The Monday All Rounder – Week Eight

September 20, 2021


And then there were eight. Twenty seven teams started the inaugural season of the Toyota Minor League Cricket Championship, each dreaming of becoming the first team to lift silverware at the end of the year. For 19 teams, that dream is now gone. The final weekend of the regular season determined which two teams from each division progress to the Conference Semi-Finals this weekend, a best-of-three series that will send the final four to Morrisville for the finals on Oct. 2-3. Who’s left?

Western Division

What has been a fiercely competitive three-horse race throughout the season fittingly came down to the final weekend of play. And though the Silicon Valley Strikers started the weekend in third place, by the end of it, they’d set down a marker as a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs, beating both the East Bay Blazers and the Golden State Grizzlies to qualify. Saturday’s win over the Blazers at Morgan Hill came thanks to some quick hitting from Rahul Jariwala, 41 from 25, and an anchor innings of 61 from Unmukt Chand. The Strikers’ bowling team contained the Blazers’ run chase, despite an impressive 84 from 47 balls by Sujith Gowda.

The Strikers then sealed a playoff spot with a hugely impressive victory over the Golden State Grizzlies in Davis on Sunday. That came largely thanks to a brilliant bowling spell by Dev Thadani, taking 3/14 from his four overs, ripping through the Grizzlies’ top order batting. And catches like these win matches.

The Strikers’ win officially eliminated the Blazers, as a disappointing run of three consecutive defeats ended their promising season, including one more defeat later in the day to the Grizzlies, who secured the division title. Despite the Strikers’ hot form, Golden State still should be a team to be feared: they’ve only lost twice all season (only Austin can say that as well across the entire league), and their two leading batters, Sami Aslam (79) and Hammad Azam (45*), reminded us of their quality in that final match against the Blazers. Both men end the regular season with 367 runs, Azam’s coming at an outstanding strike-rate of 188.21.

Vatsal Vaghela also snagged another pair of wickets, the 19-year-old spinner ending the regular season as the Grizzlies’ leading wicket-taker with 25, topping the Pacific Conference charts. Vaghela’s victims also came at an absurd strike rate of a wicket every 12 deliveries. Watch out world.

Central Division

The Austin Athletics secured the division title and a match-up with the Strikers. Austin didn’t mess around confirming that on Saturday: holding Irving to a mere 92 runs, Laksh Parikh taking three wickets, and they raced to victory by knocking off the 93 runs required in a mere seven overs. Hamza Bangash ended the innings for Austin on a round 50 not out. Parikh has been the pick of the bowlers for Austin this season, taking 19 wickets at an 11.7 ball strike-rate and 6.08 economy rate, but it’s a deep bowling lineup that the Strikers will not look forward to facing, with Jannisar Khan, Nitish Kumar and Awais Zia also taking more than 10 wickets during the season.

The fight for second place was also determined on Saturday, and the quality of the league as a whole is demonstrated by the fact that an extremely strong Michigan Cricket Stars team misses the playoffs, finishing third in the Central. Sadly, that means we’ll miss out on seeing Ryan Scott in the playoffs: his destructive power was again on display against the Chicago Blasters.

Scott’s century made him the first man to make two this season, and helped the Cricket Stars to a comfortable win over the Blasters. But it proved to be in vain for Michigan’s playoff chase, as the Houston Hurricanes defied the pressure and coasted to victory over the Irving Mustangs later in the day to qualify and face the Grizzlies in the Conference Semi-Finals. With Ashley Nurse (who scored 33 from 15 against Irving) back from CPL duty, and Ali Khan likely to return as well, the Hurricanes shouldn’t be underestimated in the playoffs.

Southern Division

In the Atlantic Conference, the Atlanta Fire had already secured their playoff spot and the division title heading into the week, but had the pride of Atlanta to play for against the Param Veers. The latter needed a pair of wins over the Fire to knock out the Cardinals. The Param Veers put up a respectable 142 in their first innings against the Fire, including critical, quick late order runs from Evroy Dyer, ending unbeaten on 31 from 15 balls. Amila Aponso had a match for the Fire: taking 3/15 from 4 overs, knocking 8 quick unbeaten runs from 5 balls, and taking this heck of a catch off Corne Dry’s bowling:

The Fire chased down the Param Veers 142 with two balls to spare to end their rival’s playoff chances, and allow the Cardinals to back into the playoffs with a 7-7 record. That said, with a natural turf wicket, the Cardinals will host in the first round of the playoffs, and will look forward to the return of Jaskaran Malhotra from USA Cricket duty – they will need more of his big hitting magic to have a chance in the Conference Semi-Finals.

Eastern Division

The Titans had stood tall all season in a hyper-competitive division, and looked favorites to claim top spot ahead of the chasing New Jersey Stallions. A comfortable win over the Eagles on Saturday meant a victory over the Yorkers on Sunday would seal a #1 seeding coming out of the east. Then it all went a little bit wrong for the Titans. A run-out, a hit wicket, and then a crucial dropped catch at the end of the Yorkers’ chase led to an upset victory for Manhattan.

Meantime, a high-quality Philadelphians team – bolstered by the mid-season addition of Milind Kumar – looked to make up ground and claim a playoff spot. Philly did its part in the first game of their weekend, beating the Eagles, but the Stallions held off the Yorkers, meaning that when the two teams faced each other, Philly needed a massive win to catch up on points and net run rate.

And the Titans’ surprising defeat meant the Stallions faced the Philadelphians on Sunday not only to clinch a playoff spot, but with the opportunity to claim the division title as well. This they did: Justin Dill took three wickets for New Jersey, holding Philly to 173 runs after a hot start, while new addition Rovman Powell blasted 71 from 38 balls as the Stallions reached their target with 25 balls to spare. Powell had quite the weekend: he also took 3/16 (with a hat-trick!) and hit an unbeaten 25 against the Yorkers. With the win, the Stallions will face the lukewarm Cardinals rather than the red-hot Fire, and might just be getting hot themselves at the right time.

Here are your matchups for the Conference Semi-Finals this weekend, with all matches in the best of 3 series to be streamed free on Willow’s YouTube channel. Don’t miss this!

Playoff Matchups