With the penultimate weekend of regular season play here and gone, the 2022 Toyota Minor League Cricket Championship presented by Sunoco nears its crescendo. Some teams were playing their swan song, others the sweet sounds of playoff prep, and still others the hectic tempo of saving a season’s work. There were some splendid solos with the ball and dazzling duets between the wickets. This week saw a handful of century partnerships that show that sometimes it takes two to tango your way to victory. But there were also upsets of seemingly playoff bound teams by sides violining their last, showing how wonderfully unpredictable this T20 format can be.
Who made beautiful music, and who hit all the wrong notes? Strike up the band, here’s how week seven played out:
With Dallas snug as a bug in a rug, having locked up the division and no games this weekend, it was down to the Chicago Tigers, Michigan Cricket Stars, and Houston Hurricanes to squabble for the final playoff spot. Michigan was set to host Houston twice at home in Lyon Oaks, while Chicago welcomed in the Lone Star Athletics on Saturday.
On paper, it appeared that the second-placed Tigers would be favored over the Athletics, who had come to Woodland Park losers of six straight. That sentiment was strengthened after Calvin Savage (3/21) and Deepchand Pinnaka (3/14) led a Tigers onslaught that knocked over LSA for 104. But MiLC cricket is not played on paper. The Athletics bowlers had their ears pinned back and put doubts in minds after Hamza Khalid took out Charan Tai Seja and Syed Saad Ali within three balls in the fourth over. Kahlid would finish on 4/24, Sidhesh Pathare on 3/15, and Laksh Parikh on an electrifying 2/9 from 3.4 overs as the Athletics held on by 12 runs and threw a spanner (or wrench, if you prefer) into the Tigers plans.
Now it’s 7⃣ down for Chicago!
Check out these celebrations from captain Sidhesh Pathare pic.twitter.com/CnNwVGxVz0
— Minor League Cricket (@MiLCricket) August 6, 2022
As news of the upset reached the Mitten, the Cricket Stars and ‘Canes now had an extra pep in their step. Houston would be the more desperate of the two sides, as they needed a sweep in these two final games of their season to stave off elimination and put themselves one point ahead of the Tigers. A sweep by Michigan would’ve put them level on points with Chicago with a game in hand.
Saturday’s match started off in perfect pitch for the visitors, as Hashan Rashid removed the dangerous Ryan Scott and Haladhar Das on consecutive balls at the end of the opening over. From 4-for-2, the Stars recovered through a steady partnership from Nauman Anwar and Akeem Dodson that produced 63 runs and led to a target of 151. Any sort of momentum Houston gathered with the ball, however, was quickly quashed by a sustained ensemble bowling effort. Tirth Patel spearheaded the charge with 3/23, one of five wicket-takers, as economical and tidy bowling skittled Houston for 103 in 18 overs flat.
Michigan chose to open the batting again on Sunday, and Rashid, who yielded 55 runs despite taking a 3-fer, dismissed both Stars openers within four overs on his way to a much more efficient 4/22. Karthik Gattepalli chipped in three more wickets and other than Das’s 34, there was no real zing in Michigan’s bats; they lasted just 18.4 overs before being bowled out for 84. A low scoring game was on the cards, and again Michigan had five different wicket takers and Houston found themselves 9-for-2 after 2.1 overs. But the men in red were determined to go down swinging, as Muneeb Choudhary’s 45 righted the ship and Houston met their goal with seven overs to spare. The Hurricanes ended their season on even terms at 7-7, a great result from such a slow start.
So an intriguing situation now awaits. The Tigers finish the season under the lights at Hanover Park on Friday night against their winless crosstown rivals, the Chicago Blasters. A win there would force the Cricket Stars to beat Dallas twice at Moosa Stadium in Texas and make up the net run rate deficit. Nothing can be taken for granted in T20… nothing.
You think that race is tight? How about the slugfest going on between the East Bay Blazers and Seattle Thunderbolts for the second spot in the West, after Silicon Valley finally locked up the top spot with a win over Socal Lashings. The Blazers entered the game one-half game ahead of the ‘Bolts, with Seattle having an extra game next weekend.
