USA Cricket sends last minute Men’s Training Group to compete in MLC triangular series

MLC Prairie View
Prairie View Cricket Ground in Houston

A last minute cancellation from a group of Caribbean Premier League (CPL) players has created an opportunity for select USA Cricket Men’s Training Group players to participate in high level games this weekend in a Major League Cricket (MLC) exhibition competition. 

The Barbados Tridents were meant to send several cricketers to Houston this week for an exhibition series against a collection of Major League Cricketers, but flights were cancelled due to last week’s eruption of La Soufrière volcano on St. Vincent. Ash from the volcano, nothing short of a humanitarian disaster, threatens the economy, health, and livelihoods of those throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines and neighboring islands. 

Last week’s Houston Open tournament attracted cricketers from around the country, including many associated with the MLC and the USA Cricket Men’s Training Group. According to the announcement, USA Cricket staged a small training camp immediately following the Houston Open, with many of the Men’s Training Group members remaining in Houston to attend. When it became apparent that Barbados Tridents players would be unable to fly to Houston, the opportunity presented itself for 14 USA Cricket players to fill their spot. 

The 14 USA Cricket Mem’s Training Group players who remained in Houston for the series are USA Captain Saurabh Netravalkar, Akshay Homraj, Elmore Huthinson, Shayan Jahangir, Aaron Jones, Nosthush Kenjige, Jaskaran Malhotra, Xavier Marshall, Siddharth Matani, Sushant Modani, Monank Patel, Dominique Rikhi, Ali Sheikh and Steven Taylor.

‘This series of games has very much come up at late notice,’ USA Cricket Operations Director, Richard Done, said in the announcement. ‘But with 28 of our Men’s Training Group players already gathering in Texas for a training camp mostly involving players who were already attending the Houston Open, it made perfect sense for us to be able to step in and provide some competitive match-play opportunities.’

We are thankful to our partners at ACE who have turned this series around in a remarkable timeframe, and we have managed to get together what will be a brilliant opportunity for those players who were available to take part,’ he continued.

The USA Cricket Training Group XI got a shot at the first action of the competition on Thursday, facing off against the MLC Gold team. Anybody who has followed USA Cricket’s Men over the last few years would have found the ebbs and flows of the game to be familiar. 

In the first innings, USA bowled out MLC Gold in the 49th over for 208 runs, with Nosthush Kenjige, Saurabh Netravalkar, Aaron Jones and Elmore Hutchinson in the wickets. Joining them was Ali Sheikh, an increasingly visible young American cricketer. A favorite to retain a place on the USA Cricket Men’s U-19 team in the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, Ali took three wickets in ten overs, conceding only 22 runs. 

With USA XI needing 209 to win, and with spin (and five LBWs) dominating the first innings, it was anybody’s guess if MLC Gold’s spin attack of former India U19 Harmeet Singh and captain and former South Africa test spinner Dane Piedt could seal the deal against a batting side which has not historically performed well against quality spinners. After help from pacers Shadley Van Schalkwyk and Willem Luddick (who also scored 56 in the first innings), and some Ali Sheikh-mirroring numbers by Harmeet Singh (four overs, 21 runs, three wickets), USA were quickly in a 61/6 hole. Aside from a 35 run, 34 ball effort from number three Monank Patel, USA’s batting had been neutralised, and with USA’s top six watching from the dugout, Piedt’s MLC Gold looked in complete control. 

After that big sixth wicket fell in the 16th over, the tide turned, and USA lost only three more. Tail-enders Elmore Hutchinson and Nosthush Kenjige, batting at ten and eleven, partnered for the final 45 runs, and Elmore drove an ever so slightly overpitched Rusty Theron challenge straight down the ground for a triumphant boundary to win the game with five balls to spare for the boys in dark blue.

All five of USA’s final batters scored at least 19 runs, with Elmore top scoring for USA with 37 from 44 balls. The role was nothing new for USA’s towering veteran all-rounder, but this moment on the national stage was his first such action since Nepal in February of 2020, having missed the Minor League Cricket exhibition season along with the rest of southern California.

The courageous end to a tense innings was a taste of what promises to be a competitive series, giving both MLC recruits and USA Cricket hopefuls a chance to sharpen and test their tools against each other, while wetting the appetites of those across the country already hungry for top quality domestic action.

‘It’s worked out pretty well, because they’ve actually got quite a balanced squad,’ the MLC’s Player Development Manager and MLC Team Gold opening bat, David White, told Emerging Cricket about the last minute arrangements that got a USA representative side into the event.

As you saw today, it’s a nice standard of cricket, nice and competitive. All the players are itching for that competitive match practice on a good facility against their peers, so to speak. I think it was a good outing, personally, even though it stings a bit that we didn’t get over the line.’ 

The last minute changes to the event demonstrate the value of the Prairie View Cricket Complex as a veritable home base for USA Cricket and MLC over the past couple months. In a time when adaptability has been so crucial, the complex has shown the ability to host large, consecutive events, and it’s difficult to imagine such an improvisation occurring anywhere else. 

‘Most of the (MLC) guys were around for the Houston Open,’ White continued. ‘We had planned it weeks in advance that this was the way we were going to schedule it, as far as having the Houston Open on the same grounds, and then holding a few days (MLC) training camp, and then leading into this triangular series.’

On Friday, MLC Gold was back at it, this time facing MLC Silver in a T20. Again, Willem Ludick top scored for team Gold, with 40 runs from 26 balls, but ultimately Silver kept the run rate low enough for former India U-19 bat Smith Patel (56 from 53) and company to chase down the 122 run target with two balls to spare in the 20th over to give Gold their second loss in as many days. Another nail biter! 

According to the schedule released by USA Cricket, the USA Cricket Men’s Training Group XI will play MLC Silver on Saturday, followed by rematches against MLC Gold on Monday and Silver on Tuesday. The four games for the USA Training Group should likely see chances given to all 14 of the squad, while MLC Silver and Gold teams, both with smaller listed squads of eleven and twelve respectively, are officially slated to play 3 times each. 

The first two games were streamed on the Prairie View Cricket Complex Facebook page, live with commentary.

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