While we all know the path that our favorite NBA, NFL, and MLB stars took to make it to the big time, the path to being a professional cricketer isn’t quite as clear-cut or linear. Many of the top players in Minor League Cricket have come from all corners of the cricketing world to play the game in the US. Steve Steinberg of CricAmerica sat down with a few Minor League Cricket players who have traveled from far — and near — to hear about their Road to Minor League Cricket, in part two of an ongoing series (read part one here).
Corne Dry (Atlanta Fire)
The Atlanta Fire’s Corne Dry not only had to get used to a new team and a new league, the South African also had to get used to a new country after moving to the Atlanta area less than a year ago. “My wife came over with me and we flew our dogs over, so we’ve got a little bit of home with us over here.” And it didn’t take Corne long to adjust to his new surroundings. The all-rounder was among the league leaders in wickets taken and was one of the main reasons the Fire were the dominant team in the Southern Division. Post-season accolades included being selected for Minor League Cricket’s Team of the Tournament.
Growing up in South Africa, Corne split his sports time between cricket and rugby. “Probably at about 17, I decided to take cricket a little more seriously as I started to make the U-19 national teams. In 2012, I played in the U-19 World Cup which was in Australia. I signed my first semi-professional contract at 18 and then the following year, I signed my first professional contract at 19 with the Knights.”
The all-rounder was impressed by the level of play in Minor League Cricket. “I was really surprised at the standard of the cricket. Coming out of a professional system in South Africa, you’d expect your standards could need to drop somewhat from what you’re used to. But coming here and seeing the quality of cricket that’s around, it’s been exceptional.”
And he sees a huge potential for growth of the sport in the US. “There’s obviously a huge following for cricket in the USA, but there’s a huge untapped market of Americans who haven’t seen the game.” But he saw the league start to tap, more and more, into that market. “We recently caught a few guys who had no idea what cricket really was until they came to watch us. And they loved it and they’re back every week and getting more into it — buying fan gear — and starting to understand the game. In their own words, ‘it’s like a super, interesting, exciting sport.'”
Who would Corne want to play with on his Dream XI? “AB de Villiers. He seems like a cool guy.”
Ryan Scott (Michigan Cricket Stars)
Ryan Scott’s Road to Minor League Cricket may have started in Jamaica, but the 25-year-old has made the most of his time in the US. Ryan was the only player in the league to notch two centuries this season and his 180-plus strike rate and 38 sixes put him among the league’s elite batters. It was no surprise that he was selected to the league’s Team of the Tournament.
“I started playing at six-years-old back home in Jamaica. Between ages 6 and 12, you have small camps and academies that happen over the summers, so that’s where we really start learning the game.” Ryan played cricket in high school before moving to Philadelphia at the age of 18 in 2015. “It was weird seeing cricket being played for only three or four months out of the year, because where I’m from we could play basically all year long.”
Ryan spent the past few years playing in leagues in Philly and Maryland before landing with the Michigan Cricket Stars. “I got a call from a teammate that I played youth cricket against back in Jamaica saying the Michigan minor league team was looking for players. The next day I got a call from the manager saying they needed some stats and information and a couple days later, I got a call saying they accepted me. ” Ryan’s smarts aren’t limited to the cricket pitch. How, for example, does the Jamaican like winters in the northern part of the US? “I haven’t really spent a full winter here as yet, so it’s pretty alright.”
So, while he’s yet to experience multiple blizzards in Michigan, he was impressed with what he saw from Minor League Cricket. “Three or four years ago, you wouldn’t expect a major tournament like this to be happening and progressing like it has over the weeks. For me, it’s like an academy. Here is where you get to showcase your talent that you’ve been trying to showcase for the past couple years.”
And he has no reason to believe there are any limits on what cricket can become in this country. “We just have to continue to develop young players with the experienced players that we already have in the States. I see cricket going to the highest level it can go — meaning Tests, as well.”
Who would Ryan want to play with on his Dream XI? “Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, and Kieron Pollard. I grew up in the same community as Chris Gayle and played for the club he used to play for. I played against Andre Russell in the parish that I went to high school. Pollard is a player that I respect.”
Laksh Parikh (Austin Athletics)
While the roads that many players have taken to Minor League Cricket can be measured in the thousands of miles, Austin Athletics’ Laksh Parikh’s journey to professional cricket — as least as the crow flies — may be among the shortest. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Born in nearby Katy, Texas, Laksh started off the season with a four-wicket haul against the Houston Hurricanes and didn’t look back. The 18-year-old bowler finished the year with a team-leading 20 wickets, which also put him among the league-leaders.
Laksh got his start in Katy Youth Cricket in 2012. But by the time he was 13, he felt he was ready to move up to the adult ranks and started to play with the Houston Indian Cricket Club (HICC). “That gave me a lot of experience and my performances in the Houston Cricket league for HICC allowed me to get a call-up from the Austin Athletics. It also gave me a pathway to USA Cricket, where I’ve been twice been called up for the Under-19 25-man squad.”
All this high-level exposure at such a young age has given the bowler a unique perspective on how the Minor League Cricket season affected cricket culture in this country. “In the past year, I feel like the whole surface of cricket has changed in America and I feel like the future is huge. If there’s any young cricketers or aspiring cricketers who want to make it big, America’s a great place to make it big. Next year you’ll see a huge exponential growth in the amount of viewership as well as in the level of competition.”
Who would Laksh want to play with on his Dream XI? “As a left-arm fast bowler, I admire Trent Boult. It’s such a treat to watch him swing with the new ball. Virat Kohli is undoubtedly one of the best batsmen in the world right now. And Kieron Pollard is able to change the game at any point with his hard hitting as well as his bowling.”