Sports fans can watch an NBA or NFL game on TV and know exactly how the guys on the screen made it to the court or the gridiron. Pro basketball players were either high school phenoms or college superstars before making the leap to the NBA and pro football players were the best in the college game before landing in the NFL. Pro cricketers in this country? That’s a different story. There really is no ONE way to make it to Minor League Cricket — and eventually Major League Cricket. There is no set blueprint or template.
Steve Steinberg of CricAmerica sat down with a few of Minor League Cricket’s brightest stars to hear about the road that they took to make it to professional cricket in this country. Here’s the first in that series…
Karthik Gattepalli (The Young Gun)
At 21, Karthik has already made his mark in Minor League Cricket. The Houston Hurricanes’ all-rounder was among the Pacific Conference leaders in both wickets and economy.
Karthik moved to the US from Australia when he was 11 years old and spent a year in San Jose, California before his family settled in Dallas, Texas. “Back then, the biggest cricketing hubs in America were California, the New Jersey/New York area, and Florida. Dallas had cricket going on, but it was more of a recreational sport.” Karthik played a little baseball in high school. “Everything other than batting was easy. You have a mitt instead of catching with your bare hands. And I was used to catching with my bare hands.” Off the diamond, he was having cricketing success with the North Texas Cricket Association (NTCA), where he quickly found himself in the league’s highest-rated Premier Division. This eventually led to him being named to the United States Under-19 (U19) team in 2017. Karthik was even part of a documentary series, “US6: The Homecoming,” chronicling a group of top American cricketers — including New Jersey Stallions’ Jessy Singh — on a cricketing pilgrimage to India.
The young all-rounder has been more than appreciative of his time in Minor League Cricket. “I’m getting a chance to play with some really good players whether they’re on my team on the other teams. Every team has three or four first-class players.” And he was impressed with the growth of the game over the course of the league’s opening season. “Over the weeks, people have shown more and more interest in the sport. I have friends that are playing Minor League Cricket in California and other places and they say the crowds are building up, too. With the Minor League Cricket generating this much buzz, Major League Cricket is going to do way more — especially with even bigger players coming from outside to play. I see the sport growing exponentially over the next few years.”
Who would Karthik want to play with on his Dream XI? “As a spinner, I’d love to pick Ravi Ashwin’s brain. As a cricketing mind, he has so much knowledge about the sport. AB De Villiers’ game is extraordinary. I’d love to know how he does even one percent of what he’s able to do.”
Fahad Babar (The Regular)
Fahad comes to Minor League Cricket from the USA National Team. The 29-year-old is originally from Pakistan where he played school cricket and found success at one of the top cricket academies in the country. He moved to the US in 2006 at the age of 14 and initially had trouble finding any cricket to play. “I never used to see people playing cricket, but one of my friends told me about some teams. So, I joined a club and haven’t looked back.”
By the time he was 20, Fahad had impressed enough people to qualify for a tournament in Dallas featuring first-class players from around the world — including Pakistani great Wahab Riaz. Fahad went on to win MVP of the tournament. “From there, people started knowing me and I started playing more tournaments around the USA.”
And that led to his role with Team USA. He’s played in World Cup qualifiers in Dubai and Ireland and even spent some time playing first-class cricket for two months in Sri Lanka.
The 5’7″ batsman was more than impressed by how the inaugural season of Minor League Cricket unfolded. “In the past, there was a lot of talk, but no action. But now everyone can see that’s there’s a platform. It’s great for local guys to have a stage where they can show their talents. And it’s great for overseas players to come over and play in a franchise tournament. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
And he’s even more excited about the future of the game here. “I think Major League Cricket in the USA will be a huge success, because the biggest sports industry in the world is in the United States.”
Who would Fahad want to play with on his Dream XI? “Shahid Afridi, Virat Kohli, and Brendon McCullum. These are my three favorite players that I’d love to either play with or against.”
Kunal Sehgal (The Veteran)
Kunal took a less direct path to Minor League Cricket then some of his colleagues. The 36-year-old grew up in India and was a highly rated U19 player before he was forced to back-burner his cricketing career to focus on his education in computer science and engineering and on his involvement in a family business.
Two years ago, the batsman ended up in Morrisville, North Carolina and heard that cricket was being played there. And even though it had been a while since he he’d played the game seriously, he was able to show the strength of his cricketing roots. “The first season I played in the Triangle Cricket League in Morrisville, I scored around 1,200 runs.” He attributes that to the strong emphasis on fundamentals and technique that he worked on as a young cricketer in India. “My main focus is on technique. I don’t play shots which are not really mine. I try to follow the same pattern that I’ve been following.”
His Triangle Cricket League success was not lost on decision makers at Minor League Cricket. “I think it was perfect timing. I came here in 2019 and in 2020 they had the first Minor League Cricket exhibition games. They got me onto the squad because of how I’d played.”
Kunal was able to take advantage of the global exposure that Minor League Cricket gave him. “Back in India, a lot of family have been watching me live online.” More importantly, though, is the impact he was able make due to exposure at the local level. “I was practicing with my Morrisville Cardinals helmet on and one of the high school kids who was playing baseball nearby asked me if I played for the Cardinals. I asked him, ‘You know about cricket?’ and he was like ‘Yeah!’ It shows that the popularity is huge right now. Even the normal American kids are talking about cricket.” And he’s convinced this is just the tip of the iceberg. “For cricket, this is the most significant moment in this country.”
Who would Kunal want to play with on his Dream XI? “AB De Villiers, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Andre Russell. These are all gigantic players from a T20 point of view.”