West Zone Reds win USA Men’s National Championship

2021 Men's National Champions, West Zone Reds

The West Zone Reds defeated the South Zone by 74 runs on Friday in the 2021 Men’s National Championship. 

The fifty overs tournament featured teams from the South, Mid-Atlantic, East, South West, Midwest, West, plus the USA U19 Men’s team. The West Zone, as in the U19 Men’s National Championship, was divided into two teams: West Zone Reds, from the northern parts of California up through Washington, and West Zone Blues, from the South of California to Arizona. 

“I think we had a team of good balance, and we had strong characters who wanted to raise their game in a tough situation,” West Zone Reds captain Saurabh Netravalkar told Andrew Leonard in the postgame awards ceremony. In spite of early half centuries from Steven Taylor (50) and South captain Aaron Jones (52) to start the chase, the Reds leaned on their deep bowling attack in the second innings to shut down the South Zone middle and late order hitters and defend their healthy total of 284. 

Photos shared by USA Cricket, and also the header photo for this article, were taken by Peter Della Penna

“We spoke about it, the pitch was good to bat on until the end, and we knew they are a team of power hitters, and even though if they have a big partnership, one wicket, it brings those two three overs of dot balls, and that brings us back in the game. I think we were playing the patient game, and we came out on top.”

In spite of being only one of two teams (the other being Mid-Atlantic) not to feature a batsman with at least 140 runs (Josh Dascombe led the Reds with 135 runs in three innings), and opening the batting in three out of four games, the Reds relied on deep and consistent bowling to finish 4-0 and win the inaugural title. The Reds had four of the top ten wicket takers in the tournament, and received better than average production from pros (Harmeet Singh, Dascombe), National players (Netravalkar, Abhishek Paradkar), domestic (Sid Matani) and emerging players (Ruchir Joshi, Vatsal Vaghela) alike.

Harmeet Singh led the way on Friday, entering with the Reds innings in the balance at 172/5 in the 35th over, and leaving 15 overs later with the Reds in a strong position at 269/9, having scored a game-high 55 from 50. In defense, Harmeet would take the wickets of two of the South’s best scorers, Stephen Taylor and Evroy Dyer, and finish as the only Reds bowler to complete his quota (10 overs, 36 runs, 2 wickets).

“It was an amazing opportunity to play for the West Reds in the first edition of the US National Championship,” Harmeet told Emerging Cricket following the big win. A key player in India’s 2012 Under-19 World Cup Champion team, and a veteran of 31 First Class and 19 List A matches in India, Harmeet’s high level experience and competitive nature have served him well in his first year playing cricket in the USA. “I try and do my best and try and win games every time I play and give my 100% every time I am on the ground.” 

“I have been enjoying my time a lot in the USA. My wife and baby girl are also here. Things are getting better every day, (I am) overwhelmed by the love and respect I get when I travel to different places,” Harmeet continued. An off-spinning all-rounder, Harmeet set his anchor in Seattle after signing with MLC. There, he has coached local youth and played a star role for the Seattle Thunderbolts of Minor League Cricket. “(Cricket in the USA) is now heading in the right direction. There are so many good players out here, grounds are being built, the level of tournaments has gone up, and I think we should be playing such high level tournaments on turf more often.”

USA U19 and runs leader Rahul Jariwala

Much has been said and written about USA Cricket’s U19 Men’s journey this season. Preparation for the upcoming ICC Men’s U19 World Cup dominated USA Cricket news and discourse earlier in the year, as the American cricket community had high hopes for this current young crop. Cancellation of the Americas leg of the U19 Men’s Qualifiers left many feeling disappointed, to say the least. The inclusion of the U19 Men’s National Team in the Men’s National Championship doesn’t come close to counting as a consolation prize, but it gives these bright young cricketers the chance to compete against the best in the country in the one day format.

For every member of the USA Cricket U19 team, this was also their second National Championship this year. But for Rahul Jariwala, it was another huge moment to seize. The wicket keeper/batsman from the Bay Area had played himself out of the national U19 team with a poor showing in the U19 Men’s National Championship in April. Not only had he lost his place in the U19 national team, he wasn’t even invited to the 25-man selection camp. 

