The MiLC All Rounder – Week One

At its roots, cricket is a garden fete encircling a game.  But this past weekend, the atmosphere surrounding the opening weekend of the 2022 Toyota Minor League Cricket season presented by Sunoco was more akin to a backyard barbecue.  Granted, the seven ovals that played host to Round One of Season Two are a wee bit larger than the typical rear lawn. Still, the air was full of gaiety, the atmosphere hot and lively both metaphorically and meteorologically.  

Nearly nine months after the Silicon Valley Strikers lifted the championship, the prospect of a new race through eight weeks of the season and a finals fortnight whet the appetites of players and supporters alike.  Friends and foes gathered to determine which clubs would feast upon the juicy burgers of victory and which would be left holding the carrot-and-raisin salad of despair.  There were offensive fireworks that would make George Washington proud, and enough kindling left by the bowlers to make up for those who didn’t buy enough charcoal for the grill.

Let’s dig into opening weekend, 2022

Eastern Division

Potlucks are a popular tradition on the east coast, and on a weekend where the Manhattan Yorkers used six bowlers in each of their two victories, everyone brought something to the table. Bhaskar Yadram was the pick of the bunch, including a 3-fer in Saturday’s win over the defending Atlantic Conference champion New Jersey Stallions and figures of 5/32 over both matches. Raj Bhavsar only came into the attack in one of the matches, but he was his team’s top scorer with 35 and took 2/16 in a comprehensive 55-run victory over the Empire State Titans. Wins over both playoff teams from 2021 put Yorkers atop the East and eager to come back for second helpings.

The comeback of the weekend happened at Exton Park, where the New England Eagles faced the daunting task of having to play the Philadelphians and D.C. Hawks far from their own nest.  After failing to defend a target of 132 on Saturday against Philly, the Eagles could only muster 111 on Sunday. It was a recipe for a D.C. win, but Hamendra Ramdihal had lost his notes and went off script. After a game high 44 with the bat, he dismissed both Hawks openers within three overs, the wicket of Ritwik Bahera falling thanks to a full out diving catch by Marvin Darlington.  That spell defined the innings, as the Hawks couldn’t recover from being 20/6 after seven overs. Darlington added another sparkling snag and a wicket, Ramdihal completed a 4-fer, and a 29-run decision was secured.  The Eagles sit right in the thick of things at 1-1 as they hope to improve on last year’s wooden spoon.

Southern Division

We invited Rahkeem Cornwall over for our summer shindig and he said, “cool, I’ll bring the wings.” What he didn’t mention was that he used the hottest peppers on earth to season them.  The Antiguan international went and brought the spice with bat and ball for the defending Southern champions Atlanta Fire, leading his team to a pair of Ws over both Florida clubs.  He took a wicket on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale to go with Amila Aponso’s 3/21 and Steven Taylor’s 2/5.  He also put up 36 – including five 6s and a four – to compliment Aaron Jones’s 40* as the Fire chased down the Lions target of 129 with 40 balls remaining.  On Sunday, the Orlando Galaxy sent Atlanta into bat and Cornwall made them pay by wielding the willow to the tune of 93 off 41 deliveries, including ten sixes.  The addition of Cornwall to the likes of Jones, Aponso and Corne Dry means the other four Southern clubs may be fighting it out for second place once again.

Central Division

Texas likes their barbecue like they like their cricket: bold, rich, and full of flavor.  Much like the Yorkers, the Dallas Mustangs had to be bold enough to overcome the two defending finalists out of the Central.  Hurdle number one was the Houston Hurricanes’ 204/6 which featured a staggering 24 extras and Muneeb Riyasat’s splendid 95*.  Farhan Sahibzada and Sujith Gowda put on a second wicket partnership of 112 and Canadian import Sahib Malhotra’s scintillating 46* from 15 balls got them over the line with five deliveries in hand. 

On Sunday it was a Lone Star Athletics’ target of 158, kept down by Nasser Jamali and Ali Sheikh 3-fers. Sahibzada’s 76 was a steady presence through the fall of the first three wickets, and the target of 157 was met with six wickets and ten balls left in the proverbial shed.  That set Dallas up at the top of the Central, with the St. Louis Americans and Chicago Tigers two points back after picking up victories on their own.

Western Division

Cool customers in MiLC’s opening campaign, both the Silicon Valley Strikers and Golden State Grizzlies began season two continuing right where they left off last fall.

Unmukt Chand did Unmukt Chand things, as the Indian veteran clobbered 94* and 53 in a weekend sweep for the defending champion Strikers. Saturday’s triumph over the Hollywood Master Blasters included one of four 5-fers across the country on opening weekend, as Saurabh Netravalkar took his for just 17 runs allowed.  Muhammad Irfan was the leader of a spread-out bowling attack on Sunday as he took 3/34, one of five bowlers to claim victims as the SoCal Lashings were bowled out for 132, ending 43 runs short.

As good as the Strikers looked on opening day, their NorCal neighbors from the capital also were successful in fileting their competition, though not without resistance from the Lashings and San Diego Surf Riders.  Top marks were notched with bat and ball in both of the Grizzlies matches, one for and one against.  SoCal’s Katene Clarke set the high water batting mark for the season so far with 99 in a losing effort. The 22-year-old New Zealander was run out just one run short of a maiden century at any top-level format, but he showed that it’ll just be a matter of time before he eclipses that mark.  On Sunday, the Pakistani international Ehsan Adil knocked over a league high six wickets, including four in the first three overs, to help skittle San Diego out for 81 after 14 overs and make an enterprising 71 by Karan Chandel stand up.

Splits by the East Bay Blazers and Seattle Thunderbolts leave them just a game out of first, but there’s still 12 more games on the menu and things can boil over rapidly.

So one round down, seven more to go.  As decadent and delectable as this first weekend of cricket was, it is merely an amuse-bouche for the Independence Day holiday, when a total of 39 games will be played over four days across three venues — Church Street Park in North Carolina, and the Prairie View and Moosa complexes in Texas.  They’ll include the only conference cross over matches of the season, in which we’ll see the real strengths of each division.

But if they’re anything like this weekend’s action, it’ll be a real sizzler of a holiday.