Eleven versus Eleven. Bowler versus batter. Each person doing all that they can for their team – but also engaged in a personal pursuit of optimal performance, knowing cricket’s unforgiving individual spotlight and statistics leave nowhere to hide.
Few cricketers can win a game on their own, even if a Viv Richards or a Ben Stokes have sometimes made that seem possible. But it’s also certainly true that top individual performers drive team success. Halfway through the Toyota Minor League Cricket Championship season, who are the performers to watch out for contributing the most to their teams in the critical countdown to the playoffs?
On the bowling side, here’s your top 10 wicket-takers for the season so far across the entire league of 27 teams:
T20 might feel like a batter’s game at times, without the time for bowlers to pin the game down and dry runs up, but key wickets – and a good economy rate – turn matches around. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that eight out of this top 10 list play for teams in the top two of their respective division standings, the cut-off mark to qualify for the playoffs (Najam Iqbal of the Blasters, fifth in the Central Division, and Manoj Acharya of the Manhattan Yorkers, third in the Eastern Division, are the exceptions).
Top of the standings, Vatsal Vaghela has been exceptional for the Golden State Grizzlies, who have lost only one of six games. The former USA U-19 All-rounder has yet to feature with the bat, but he’s made up for that with the ball, claiming more than three wickets in no fewer than five of those six matches. Facing the Surf Riders and Master Blasters this weekend, two of the bottom three teams in the Western Division, Vaghela will look to add to those numbers and firm up the Grizzlies’ tight playoff chase with the Blazers and the Strikers.
In the high-scoring Eastern Division, it’s been less friendly territory for bowlers, but that hasn’t stopped Jessy Singh claiming 15 wickets at a smart economy rate of 5.14 for the New Jersey Stallions. The US National Team player, 28, will need to be at his best this weekend to keep the Stallions top of the Eastern Division as they face two of the chasing pack who can pile on the runs: the Philadelphians on Saturday and the Cavaliers on Sunday. Hear Jessy talk to the Minor League Cricket Show about his season so far:
Who has been smoking the ball best across the league? Let’s take a look.
South Africans Obus Pienaar, for the St Louis Americans, and Andries Gous, of the Seattle Thunderbolts, have impressed in piling on the highest volume of runs so far. But in T20 cricket, of course, it’s strike-rate that matters almost as much in contributing to team victories.
And boy does one number stand out in that top ten: the Michigan Cricket Stars’ Ryan Scott’s outrageous strike-rate of 201.79, helped enormously of course by his brilliant 118* from only 48 balls against the Houston Hurricanes. That result started a critical streak of three consecutive wins for the Stars, taking them to second in the standings. Michigan will need Scott at his blistering best this weekend, facing the two teams immediately below in the standings: the Austin Athletics on Saturday, and the Irving Mustangs on Sunday.
In the Southern Division, runs have been harder to come by – particularly at the home of the Morrisville Cardinals, Church Street Park. That makes the numbers Jaskaran Malhotra has compiled even more impressive: though he didn’t quite make the top ten above, with 214 runs at a strike-rate of 171.20, the newly recalled American international has helped Morrisville to first place in the standings. The Cardinals will need Malhotra at his best this weekend, with a pair of crucial matches on Saturday and Sunday against the third-placed Orlando Galaxy.
Notably, Malhotra has also chipped in with four wickets as well as captaining the team. In a sport all about the balance of bat, ball, team and individual, Malhotra is certainly amongst the leading MVP candidates across the league as we head to the sharp end of the season.
Here’s the full line-up for this weekend – catch the streams live on Willow TV’s YouTube channel!