After performing well against the U19 team in warm-up games during the selection camp, Rahul was announced as a reserve on USA Cricket’s U-19 Men’s team. From late July through early October, the young opener was a fixture for the Silicon Valley Strikers of the MiLC, winning the league’s inaugural championship following a highly competitive season which saw the Strikers squeeze into the playoffs on the very last day. Captain Unmukt Chand stuck with Rahul throughout the season, and Rahul came through earning a spot on the MiLC U21 Tournament Team. 

Rahul Jariwala led the tournament in runs and scored at a higher strike rate than anybody with at least 100 runs.

When Slade Van Staden returned to South Africa for school following the Minor League Cricket season, a slot in the U19 team opened up for the Men’s Nationals, and Rahul Jariwala was installed as the keeper. By the end of the Men’s National Championships, Rahul would not only lead the entire tournament in runs scored (251 in four innings), but do so as one of two batsmen with two centuries (the other being USA ODI cricketer and National Championship MVP, Sushant Modani), and at a strike rate of 116.41, trailing only Milind Kumar (127.16) and Andries Gous (117.5) amongst batters with at least 90 runs. 

Overall, the U19 team competed strongly in all four games, and in spite of their 1-3 finish, would have advanced to Friday’s first place final had they won against the South on Thursday. 

Along with Jariwala leading the tournament in runs scored, captain Ali Sheikh finished tied for ninth in wickets, with 7, and did so with an economy of 4.45 across 31 overs. 

USA Hopeful Marty Kain, wicket leader

Up until the very end of Thursday’s 22 run loss to the Mid-Atlantic, the West Zone Blues looked set to face the Reds in an all-west final. Though the Blues fell just shy, missing out on Run Rate, and finished in fourth place following Friday’s loss to the South West, several players stood tall and impressed. None stood taller than all-rounder Marty Kain, who led the team in runs (190) and co-led the tournament in wickets (11, along with Bhaskar Yadram).

“Personally, things obviously went reasonably well, that was pleasing. I was fortunate luck seemed to fall my way throughout the tournament,” Marty Kain told Emerging Cricket. The left arm orthodox, left handed batting all-rounder recently qualified for USA selection. 

West Zone Blues all rounder Marty Kain had an excellent tournament with bat and especially ball.

“(I) came with a clear mind to enjoy each game and compete with the bat, ball and in the field. To lose (Thursday) in what was a must win game was gutting, given I was set and there to finish the job.” Marty was on 99 in the chase when he attempted to reverse sweep Mid-Atlantic’s leggie Ray Ramrattan, and was finished when the ball drifted past his heel and smashed into the stumps.

“Overall, a memorable week and big thanks to USA Cricket for putting on this great tournament. For me, I will continue to enjoy my cricket and give my best for whatever cricket may come next.” 

Dominant West, cricket on the rise

2021 has proven to be an eventful year for USA Cricket, especially domestically. Four national championship tournaments, for the first time in USA’s history, have helped familiarize the community and selectors with the talent throughout the country. 

For the third time in four national championship tournaments (Men’s, Women’s and Women’s U19), a West Zone team has won the title. California’s dominance should come as little surprise, considering the advantage of predictably good weather and the concentrated presence of thriving expats from cricket playing nations. But there is reason to be optimistic across the country, as talent appears to be on the way up in men’s, women’s and age group categories. 

Speculation, opinions and predictions of national team selection by fans have become more varied and passionate. New names continue to enter the fray, and the blueprint gets an updated draft with each USA Cricket-supported competition. The American cricket community is more connected. 

New venues, like Prairie View Cricket Complex, host of the 2021 Men’s and U19 Men’s National Championships, where four games can take place simultaneously, have helped make it all possible. 

“The tournament was brilliant. What a brilliant cricketing venue PVCC has become. Pitches were some of the best I’ve played on,” Marty Kain remarked. “The Talent continues to grow in this country. Congratulations to West Zone Reds, absolutely deserved to win the title after going unbeaten throughout the week.”

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