Ira Gorawara debuts to preview the 2023 Sunoco Minor League Cricket Final set for Sunday, October 1st with the New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers taking on the Dallas Mustangs at 7:00 PM CT at Grand Prairie Stadium. Ira covers how each team got to this point, their previous meetings this season, does a deep dive in to each side’s batting and bowling strengths, and then wraps up with some final thoughts.
For the first time in tournament history, the Minor League Cricket trophy will drift away from the West.
Fifty two days of inter-division play brought eight teams to the forefront to compete in the Super Eights – four each from the Atlantic and Pacific Conferences. And after 12 matches in this phase, the Dallas Mustangs and the New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers have emerged as the 2023 Sunoco Minor League Cricket finalists.
In six matchups between the Pacific Conference’s four title-hopefuls, the East Bay Blazers, Silicon Valley Strikers, Dallas Mustangs and Lone Star Athletics each played one another en route to a clean sweep of the board by the Mustangs.
Behind a destructive 131-run partnership between Andries Gous and Sujith Gowda, and right-arm fast bowler Rushil Ugarkar’s five-fer, the Mustangs’ 182 total proved too formidable a feat Lone Star Athletics to chase. Rumman Raees and Ugarkar’s mastery with the new ball left Lone Star reeling at 28/4 in the sixth over, with its formidable top three batsmen back in the pavilion. The early blows proved effective, as the Athletics succumbed to a 72-run defeat.
Another innings anchored by the Mustangs’ offensive ace clinched the squad’s second victory of the Super Eights. Gous’ 79-not-out showing propelled his side to chase down Silicon Valley Strikers’ 135-run total.
In the Mustangs’ third and final Super Eights contest, Nauman Anwar boasted 89 runs, peppering the mid-wicket and straight boundaries to muster a 152-run total for his side. Raees beat David White’s inside edge early, flattening his middle stump to generate early pressure on the Blazers. Soft dismissals and poor shot selection ensued, eventually cutting the Blazers’ innings short at the 100-run mark.
The battle that unfolded on the other side of the nation presented a hazier picture. In a six-match web of the Atlanta Lightning, Atlanta Fire, The Philadelphians and New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers, none of the teams managed consecutive wins in the Super Eights. And beyond that, one team breached MiLC’s Player Regulations by fielding an ineligible domestic player, resulting in a forfeiture to their adversaries. That team was the New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers – the eventual conference champions and now a finals contender.
But after the forfeited match placed the Cavaliers bottom of the Atlantic Conference table, the squad emerged with relentless zeal in its next two matches.
A double-digit effort by five Atlanta Lightning batsmen amassed a 124-run total for the side, but proved subpar for the Cavaliers, who took just 14.3 overs to complete the chase. Yasir Mohammad’s efforts against the Mustangs will be key in the finals, as the USA team youngster was entrusted with a full quota against the Lightning and kept a tight stump-to-stump line to deliver three wickets.
Atlanta’s other team couldn’t find victory against the Cavaliers either, as the Fire failed to surpass the Cavaliers’ 161-run total with Junaid Nadir Mahsood garnering a four-fer at 5.50. Gajanand Singh’s offensive onslaught saw no end, as the right-hand batsman struck at nearly 200 to culminate in a 72-run exhibition punctuated by 12 boundaries.
Despite the Fire and Cavaliers both ending with four points by the end of the Super Eights, a net run rate of 1.439 landed the Cavaliers with the top spot in the Atlantic Conference.
On the heels of consecutive victories, the Dallas Mustangs and New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers will meet for the 2023 Minor League Finals. Hammad Azam and Syed Najaf Shah will convene for the toss at the Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium on Sunday evening at 7 p.m.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
I’ve said his name and I’ll say it again.
Spearheading the league with 515 runs under his belt in the 2023 season, Gous claims a 51.50 average. If this prowess isn’t enough, the batting powerhouse has hoisted his bat at the 50-run mark six times, more than any other batsman this season.
Gous has been ruthless on anything slightly short of a good length and produced a season-high 91 runs directly after an injury to reinforce his aptitude with the bat. Fans in the stands in the long-on and deep mid-wicket region should keep a keen eye out when Gous is at the crease.
Gous will look to set a sturdy platform early in his innings before moving up the gears. The Cavaliers will need to extinguish the Gous party before he sets into overdrive.
A versatile wicket-taking prowess characterizes Rumman Raees, whose fast bowling has collected scalps in many forms. Raees has appeared on the international stage in both the T20I and ODI format for Pakistan’s national team and has taken the new ball for the Mustangs this season.
The left-arm bowler’s pace and movement in the powerplay will be essential to construct early inroads into the Cavaliers lineup. Given Kennar Lewis’ strength down the ground, we are unlikely to see anything pitched in Lewis’ half unless Raees goes for the block hole. With the ability to oust some of the league’s highest run-takers, Raees’ ambit for excellence knows no bounds.
New Jersey Somerset Cavaliers:
A quiet Super Eights performance will do little to deter the T20 globetrotter. Kennar Lewis has witnessed a season of ebbs and flows, as his explosive figures with the bat have been scattered between single-digit performances. But still, the 6-foot-4 Jamaican has achieved three half-centuries on tricky wickets, displaying his veteran experience as he combines finesse with power.
The powerful West Indian makes ball striking look effortless and routinely utilizes his powerful slog sweep. The Mustangs’ left-arm spin twins, Ali Sheikh and Nosthush Kenjige, will need to be wary – no boundary seems expansive enough when Lewis is in full flight.
The ball pings sweetly off Lewis’ bat, and it may not be long till he brings that triumphant taste to New Jersey.
Syed Najaf Shah
Despite joining the Cavaliers in just six affairs this season, Syed Najaf Shah has made an immediate impact, surrendering just five runs an over throughout the Super Eights. Having played with the Pakistan U17s, U19s, A-team, and on the first-class circuit, the 38-year-old will bank on his veteran experience in Sunday’s battle.
Shah may not attain the speed of Rumman, but his accuracy will pose a threat to the Mustangs’ top-order. Underestimating Shah’s faculties with the ball may prove costly in the death overs, as the left-arm fast bowler will look to his yorker and off-cutter variations in the end overs.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Nosthush Kenjige vs. Gajanand Singh
A clash of familiar foes in left-arm orthodox Nosthush Kenjige and right-hand batsman Gajanand Singh will ensue Sunday, as the USA teammates are likely to meet on the pitch during the middle overs of the finals. The Mustangs’ Kenjige has proven his ability against top-class batsmen as his league-leading 5.58 economy rate in the 2023 Major League Cricket season was enough to land him a spot in the ILT20 MI Emirates Team. Singh, on the other end, is fresh off a 72-run masterclass at the Cavaliers’ most recent match, a blistering innings that has set the stage for an epic showdown between the two in the finals.
Mustangs’ top four batsmen vs. Cavaliers’ bowling attack
There’s no denying that the Mustangs’ top four batsmen showcase unrivaled talent. But what is the squad’s bellwether could also be its greatest vulnerability. Upwards of 80% of the Mustangs’ totals in each of the Super Eights matchups were amassed amongst these four batsmen. And although the quartet boasts individuals capable of single-handedly steering their side to victory, if the Cavaliers can launch an assertive attack with the ball and snag early wickets, the squad will see one hand on the 2023 trophy early into the finals affair.