After eight weeks and around 200 matches played on pitches across the country, the Minor League Cricket playoffs are about to get under way this weekend. While a few teams return from last year’s playoffs — primarily finalists New Jersey Stallions and last year’s champions, the Silicon Valley Strikers — the majority of the teams in this year’s post-season are either first-timers or are a rebranded version of a previous playoff contender. Steve Steinberg from CricAmerica dove deep into Minor League Cricket history to get the backstory of these playoff newcomers to get you ready for all the action about to unfold over the next two weekends.
In a semi-repeat from the first round of last year’s playoffs, the New Jersey Stallions (the top finisher in the east) will take on the Morrisville Raptors (the second-place team from the south). Last year, the Stallions eliminated the Morrisville Cardinals from the playoffs, but this is a different Morrisville squad — and it’s more than just a name change.
The renamed — and re-logoed thanks to the multi-talented Nate Hays — Raptors were a decidedly different team from the one that made it to the post-season in 2021. Major off-season pickups included South Africans Obus Pienaar from the St. Louis Americans and Dane Piedt from the DC Hawks. Pienaar proved to be the big bat the Raptors needed and was a major reason why Morrisville upped its record to 9-4 from 7-7 last year. (And along the way he broke the MiLC record for fastest hundred, reaching the century mark in just 37 balls against the Ft. Lauderdale Lions.) Another main reason for the power surge in Morrisville was the improved play of Lahiru Milantha. After putting up decent figures last year, the 28 year-old Sri Lankan exploded with monster numbers this year, finishing with 511 runs, tied for second in the Atlantic behind only Rahkeem Cornwall’s 531.
In the other Atlantic semi-final, the Atlanta Fire (number one in the south) return to the post-season to take on playoff first-timers, the Manhattan Yorkers, who finished second in the east. The Yorkers sent a message early on in the season by beating the New Jersey Stallions — the defending king of the east — in the opening match of the year. Manhattan then went on to improve from a middle-of-the-pack 8-7 record in 2021 to a dominating 10-4 record in 2022. A lot of this was due to strong seasons from Danesh Patel and Bhaskar Yadram. Patel had a breakout year, putting up 378 runs, which was good for sixth in the Atlantic Conference. Meanwhile, Yadram’s strike rate improved by almost 15 runs this season — his 318 runs in 10 innings being scored at a strike rate of over 155 and an average of 39.75. On the other side of the ball, Yadram’s 21 wickets were good for fourth highest total in the conference. Also keep an eye on Surya Thurumella who finished the season with back-to-back three-wicket hauls against the DC Hawks. The Yorkers would like nothing more than to bring the title to New York City.
On the other side on the country, returning champs, the Silicon Valley Strikers (the top team in the west) take on playoff first-timers, the Chicago Tigers. The Tigers, who joined the Central Division, got off to a shaky 1-2 start before righting the ship and finishing at 8-5 — good for second place in the central. The Tigers were led by South African Calvin Savage, who was a monster of the midway with both the bat and the ball in his first season in the league. Savage smashed runs at a strike rate of 171 and an average of 36 while taking 17 wickets with an ultra-stingy economy of 4.75.
Savage was assisted on the batting front by Syed Saad Ali, who led the team in runs with 290 at a strike rate of 142. The bowling attack was boosted by Sami Sohail. Sohail was a wicket-taking machine in late July — following up a four-wicket grab against the Michigan Cricket Stars with a devastating six-wicket haul against the Dallas Mustangs a week later. His 21 wickets tied him for sixth overall in the conference. In their only head-to-head matchup of the season, the Strikers put up 215 runs against a Savage-less Chicago to win by 40 runs in a slugfest.
The last Semi-finals matchup features two teams making their first Minor League Cricket post-season appearances. The Dallas Mustangs, who began their MiLC existence last year as the Irving Mustangs, improved on a sub-par 6-7 record in 2021 to finish 13-1 in 2022 to easily win the Central Division. The Mustangs are led on offense by former East Bay Blazer, Sujith Gowda. In his first season in Dallas, Gowda picked up where he left off last year. The 25 year-old has been the picture of consistency in the league. He banged out 481 runs last year at a strike rate of 147.55 and an average of 37. This year’s numbers were eerily similar — 488, 146.11, and 37.54. His 488 runs this year was the seventh highest in the conference and his 29 sixes were the sixth highest total in all of Minor League Cricket.
The Dallas bowling attack is anchored by USA Cricket’s Nosh Kenjige. Nosh, whose 2021 MiLC numbers were average, exploded this season. His 23 wickets tied him for fourth in the league and his 4.83 economy put him only behind Calvin Savage among bowlers who bowled more than 35 overs. The Mustangs have also helped their cause by picking up Willem Ludick for the stretch drive. Ludick put up impressive numbers last year with the Houston Hurricanes — his 471 runs and 25 sixes were both the fifth highest in the conference.
The Mustangs will take on the Seattle Thunderbolts, who staged an incredible final weekend of the season to make it to the post-season for the first time out of the strong Western Division. Against all sorts of mathematical odds, Seattle was able to beat the Golden State Grizzles so soundly in back-to-back matches that they overtook the East Bay Blazers in a NRR tie-breaker to take second place in the west. Seattle’s 11-3 record this year was a vast improvement over last season’s ho-hum 6-7 record.
Like last year, the Thunderbolts main run production was done by Andries Gous. This year, though, the South African upped his game and finished with almost a hundred more runs than in 2021. His 498 runs were sixth highest in the conference. The Bolts’ scariest weapons, though, are in the bowling attack. Ironmen Phani Simhadri and Harmeet Singh were the only two bowlers in the conference to each bowl 53-plus overs. Simhadri — a contender for most improved player — grabbed at least one wicket in every match he played and led the entire league with 33. Singh, a U19 World Cup winner for India in 2012 along with Unmukt Chand, more than doubled his wicket-taking from 2021 and finished with 21 to go along with a solid 5.11 economy. Seattle’s bowling depth doesn’t end there, though. Akhilesh Bodugum made his debut season with the Thunderbolts one to remember. The former Atlanta Fire all-rounder finished with 22 wickets which was eighth highest in all of Minor League Cricket.
The format for the first round of playoffs is best-of-three with two matches taking place on Saturday and a third match, if necessary, on Sunday. Winners will move on to Morrisville, where the conference finals will take place on August 27 and a champion will be crowned on August 28.