Seattle squared off with San Diego in a pair of games at Morgan Hill, and though the Surf Riders have been game competitive this season, they were completely outmatched by the Seattle bowlers in game one. Four ‘Bolts took pairs on Saturday, the best being Shadley van Schalkwyk – allowing just nine runs from three overs. The chase found its footing after openers Andries Gous and Adam Crosthwaite were taken out within 3.2 overs, and the 98-run target was met comfortably.
Sunday’s match found the Surf Riders in better offensive nick. Partnerships of 51, 40, and 59 off the first three wickets paced San Diego to a solid 183-for-5 finish, as Sri Krishna Anantha Raju came at number three and batted his way through to 71* from 39, including six sixes.
Good teams chase down these targets. Seattle stamped their playoff credentials on this match and this season in doing so. Gous (season-high 83) and van Schalwyk (57) put on a fourth-wicket stand of 117 and put their side in good position down the stretch. San Diego’s bowlers fought back, leaving Seattle needing 11 off the final over to win. Captain Harmeet Singh got six of them in two balls before becoming Adnesh Tondale’s fourth victim, leaving Daminda Ranaweera and Rohan Posanipally needing four from three. Each batter got a single before Ranaweera hit the last ball all the way to the midwicket boundary, aggressive running completing the two-game sweep.
With Seattle collecting all four points from their games, it was up to the red-hot East Bay Blazers to do the same and maintain their edge. Saturday’s match against last place Hollywood was a straight-forward affair, as David White (72), Sanjay Krishnamurthi (75) and Carmi Le Roux (4/14) helped orchestrate a comprehensive 115-run win.
SoCal’s Sunday challenge was more to East Bay’s level, and Katene Clarke threw down a mighty gauntlet. The young New Zealander, stopped on 99 opening weekend, batted through the innings to an unbeaten 117*, the third highest score of the season.
A quick 🔥 50 comes up for the Socal Lashings in just 4.5 overs!
The Lashings are 64/1 in 6 overs. 🙌🏽 pic.twitter.com/Ne3wSL3lp8
— Minor League Cricket (@MiLCricket) August 7, 2022
The Lashings set a target of 192 and just like the ‘Bolts earlier in the day, the Blazers put up their own playoff caliber signal. Saideep Ganesh (51) and David White (73) faced every ball of the first twelve overs to the tune of 121 runs, and after White and and Nawaz Khan were dismissed back-to-back, Mark Deyal and captain Angelo Perera finished the job with 13 deliveries remaining for EBB’s sixth straight W.
It seems a shame that either Seattle or East Bay will miss the playoffs, especially considering that they have two of the top three run getters in MiLC (White and Gous behind SVS’s Shehan Jayasuriya), but that red line doesn’t budge. East Bay has struggling Hollywood at Santa Clara, while Seattle hosts also-ran Golden State Grizzlies in a double dip. Think this race has been decided? Read the last paragraph of the Central Division section again.
It was a premium weekend in the Peachtree City, with the Atlanta Lightning, Atlanta Fire, and Morrisville Raptors all continuing their arm wrestle for those two precious spots on the big stage. And boy did it live up to the billing.
The weekend’s first game, between the Lightning and Raptors, was arguably the most exciting. In a weekend where there were some mammoth partnerships, Sagar Patel (62) and Hanchard Hamilton’s (72) 134-run, second wicket stand was the largest. Good, solid bowling by Obus Pienaar (3/32) helped keep Atlanta under 200 runs, but deft batting meant that Morrisville had to chase down 189 for victory.
You don’t always need the big partnerships to win games in T20; sometimes you just need consistent batting. Though Heath Richards ripped through the middle of the Raptors order en route to a 4/38 morning, four knocks of 20+ runs within the first five blue-and-green battery kept the target in sight. Then Dane Piedt came up to bat. The former South African test player was brought in from DC for these sort of occasions, and he calmly and cooly held on for 48* from 34 balls. Piedt and Aditya Padala saw off the final three overs, with the dashing Dane striking the winning runs off the penultimate ball.
Can Dane do it? YES Dane can!!!
