The Monday All Rounder – Playoff Edition!

September 27, 2021


There were a couple of moments when Unmukt Chand, on his way to compiling the highest score in this entire inaugural Toyota Minor League Cricket season, made it apparent he was a batting in a slightly different game than everyone else. The captain of the Silicon Valley Strikers, opening the batting, charged with chasing a daunting 184 run total set by the Austin Athletics in an eliminator match to reach finals weekend – for Unmukt, this was apparently the time to bust out not just the lusty T20 blows for six, but the glances and nudges of true batting craftmanship.

As Tom Wolfe once might have written had The Right Stuff been about T20 batting rather than, uh, space flight: any fool can blast a bunch of sixes any given day, but few have “the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness” to range and time their scoring from brute force maximums down the ground to stylish cover drives for four to cheeky scoops behind, all while keeping the scoreboard ticking to just the right number under pressure.

An innings of 132 unbeaten, featuring 15 fours and 7 sixes, guided the Strikers to victory and the series win with only three balls to spare. No other Silicon Valley batter passed 15. Austin’s 184 total had been set in large part thanks to a blistering 60 from 29 balls by Hamza Bangash, but the Athletics will regret that a tremendous platform – they were 117/3 after 11.3 overs, when Bangash lost his wicket – wasn’t cashed in on. And while Chand will rightly take the plaudits for the run chase, he would likely have faced an unsurmountable total had it not been for a brilliant final three overs by the Strikers’ bowlers, with Netravalkar, Primus and Singh each taking wickets and holding Austin down to only 13 runs in that death spell.

Athletics Final Three Overs

The Strikers, then, move on to the Conference Finals, where they will face a familiar foe: the Golden State Grizzlies, also of the Western Division. While the Strikers had to lay it on the line to squeak past the Athletics, the Grizzlies cruised past the Houston Hurricanes with surprising ease on Saturday, winning both matches to take the three-game series without a deciding game necessary.

This was in large part due to some tremendous bowling performances: in the first match, the Hurricanes were bowled out for 162 chasing the Grizzlies’ 173, with Neeraj Goel taking four wickets, and young gun Vatsel Vaghela continuing his ridiculously strong form with 3/16 in 3.2 overs.

In the second match, Houston were restricted to only 136 runs, Abheyender Singh this time the pick of the Grizzlies’ bowlers with 4/24. How this group of bowlers matches up against the Strikers’ star-studded batting lineup may well determine who advances to the championship game on Sunday.

In that championship game, the winner out of the Pacific will face the winner out of the Titans and Stallions, as the two Eastern Division foes will go head-to-head once again. The Titans were stretched to a deciding game against a stacked Atlanta Fire team, who somehow chased down 209 runs on Saturday to tie the series at 1-1, Steven Taylor returning from USA duty to blast 80 from 43 balls for the Fire.

On Sunday, though, the Titans reminded us of their strength in depth in the deciding game, holding the Fire’s batters to only 147 runs; there was to be no repeat of the previous day’s heroics for Steven Taylor, who departed for a golden duck off the first ball of the innings.

The Titans reached a series-winning score with ease, only losing two wickets along the way.

The Stallions, meanwhile, made short work of the Morrisville Cardinals despite the advantage of home turf for the North Carolina team, who lost form in the season at the worst possible time. Economic and incisive bowling from the Stallions in the first match saw the Cardinals only just scrape to 103 runs, Sachin Mylavarapu taking 2/9 from his four overs, a total the Stallions surpassed with six wickets and 22 balls to spare. The second game did not prove to be much closer: Rovman Powell, an outstanding late-season addition for New Jersey, smacked 61 from 37 balls as the Stallions set 183 runs for Morrisville to chase. The Cardinals could only get to 142, Stephen Wiig the pick of the bowlers with 2/23 from his four overs.

Morrisville still has the pride of hosting Finals Weekend, however, with scenic Church Street Park a wonderful setting for the four remaining teams to take the stage and battle it out on Saturday and Sunday to determine an inaugural Toyota Minor League Cricket Championship winning team. Who will have the moxie, the nerve, the coolness to see it out this weekend?

Finals Weekend Bracket