The Road to Minor League Cricket – Part Five

January 13, 2022


While most pro athletes in this country have followed a relatively linear and predictable path in order to make it to the top of their game, there’s no template, blueprint, or well-traveled path for professional cricketers in the US. To make it to Minor League Cricket, players have had to navigate some pretty interesting routes (read parts one, twothree and four for more stories). Steve Steinberg from CricAmerica sat down with a couple of players who’ve called more than one place home before landing in the US.

Zain Sayed (Atlanta Param Veers)

The shortest distance between two points might be a straight line, but the life of an American cricketer doesn’t always follow the rules of geometry when it comes to geography. Zain Sayed’s route to Minor League Cricket was a circuitous one — from India to Canada to the US, back to India, and then back to the US. “I grew up in India and played a lot of cricket in elementary school. I moved to Brampton, outside Toronto, Canada, when I was in middle school and saw there was cricket happening there, as well. I met a friend who had played cricket in Pakistan and he saw potential in me. We joined a league together in Canada and started training together. So that’s where my cricket developed. It’s a short season, obviously, because of the weather, but we made the most of it.”

His cricket season got much longer after relocating to the US and — just like he did in Canada — he made the most of it. “I moved to Atlanta when I was about 16 and I started playing league cricket as soon as I got here with some friends from high school. And I’ve been playing ever since then. I got picked for the Under-19 South East regional team when I was 16 and then was promoted to captain. I was captain of the South East team for two years and I got to play with the likes of (USA Cricket’s) Steven Taylor for three or four years.”

But his travels were far from over. Through the South East team, Zain met coach Monty Desai, who also worked with the IPL’s Rajasthan Royals. “During college, me and a couple of other players met with Monty Desai here in Atlanta. I’m from the same city in India where he’s from and he asked me to visit his academy and have coaching sessions with him. That’s the period that really evolved my game.”

“I wish I had been able to do it at an earlier age. You wake up and you head to the ground for training in the morning. You do your fitness work and you keep on training until the afternoon. You have a lunch break and then come back and you’re doing your drills again. And I did that for six months. Three days at Monty Desai’s academy and two days at a different academy.”

Back in the US, all of the hard work — and travel — paid off. Zain was a beast of a batsman for the Atlanta Param Veers in this past Minor League Cricket season. He put up 467 runs in only 11 innings for an average of over 58 and a strike rate over 163. His 111 against Orlando tied for the second highest total put up by an Atlantic Conference batter. “We had an amazing tournament. There might have been a few games that were one-sided, but most of the games either side could have won. And next year will bring even more competition and more quality. I’m looking to test myself at higher and higher levels. The higher the quality that you play against, the better your game becomes.”

As for the future of the game in the US? “I’m really excited about Major League Cricket. It’ll be a great way to showcase what we do. It’s the kind of cricket we’ve always wanted.”

Who would Zain want to play with on his Dream XI? “There are so many cricketers that I like, because I follow EVERY cricketer. Jos Buttler. I would take him as my wicket-keeper. Then Dale Steyn. And Virat Kohli.”

Dunae Nathaniel (Orlando Galaxy)

While a lot of Minor League cricketers may be relatively new to the US and USA Cricket, Dunae Nathaniel might seem like he’s been here forever. He’s been in and around USA Cricket since 2003, which — if you need some perspective — is before T20 was even a thing. “I was born in St. Croix — the US Virgin Islands — so I’m an American citizen by birth. But I grew up in Antigua, where both my parents were born. That’s where I started playing cricket. Everyone in my family played cricket, so I picked up on it. I went to all the camps there. I went to all the trials. I made the Antigua Under-13 and Under-15 teams.”

“The year I was going to make the Under-19 team is when I moved to Kissimmee, Florida — near Orlando — because my mother wanted me to get a better education and a career and to capitalize on the fact that I’m an American citizen. That was 2003. I thought that was it for cricket, because they didn’t play cricket here. Growing up, never once did I hear of cricket in the USA. So, I played soccer, basketball, I tried out for the football team. I played all sports. I’m an athlete. And one day a gentleman came to the house and he had on cricket clothes and I was like ‘Wait a minute! Do you play cricket?’ He told me about the USA team and that’s how I started playing here.”

Cricket in the US wasn’t quite the same in 2003 as it is in 2022. “Back then, they were just getting their foot in the door. I think they were maybe in World Cricket League division 4. I didn’t even know about the Under-19 team until I got selected to go to trials. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. We came in 12 out of 16 teams in the U19 World Cup in 2006. A lot of people don’t realize that. The problem is that when we got back, the USA got suspended. We were looking forward to hopefully representing the senior team and all of a sudden, there’s no cricket.”

While the fate of the then-governing USA Cricket Association (USACA) was being decided by the ICC, Dunae was in limbo. “I had just graduated high school. Obviously, I wanted to be a professional cricketer, but after waiting around for a few months to see what would happen with the suspension, I joined the Air Force. That was back in 2007. I would play cricket locally, but there was nothing big going on.”

Something big finally happened in the form of Minor League Cricket. “The Minor League was great. I got a chance to represent Orlando. They made me the captain of the team and we went out there and did our thing. We barely missed the playoffs based on net run rate. But having 27 teams in a cricket competition in the USA with live streaming coverage on Willow and being able to represent your city was very, very good.”

As someone who’s been around the game for so long in this country, Dunae senses things may have turned a corner. “When we played in Morrisville, a lot of people showed up. That’s a crazy atmosphere for a cricket game. It reminds me of back home or in other countries where everyone comes out and shows support. And when we played at locally in Orlando, we had a surprising amount of fans showing up.”


And he’s even more excited about things going forward. “I think come next season, you’re going to see even more people coming out. People saw that — oh my goodness! — they actually completed a full season with a live televised final and top-tier players from around the country and from around the world. The standard of cricket was really high. So, people are thinking to themselves, man, next season is only going to get better. We’re going to see more people. The teams are going to get a lot better. And the sky’s the limit.”

“There are so many cricketers here and everyone wants a chance to showcase their talent. They want a chance to go out and show the world what they can do. Minor League is going to make the competition better and raise the standard higher and that’s going to make USA Cricket even stronger.”

Who would Dunae want to play with on his Dream XI? “Chris Gayle’s got to be in there for sure. He’s my favorite cricketer. Viv Richards — a favorite cricketer, as well. And Rohit Sharma. A righthander and a lefthander open the batting for my Dream XI T20 team. That’s a crazy combination. And then Viv Richards coming in at three. That’d scare a lot of bowlers.”