets) in the 32nd over. Though the scoring was slower than the South West would have been used to, at 124/4, there were still six wickets in hand and 18 overs remaining for their deep batting to accumulate runs.
The tide changed quickly, as the South West lost those remaining six wickets with 22 balls unspent, and a lean 171 runs on the board.
For the South West attack, along with Mohammad’s clutch wicket taking, Ritwik Behera (6.2, 15 runs, 2 wickets), Anirudh Immanuel (10 overs, 32 runs, 1 wicket), and Aditya Sharma (10 overs, 31 runs, 3 wickets) showed their class while bowling out the red hot home team.
Luck would not be on the South West’s side in the second innings, as player of the tournament Saiteja Mukkamalla (53 runs from 58 balls) and Chaitanya Parwal (52 runs from 92 balls) did the heavy lifting, and the Mid-Atlantic won in the 39th over, in spite of an excellent bowling effort from the South West captain Ali Sheikh (10 over, 2 maidens, 27 runs, 2 wickets).
The Mid-Atlantic Zone would hoist the trophy for the first ever USA Cricket Men’s U-19 National Championships.
Third Place – South Zone vs West Zone Reds
The South flexed their muscles twice this week, taking out the West Zone Blues and the Colts with ease, and failing only against the Mid-Atlantic Zone on Tuesday. The West Zone Reds looked like an even bet to make the Championship Final until they were beaten convincingly by the South West Zone on Friday.
The South Zone set a target for the first time in the tournament, and after a spotty start took them to 70/5 in the 28th over, captain Danish Kaveripakam (41 from 62 balls) partnered with the versatile Aryan Shah (53 from 101 balls) to steady the ship until Shah fell to the tournament’s leading bowler, Sanjay Krishnamurthi (10 overs, 23 runs, 2 wickets) in the 44th over, with the South at a modest 146/6. Aditya Gupta smashed four sixes and a four in 22 balls for a flaming hot 43 runs. The aggressive cameo, including three consecutive sixes against Rohan Posanipally, took the South to 212 runs, giving them a fighting total against a strong Reds side.
Along the way, Ayan Immadi (6 overs, 2 maidens, 9 runs, 3 wickets) found yet another way to make his mark on the tournament, taking key wickets of Rohan Phadke, Dhruv Patel, and Abhiram Bolisetty to limit the damage and keep the Reds in the game.
By the time the third wicket fell in the chase, with Jariwala out LBW to Aryan Shah (6 overs, 24 runs, 1 wicket) for one run, the Reds were in trouble at 29/3. Skanda Rohit Sharma entered intent on showing yet again that it would take more than three early wickets to derail the Reds.
As Sharma accumulated at just under a run per ball, the South cycled through their deep bowling attack, trying out eight different arms throughout the innings. Sharma found a partner in number nine Adil Shivakumar, and the two hoisted the Reds on their backs combining for 104 massive runs, and the win with eight balls to spare.
Sharma’s 90 runs from 94, not out, would be his second undefeated venture into the nineties this tournament, and move him into second place for runs, ahead of the Mid-Atlantic’s Sai Mukkamalla.
Fifth Place – Colts vs East Zone
USA Cricket expanded the field for the National Championships by creating the Colts team, composed of eligible players independent of zone affiliation. Due to this unique mix of players and backgrounds, it was difficult at the start to predict their strengths, weaknesses, and chemistry. The Colts proved dangerous immediately, narrowly losing to the eventual group winners in possibly the game of the tournament on Monday. Unfortunately, consistency proved difficult, and the Colts lost badly to the South on Friday. The East Zone, like the Colts, at times looked like a force, and at others looked to be searching for answers.
The question on Saturday was ‘which versions of these teams would show up?’
If you were in a rush for an afternoon appointment, this was the game for you. If you wanted to see Colts leg spinner Gautham Ravindran zip through the East Zone’s batting, this was the game for you. If you wanted a close contest right down to the wire, there were two other games for you.
This entire game can be summarized in one stat line, and that stat line reveals exactly how big the Colts concept means for the purposes of this tournament: Gautham Ravindran, left out of the South Zone squad, took six wickets in six overs with three maidens for only four runs.
Six wickets. Three maidens. Four runs in six overs.
Each of these are impressive on their own, but combined together they equal the best figures of the tournament, and they were achieved against a solid batting team.
Arjun Vajjala and Manav Nayak combined for 49 runs in the anticlimactic chase, and the Colts won by nine wickets in the 14th over to beat everyone else to the snack table.
Seventh Place – Midwest Zone vs West Zone Blues
Two winless teams hoped to end on a positive note and apply lessons learned throughout the week. The Midwest Zone showed some progress in their final group stage game, losing by 88 to the East after some rough outcomes against the South West Zone and the Midwest Zone earlier in the week. The Blues had yet to put together a comprehensive innings of play, especially in the batting department.
This might have been a ‘wooden spoon’ match, but it played like a Championship Final. The Midwest Zone’s batting finally clicked, as Kevin Philip (38 from 54) and Bhavya Metha (43 from 77) partnered opening the innings for 72, and Parth Patel batted from the from the 18th over into the 47th, giving the Midwest their best innings of the tournament with a 70 run knock from 81 balls.
The Blues made Midwest work for it, taking eight wickets with their bowling attack and another two from run outs. Aakashveer Saini (10 overs, 30 runs, 3 wickets), Sahil Kancherla (10 overs, 1 maiden, 35 runs), Rayaan Bhagani (9 overs, 45 runs) and Ayan Desai (6 overs, 45 runs, 2 wickets) did the heavy lifting for the Blues, and took the tenth wicket with one ball remaining, giving the Blues a target of 225.
West Zone Blues did not have an optimistic start to the chase, as wickets fell around Rayaan Bhagani before a partnership with Trishul Majo (20 from 30) helped the Blues to 123/6 when Bhagani departed for 69, LBW to Munn Patel (9 overs, 35 runs, 2 wickets) in the 25th over.
While the chase was now on, the Blues still needed 101 runs with only four wickets in hand, and had lost each of their top six batsmen. The Midwest, with positive bowling from Anwar Ali (10 overs, 2 maidens, 42 runs, 2 wickets), Tejas Visal (10 overs, 64 runs, 3 wickets), Munn Patel (9 overs, 35 runs, 2 wicket) and Mohit Patel (7.3 overs, 30 runs, 1 wicket), looked poised to finish the rest.
The game started to slip away from the Blues in the 33rd over, when Sanat Misra would be stumped by Philip off of Munn Patel to leave the Blues desperate at 164/8 in the 33rd over.
Siddharth Menon (36 from 73) teamed up with number ten Aksha Shah (28 from 38) to take full advantage of the remaining 17 overs, and the pair crossed the line with 27 balls to spare to help the Blues to a two wicket victory, their first in the tournament.
What a week it’s been, and what a tournament to resume national play in the USA! Vibrantly colorful, full of individual and team achievement, surprises, heartbreak, celebration, and glory. Let’s all hope this is just the beginning.
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