A great Toyota Minor League Cricket season is now behind us, capped off by an outstanding weekend of cricket at Church Street Park where the Silicon Valley Strikers were crowned Champions. Now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath, Tom Nielsen takes a look back at the last two weekends to appreciate some of the outstanding players and performances on display in the playoffs.
We’ll reference our Batting and Bowling Impact metrics throughout the article. Those impacts were leveraged in choosing the XI, but were of course not the sole basis of selection: team success and putting in good performances in team wins were considered as well.
Best XI of the Playoffs
Here is my personal selection of the 2021 Minor League Cricket Playoffs Best XI, presented roughly in batting order. As a reminder, positive batting impacts and negative bowling impacts are good:
Unmukt Chand, Silicon Valley Strikers: Batting Impact of +46.4 runs in 5 matches
Arguably the top player of the playoffs, Unmukt Chand put away 231 runs at a strike rate of 155 across five matches for the championship-winning Silicon Valley Strikers. Chand’s 24 fours and 12 sixes were both playoff-bests, and his scoring pace was +26% faster than the average batter for his situations. He carried the Strikers to Finals weekend with an incredible 132* (69) in the winner-take-all game three of the Conference Semi-finals against the Austin Athletics, and also contributed with 59 (43) in the conference final and a quick-start 21 (12) in the league final to help the Strikers lift the trophy.
Steven Taylor, Atlanta Fire: Batting Impact of +29.4 runs in 3 matches
In the highest-scoring conference semi-final match-up, Steven Taylor put together a blistering performance on the first day of the playoffs against the Empire State Titans, continuing his fine form from US National Team duty. In the first match, Taylor opened up the scoring with 64 (34), though the Fire weren’t able to close out the chase in a 1-run loss to the Titans. In match two, Taylor bettered himself with 80 (43), this time kick-starting a successful chase in a Fire win. The Fire weren’t able to advance to Finals weekend on Sunday, but in just three matches Taylor was able to put up the third most runs in the playoffs with 144 at a strike rate of 185.
Dominique Rikhi, New Jersey Stallions: Batting Impact of +11.1 runs in 4 matches
Playing all four of his matches on tricky wickets at Church Street Park in Morrisville, Dominique Rikhi was a steady top-order presence for the New Jersey Stallions. After being run out on 10 in the conference semi-final opener, Rikhi put up scores of 34, 34, and 42 to close out the playoffs. In all, Rikhi had 120 runs at a strike rate of 113 for the league runners-up Stallions.
Zia Muhammad Shahzad, Golden State Grizzlies: Batting Impact of +31.7 runs and Bowling Impact of -2.0 runs in 3 matches, for a Total Impact of +33.7 runs
Leading the Grizzlies with the bat was Zia Muhammad Shahzad, scoring 126 runs at a strike rate of 154 as he helped take the Grizzlies to the Conference Finals. In game one of the Conference Semi-finals versus Houston, Shahzad scored a quick 46 (27) as the Grizzlies scored 173, just out of reach of the Hurricanes. In game two, Shahzad led the Grizzlies with a fantastic 74* (48) in a thumping 9-wicket win. With the ball, he also contributed with two wickets across his 10 overs at an economy of 7.40.
Rovman Powell, New Jersey Stallions: Batting Impact of +17.7 runs and Bowling Impact of -6.4 runs in 4 matches, for a Total Impact of +24.1 runs
With the bat, Rovman Powell put up some quick runs in game two of the Conference Semi-final vs the Morrisville Cardinals with a huge 61 (37) to put the game and the series out of reach of the Cardinals. Powell also contributed a vital 30 (20) through the middle overs of the Conference Final vs the Empire State Titans as they chased down a target of 125 with seven balls to spare. Powell also contributed with the ball, taking four wickets (one in each match!) across 13.1 overs at a tight economy of 6.26.
Pranay Suri, Silicon Valley Strikers: Batting Impact of +21.9 runs and Bowling Impact of -2.5 runs in five matches, for a Total Impact of +24.4 runs
Pranay Suri had two stand-out performances in the playoffs for the Silicon Valley Strikers. In Game 2 of the Conference Semi-final against Austin, Suri went for 77 (49) leading the Strikers to 155, which they ultimately couldn’t defend in a losing effort despite his tight bowling only going for 21 runs in 4.0 overs. Pranay Suri came up big with the ball in the League final though, taking two wickets for 18 runs in four overs, including the key wicket of Dominique Rikhi in the 13th over.
