Ahead of the start of the playoffs this weekend, stats guru Tom Nielsen crunches the numbers on each of the four matchups: who are the star performers on each team? Which teams are favorite to make it to Finals Weekend on Oct. 2-3? Read on to find out!
Painting the Playoff Picture
In previous posts, we’ve explained batting and bowling metrics that quantify how each player performs in terms of number of runs above or below the average cricketer. These metrics account for grounds the player performs at as well as the match situations the players appear in. In this post, we’ll take a look at player ratings for each of the upcoming Conference Semi-finals, which are each best of three series – two matches on Saturday, and then a winner-take-all decider on Sunday morning (if necessary). The winning four teams will advance to the finals, where the first Toyota Minor League Cricket title will be won in Morrisville, NC on Oct. 3.
Atlanta Fire v Empire State Titans
First up we have the #1 seed from the South, the Atlanta Fire, going up against the Empire State Titans, #2 in the East. The matchup will be at Atlanta Cricket Fields in Georgia. This ground has an artificial surface and played at 0.13 runs per ball above average for the season – a bit above average and the eighth highest scoring ground (out of 28) for the season. For the season, the East dominated the South to the tune of a 16-6 record in cross-over matches, so the model places the Titans as favorites for the best-of-three series.
Below is a table showing player level batting, bowling, and overall impacts for the season for each team’s players.
The Atlanta Fire are led by arguably the best per-over bowling duo in the league, Amila Aponso (#1 by bowling impact per over) and Corne Dry (#5 by bowling impact per over). Aponso’s spin bowling has taken 17 wickets at an Atlantic Conference-best 4.45 economy rate, and Corne Dry is second in the conference with 27 wickets across his 49 overs (a wicket every 10.9 balls!). The Fire’s batting will be led by Ricardo Powell, who has bashed 22 sixes in just eight matches, sporting a strike rate of 187. Though he hasn’t produced at his usual levels so far this season, Steven Taylor will be returning from National Team duty, where he struck 92 (63) to lead USA to victory over Nepal just a week ago. If healthy, Aaron Jones would also chip in a good chunk of runs.
The Titans are led by elite all-rounders Christopher Barnwell (#2 by overall impact in MiLC) and Trevon Griffith (#4 by overall impact in MiLC). They lead the Titans in runs at healthy ~150-ish strike rates, along with tight economy rates under 6.00 runs per over. The Titans have excellent death bowling – five regular bowlers in addition to Barnwell and Griffith that have added 25+ runs of value with the ball this season.
Morrisville Cardinals v New Jersey Stallions
The second matchup in the Atlantic Conference Semi-finals will be the Morrisville Cardinals (#2 in the South) against the New Jersey Stallions (#1 in the East). The matches will be played at Morrisville’s Church Street Park, an immaculate turf ground that plays at just -0.06 runs per ball below average. As with the previous match-up, the model likes the Eastern Division Stallions to take down the Cardinals. These are the only two playoff teams to have met during the season, when the Stallions took a 20-run win to open the season in Atlanta. Both teams squeaked into the playoffs despite the loss of some top players to USA National Team duty – Jaskaran Malhotra for the Cardinals and Dominique Rikhi and Jessy Singh for the Stallions. Hopefully all will be back and healthy for the playoffs!
Jaskaran Malhotra is the clear leader of the Cardinals, adding an incredible 134 runs of value across just nine innings with the bat and even pitching in with the ball. Siva Kumar Duvvarapu and USA U19-er Aditya Gupta lead the way with the ball. The youngster Gupta is #2 in all Minor League Cricket in bowling impact per over, with an incredible 16 wickets across just 24 overs at an economy of 5.75.
Jessy Singh had to leave the USA tour of Oman early with a side strain. If healthy, he spearheads the Stallions bowling attack with a strong 5.07 economy and 16 wickets in 36.4 overs. There’s a good amount of potential with the bat: Rikhi returning from national team duty, as well as youngster Sai Mukkamalla, who has two 50s on the season. His relatively slow strike rate (95) keeps his impact down, but he does provide good stability through his innings.