— Minor League Cricket (@MiLCricket) August 6, 2022
After the Atlanta Fire saw off bystanding Orlando Galaxy behind Corne Dry and Evroy Dyer 3-fers, it was their turn to face the Carolinian club. They sent the Raptors into bat, to which Lahiru Milantha responded with a rollicking 91, blasting six sixes on the way. Rahkeem Cornwall had one of his best showings with the ball for the Fire, taking 3/25 and inducing Piedt into a second-ball duck. Every other batter got into the double digits, however, and the Raptors set a target of 204. The Fire had put up 200 before, but not against this deep and varied Morrisville bowling staff. Seven bowlers threw everything *and* the kitchen sink at the Atlanta battery and they all took wickets, with Pienaar and Ronan Phadke each taking pairs. Cornwall was kept to six, no one scored more than 31 (that was Lieb Sauermann and Jahmar Hamilton), and the Raptors had secured their seventh win in eight tries.
With the Lightning ending Orlando’s season on a sour note thanks in part to Kyle Philip’s 4-fer to complete play on Sunday, both Atlanta teams and Morrisville are neck, neck and neck as we turn for the final weekend. All eyes will be on the host venue of finals weekend, Church Street Park, which will be the site of the final six matches of the regular season. The Raptors will play in four of those games, including a twin bill on Friday night and back-to-back games against the Lightning. Whoever emerges from this dust cloud will have certainly earned it.
Two weekends ago, the East was the only MiLC division where all seven teams conceivably had a realistic shot of playing finals cricket. As this weekend got underway, however, there were two clear front runners – the New Jersey Stallions and Manhattan Yorkers. Both teams were in position to shut the gate on the rest of the field with victories in matches across the Garden State.
The Stallions notched wins on both days, ending the playoff hopes of their two opponents. Saturday’s foe, the Empire State Titans, fell victim to Anthony Bramble’s purple patch. The Guyananese keeper-all-rounder hit for 58 to go with Paul Palmer’s 50* in a 27-run victory, becoming the first team from the division to punch their playoff ticket.
On Sunday they entertained the DC Hawks, and though Bramble was kept to 27, Dominique Rikhi’s 47 helped them to a total of 161-for-6. The Hawks scratched their way into contention despite 3-fers from Derone Davis and a returning Steven Wiig. Franklin Clement kept the wicketkeeper half-century quota intact with a 52, most of it lending to a 50 partnership with Pranto Ahmed. As it turns out, the Hawks were racing not just the required run rate, but against Mother Nature as well. As DC frantically got themselves down to 17 runs from the final over, a drizzle turned into a steady rain, which became a deluge. As a mid-summer storm flooded the Howe Athletic Complex pitch, it effectively drowned out the season for the capital men, as they were left nine runs behind the par score.
Down Route 1 a bit, the Manhattan Yorkers opened proceedings with a win over last place New England in a match shortened to 16-overs because of a wet outfield at Mercer County Park. Standing between them and the playoffs were the Philadelphians, who had been triumphant over the Eagles in their own testy affair on Saturday. The Yorkers didn’t have Joel Campbell, the hero of their week six clash at Exton Park, but they did have Christopher Barnwell, who was a thorn in Philly’s craw in 2021.
Philly’s batting woes of late forced captain Miland Kumar to bring himself into the opening pair alongside Derick Narine. And so far, it’s worked. Coming off his 104 in the last encounter against the Yorkers, the former IPL veteran top-scored with 71 after being sent into bat on a slow outfield. The total has quietly put him at the top of the Atlantic Conference runs column, and with Narine adding a supplementary 37, the Philadelphians ended on 162-for-5. Missing the likes of Karima Gore and Liam Plunkett from their bowling rotation, the Phils had to rely on newcomers Keon Joseph and Shazzad Hoqe to carry the load, and they each took one wicket. Barnwell got 53*, but Kumar and friends ground the Yorker offense down to its nub to hold on to a gritty nine-run win.
Like someone who forgot to mow their lawn for a month, Philly has a lot to do. They need to beat the Stallions and Titans at home next weekend, hope the Hawks beat the Yorkers twice down in Virginia, and hope that at the end of all of that they’re on the sunny side of the net run rate. Is it probable? No. Is it possible? You betcha.
Thus, the final round of matches is upon us, kicking off Friday afternoon in North Carolina and ending Sunday evening on the west coast. Three teams have clinched the eight spots available for the opening round of postseason play August 20/21, while nine teams scramble, at varying odds and angles, to grab the final five. This season’s symphony is still being written, so get ready for week eight and I’ll see you in the playoffs.