Ahead of the first-ever Finals Weekend in Minor League Cricket, stats guru Tom Nielsen crunches the numbers on both Conference Finals on Saturday, continuing with the Pacific today after yesterday’s Atlantic preview. Read on and take your pick on which two will make it to Sunday’s Championship Final in Morrisville!
Golden State Grizzlies v Silicon Valley Strikers
In the second match of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Golden State Grizzlies will take on the Silicon Valley Strikers in the Pacific Conference final – it’ll be a familiar matchup, as both teams qualified from the Western Division. We’ll look at how these teams got here, what happened when they met in the regular season, and what to expect this weekend.
How They Got Here
The Golden State Grizzlies finished first in the Western Division with a record of 12-2-1, with their only two losses coming against the Strikers. The Grizzlies swept through the Houston Hurricanes at home in the Pacific Conference Semi-final. In the first match, Neeraj Goel (4 wickets for 24 runs in four overs) and Vatsal Vaghela (three wickets for 16 runs in 3.2 overs) led the Grizzlies to an 11 run win by restricting Houston to 162 in pursuit of 173. In match two, Sami Aslam (45 off 43) and Zia Muhammad Shahzad (74 off 48) chased down Houston’s 136 with ease on their way to a 9-wicket victory to take their place in the Pacific Conference Finals.
The Silicon Valley Strikers finished second in the Western Division with a record of 11-3-1, just a win behind the Grizzlies. The Strikers went the distance in the Conference Semi-final, taking 2 of 3 from the Austin Athletics to advance to the Finals. Game one was an eight run win on the back of a 78 (51) from Shehan Jayasuriya and late flurry of 37 (19) from Gary Graham. Austin took game two with a relatively easy seven wicket win as the Strikers bowlers struggled to find a breakthrough. The performance of the playoffs came in game three though, as Unmukt Chand carried the strikers with a 132* (69), chasing down a tough 184 put up by the Athletics.
The Strikers came away with two wins in the regular season matchups between these teams, handing the Grizzlies their only two losses of the season in the process.
Week 4: Silicon Valley took a solid seven wicket win, chasing down Golden State’s 131 with seven balls to spare. Regular wickets from Abhishek Paradkar (three for 25 in 4.0 overs) and tight bowling from Pranay Suri (two for 16 in 4.0 overs) kept the Grizzlies’ total down in the first innings. A 73-run opening partnership for the Strikers from Arsh Buch (44 of 31) and Unmukt Chand (56* off 57) made easy work of the chase for the Strikers.
Week 8: In the final match of the season, the Strikers won a low-scoring affair, chasing down Golden State’s 106 with just five balls and three wickets to spare to clinch a playoff spot in dramatic fashion. Each of Silicon Valley’s five bowlers got a wicket, including three each for Dev Thadani and Pranay Suri. Mohit Nataraj put up a late 38 (21) for Golden State to avoid a complete collapse. In the second innings, Hammad Azam ripped through the middle order of Silicon Valley on his way to taking three wickets and allowing just nine runs in his 4.0 overs. A final partnership of 51 from Gary Graham (39* off 34) and Kulvinder Singh (12* off 4) took it home for the Strikers, with Kulvinder Singh clinching a playoff spot with a six to start the final over.
Season Long Player Impact Ratings
The table below details season-long batting and bowling impacts for the Grizzlies and Strikers. As a reminder, these impacts should be interpreted as the number of runs above average a player is contributing to their team’s total (for batting) or subtracting from their opponent’s total (for bowling).
For the Golden State Grizzlies, Hammad Azam has led all Minor League Cricket in overall impact, contributing a value of 240 runs total on the season. He’s been especially lethal with the bat, adding an impact of nearly one run per ball (!!) while bashing 395 runs at a strike rate of 190. Hammad Azam has hit a boundary every 3.6 balls, best in the league amongst batters with 100 balls faced. Zia Muhammad Shahzad and Sami Aslam provide the main support for Azam with the bat.
With the ball, Vatsal Vaghela leads the Grizzlies and all of Minor League Cricket with an incredible bowling impact of -2.27 runs per over. Neeraj Goel is not far behind at -1.79 runs per over (good for #9 in Minor League Cricket). Vaghela has taken 29 wickets and allowed 322 runs in his 58 overs, compared to expected figures of 18 wickets and 410 runs from the average bowler in his situations. Azam, Shahzad, and Abheyender Singh also provide solid support with impacts around or below -1 run per over. The Grizzlies will likely open the bowling with the pace of Goel and Sheryar Khan, get a couple overs from Azam’s pace, and then hand it over to the spin of Vaghela and Shahzad to take them through the middle overs.
The Silicon Valley Stikers can claim arguably the most talented bowler and batter in all Minor League Cricket. While Unmukt Chand’s slightly more modest strike rate of 123 (last weekend’s brilliant playoff performance notwithstanding) keeps his batting impact a touch lower than others, he is dismissed only once every 43.8 balls, good for third best in Minor League Cricket. Unmukt leads the league in fours with 52 across his 14 innings and has only been dismissed 10 times compared to an expected 20 dismissals for the average batters in his situations. A fun fact for your Minor League Cricket watch party: Chand, Shehan Jayasuriya, Pranay Suri, Narsingh Deonarine, Gary Graham, Arch Bush and Roshon Primus have all faced 100+ balls and have strike rates between 121 and 123. The Strikers clearly have a plan for attacking each innings and execute it well.
USA National Team captain Saurabh Netravalkar leads the Strikers’ bowling attack with a fantastic bowling impact of -1.61 runs per over. Netravalkar specializes in run prevention, which is the prized currency of limited overs cricket. While his 14 wickets are about what you’d expect from the average bowler, he’s allowed 251 runs compared to an expected 344. This means he’s allowing -27% fewer runs than the average bowler in the same situations, which is the fourth best in Minor League Cricket, behind Shadley Van Schalkwyk and fellow national teamers Rusty Theron and Nisarg Patel. Netravalkar is balanced by Kulvinder Singh and Abhishek Paradkar, who aren’t as tight from a run prevention perspective, but have the best wicket taking rates on a per-over basis on the team.
The model has the Golden State Grizzlies as favorites for the Western Conference Final, despite the two regular season losses to the Strikers – exactly what we see in the East as well, where the model has the Empire State Titans as favorites despite a couple of close regular season losses to the New Jersey Stallions. Let’s hope all finalists have saved the best for last, and we get a dramatic weekend of cricket in Morrisville. Happy watching!