Golden State Grizzlies v Houston Hurricanes
Over to the Pacific Conference, we have #1 in the West, the Golden State Grizzlies, facing off against the Central Division #2 Houston Hurricanes. The Central pipped the season series vs the West 10-7, and this is viewed as nearly a toss-up between the Hurricanes and Grizzlies. Matches will be played at Davis, a turf ground that played at 0.04 runs above average – the highest scoring natural turf ground in the league.
The Golden State Grizzlies are led by the incredible Hammad Azam, who has turned in the league’s best season-long performance, adding 229 runs of value in 14 matches. At the crease, he’s racked up 367 runs at a strike rate of 188, averaging 61: a simply outstanding performance. His bowling figures are only a little more modest, with nine wickets across 40 overs at a team-leading economy of 5.22. Dominating with the ball are USA U19 rep Vatsal Vaghela (#6 in the league by impact per over) and Neeraj Goel (#13 by impact per over). Vatsal has taken 25 wickets in 52 overs, leading the Pacific Conference. Zia Muhammad Shahzad is not far behind with 23, but at a more expensive economy rate.
The Houston Hurricanes are led by their own young bowling hot shot, U21-er Karthik Gattepalli (#11 in the league by impact per over). Gattepalli has taken 24 wickets (#2 in the conference between Golden State’s Vaghela and Shahzad) across 60 overs at a 5.92 economy. Ali Khan’s return from the CPL adds a massive weapon to Houston’s bowling attack. Willem Ludick and Saqlain Haider lead the Hurricanes with the bat, sporting matching 141 strike rates and leading the team in runs. Ludick has put together four 50s, while scoring over 25 runs in eight of his 11 innings, anchoring the Houston lineup. US National teamer Sushant Modani will also return to the lineup to provide some stability.
Silicon Valley Strikers v Austin Athletics
Last up is West’s #2 Silicon Valley Strikers vs #1 in the Central, the Austin Athletics. These matches will take place at Moosa Stadium in Texas, a turf ground that has played exactly at a league average scoring rate. The model has the division-winning Athletics as slight favorites for the series.
The Strikers are led by arguably the most consistent bowler in associate cricket: Captain America, Saurabh Netravalkar. Among bowlers with 30+ overs bowled, he has the best economy in the Conference by more than half a run, at an incredible rate of 4.22 runs per over. Most of Netravalkar’s overs have come in the powerplay or at the death. In the powerplay, he runs an incredible 3.25 economy, forcing teams to work under pressure from the start. At the death, he’s taken six wickets across 11 overs to help remove set batters at the end. Netravalkar is helped with the ball by young national teamer Abhishek Paradkar as well as Pranay Suri. There’s a three-headed batting attack of Narsingh Deonarine, Shehan Jayasuriya, and Unmukt Chand. The batting is not as fast-paced as others throughout the league, but they provide excellent stability setting the table throughout the innings.
The Austin Athletics are led by Awais Zia, who leads the team with 345 runs at a solid strike rate of 133, including a century and two 50s. He’s no slouch with the ball either, taking 10 wickets across his 30 overs. Awais Zia is joined by Nitish Kumar and Jannisar Khan to form a batting attack that’s eerily similar to the Strikers. These three (as well as the three mentioned above for Silicon Valley) have faced over 50% of their team’s balls over the course of the season. Also like the Strikers, the strike rates here are not astronomical, but it puts their team in good position by the end of the innings. U19-er Laksh Parikh helps lead the bowling with an impressive 19 wickets across 37 innings, though he is a little expensive given the situations he bowls in.
The inaugural playoff weekend in Minor League Cricket has it all: US National Teamers, youth abound, do-everything all-rounders, and six-hitting monsters. This guide gives a good overview of how these players have performed this year, but as they say – cricket is not played on paper! Anything can happen, and there’s sure to be drama. Hopefully we get a full set of winner-take-all matches on Sunday. Happy watching – live on Willow’s YouTube channel all weekend!