Bhaskar Yadram, Empire State Titans: Batting Impact of +20.6 runs and Bowling Impact of -20.2 runs in four matches, for a Total Impact of +40.8 runs
Like Steven Taylor, Bhaskar Yadram benefitted from batter-friendly conditions in the Conference Semi-finals, and put up a still-fantastic 100 runs off 55 balls across the entire playoffs with the bat, highlighted by 50* (25) and 44 (24) in the first two matches of the semi-final series. With the ball, Yadram took three wickets at an economy of 7.36, strong given three of his four matches were played at the Atlanta Cricket Fields, which helps batters to the tune of 0.77 runs per over. In all, Bhaskar Yadram put together the most complete all-round performances of the playoffs.
Roshon Primus, Silicon Valley Strikers: Bowling Impact of -31 runs in 5 matches
Roshon Primus did most of his damage in the playoffs with the ball, leading the playoffs in wickets with 10 across his 18.1 overs (compared to an expected 5.7 for the average bowler in the same situations). His economy of 7.35 was perhaps a touch expensive, but Primus took an incredibly consistent two wickets in every single match in the playoffs for the Strikers, five of those being top-order batters. Primus contributed with the bat when it mattered most, finishing off the Championship victory with 31* (25) as the Strikers chased down the Stallions’ 141.
Stephen Wiig, New Jersey Stallions: Batting Impact of +5.6 runs and Bowling Impact of -29.6 runs in 4 matches, for a Total Impact of +35.2 runs
With Sachin Mylavarapu, Stephen Wiig formed one half of a nasty two-headed bowling attack for the New Jersey Stallions in the playoffs. Wiig took five wickets across 15 overs at an economy of 4.47, impressive even considering he was at slightly bowler-friendly Church Street Park. Highlighting his bowling performance was a 2/14 in four overs against Morrisville in the Conference Semi-final opener as well as a tight 1/16 in four overs against the Empire State in the Conference Finals. But Wiig’s most impactful contribution was nearly a 17 (9) performance at the end of the Stallions’ innings in the Final vs the Strikers. Coming in with his team on 110/7, Wiig helped turn it into a defendable 141 – though the Stallions would fall short, it still gave them a chance.
Kulvinder Singh, Silicon Valley Strikers: Bowling Impact of -32.2 runs in 5 matches
Taking at least one wicket in every match, Kulvinder Singh led the Silicon Valley Strikers bowling attack on the way to a Minor League Cricket Championship title. Singh’s nine wickets across 18 overs were second only to his teammate Roshon Primus, and he did so with a decent economy of 6.67 runs per over. Singh’s success was highlighted on finals weekend, when he took 2/19 in the Conference Final and 3/32 in the Finals.
Sachin Mylavarapu, New Jersey Stallions: Bowling Impact of -42.1 runs in 4 matches
The second half of the New Jersey Stallions bowling attack was (in this author’s opinion) the top bowler of the playoffs, Sachin Mylavarapu. Mylavarapu one-upped teammate Stephen Wiig with six wickets and an economy of 3.87 in his own 15 overs, for an outstanding impact of -2.81 runs per over. He took a wicket in each match, with figures of 2/9 (4.0) and 1/25 (4.0) in the semi-finals and 2/14 (4.0) and 1/10 (3.0) on finals weekend. In all, he allowed -37% fewer runs than the average bowler and took 6 wickets compared to expectations of 3.4 for the average bowler.
12th Man: Murali Krishna Ankaraju, Morrisville Cardinals: Batting Impact of +30.9 runs and Bowling Impact of -14 runs, for a Total Impact of +44.9 runs
In a difficult playoffs, Murali Krishna Ankaraju was a bright spot for the Morrisville Cardinals. Coming in at eight in game one of the Conference Semi-finals, Ankaraju scored a quick 19 off eight late to nudge the Cardinals over 100, then took a wicket with the ball that same match. Ankaraju was the top bowler in game two, with figures of 2/25 in his four overs, while everything fell down around him as the Stallions put up 183. Coming in at nine in a futile chase, he scored another quick 33* (19) to make it respectable for the Cardinals. Quick runs in desperate situations are especially valuable, and while it wasn’t enough for the Morrisville Cardinals, Murali Krishna Ankaraju deserves credit for his efforts.
Photos by Peter Della Penna/Minor League Cricket