Is #LaborDayCricket going to be a new American tradition? We can’t think of a better way to spend a holiday weekend than 30+ games taking place across the country. The timing also means it was a pivotal weekend in the playoff race, with only two weekends of games now left. It was time for contenders to lay down their stakes, and the chasing pack to take a last stab at catching up some ground. Here’s who had a big weekend in each division.
Eastern Division: The Philadelphians and Empire State Titans
The team from the city of Brotherly Love may only have played one game, but it was a critical one – and elsewhere, results went their way. The Philadelphians put up a respectable 150 against the Florida Beamers, with mid-season acquisition Miland Kumar continuing to quietly impress with 38 from 25 balls. But it was the Philadelphians’ bowling attack that proved to be the key: Jonathan Foo, surely a contender for season MVP, took three wickets (including both opening batsmen) in a superb spell of 3/26. A valiant Beamers batting effort, including 37 from Asim Khurshid and 38 from Prince Patel, just wasn’t quite enough as the Florida team fell four runs short, ending on 146/8. That gave the Philadelphians a fifth win in six games, peaking at just the right time.
Even better for the Philadelphians, who moved into second place at the end of the weekend: mixed results for the other contenders at the top of the Eastern standings. The DC Hawks beat the Eagles, but lost both interdivisional matchups to Atlanta’s Param Veers and Fire. Meanwhile, the first place Stallions lost their only match of the weekend, upset by the Orlando Galaxy in a six wicket defeat.
Those results also aided the Empire State Titans, who have sneakily performed above their fourth placed standing in the division. Not only did the Titans win both games in matchups against the Morrisville Cardinals and Manhattan Yorkers, they won by significant margins, and boast the best net run rate in the division. A tight finish in the Eastern race awaits, but the smart money’s leaning towards the Philadelphians and Titans at this juncture as the form teams.
Western Division: Silicon Valley Strikers and Golden State Grizzlies
Midwestern storms got in the way of play as the Western division travelled for interdivisional play for the first time in St Louis on Saturday, but Sunday and Monday still brought results that further tightened the playoff race and confirmed it will be a three-horse race for two playoff spots. The Golden State Grizzlies won its pair of matches to keep hold of second place in the division, beating the Blasters on Sunday and overcoming a strong batting effort on Monday by the St Louis Americans (led by Obus Pienaar’s 82 from 54 balls). In the latter game, Neeraj Goel took four wickets and Hammaz Azam hammered 45 from only 19 balls to lead the Grizzlies to victory.
For the Strikers, this weekend was critical to hopes of hauling back the Grizzlies and first-place Blazers, starting the weekend in third place though tied on points with the teams above (albeit having played one extra game). Silicon Valley faced both Chicago teams, and the Catchers were no match on Sunday, the Strikers winning by 42 runs. The Blasters on Labor Day provided tougher opposition. Kamran Shaikh’s 61 led Chicago’s respectable 161-run total and as the chart below shows, the Strikers struggled to keep up with the Blasters’ run rate until the closing overs.
Critically, however, the Strikers only lost one wicket (Jayasuriya for 20), and that allowed Narsingh Deonarine (51 from 30) and marquee signing Unmukt Chand (90 from 63) to hit the gas hard to close out a critical win – and have some fun doing so.
@UnmuktChand9 brings up another half century with his favorite shot, the scoop 🍨
Strikers have 9 wickets in hand against the Chicago Blasters, but they do need 45 runs in 30 balls. Can they do it?! pic.twitter.com/8lsZFNG7TU
— Minor League Cricket (@MiLCricket) September 6, 2021
With the Blazers’ only splitting their games at the weekend, beating the Catchers but losing to the Michigan Cricket Stars, that meant the East Bay team slipped to third place behind both the Grizzlies and Strikers. It promises to be a deeply competitive ending to the playoff chase in the West, as three into two doesn’t go.
Central Division: Michigan Cricket Stars
It certainly was a good weekend for both the leading teams in the Central Division, the Houston Hurricanes and Austin Athletics. Houston won all three matches, comfortably downing the San Diego Surf Riders by 34 runs, the Master Blasters by seven wickets and the Lashings by six wickets. And the Athletics also took advantage of some fortuitous scheduling, also facing and beating the bottom three teams in the Western Division, the Lashings, Surf Riders and Master Blasters without much trouble.
But those results only piled the pressure on the third place Michigan Cricket Stars to keep pace, and they did so in style, despite a tougher pair of matchups against stronger Western Division opposition. First up on Sunday the Stars faced the Blazers, who entered the weekend with only one defeat in nine games. For a team called the Stars, ironically it was a balanced all-around team performance that won them the match. No-one scored more than 50 runs and no-one took more than three wickets, but practically the entire team contributed as the Stars put up 178 and then held the Blazers to only 162 in their run chase.
On Monday, the Cricket Stars continued that impressive form with a comprehensive 46 run victory over the Seattle Thunderbolts, who had won their last six games. It was again another balanced display by Michigan’s team, Saad Bin Zafar top scoring with 42 runs, and Nicholas Kirton the pick of the bowlers with 3/16. With that level of consistent performance, the Cricket Stars are just doing enough to keep pressure on the Athletics and Hurricanes heading into the final two weekends of the season – four points behind the latter but with the strongest Net Run Rate in the division.
Southern Division: Orlando Galaxy
The Southern Division had been looking like a two-horse race, with the Atlanta Fire and Morrisville Cardinals distancing themselves from the rest of the pack in recent weeks. But it proved to be a tough weekend for the Cardinals on home turf at Church Street Park, beaten comfortably by the Titans on Saturday by 35 runs, and then losing a thriller by only one run to the Yorkers later the same day. The Fire, meanwhile, split its pair of interdivisional matchups, defeating the DC Hawks by seven wickets but losing to the New England Eagles by five wickets.
That opened just a small crack in the door for the Orlando Galaxy, who had won only once heading into the weekend but ended it in third place, eight points behind the Cardinals. The Galaxy’s only completed match was a hugely impressive win over the Eastern Division’s leading team, the New Jersey Stallions at Maq Cricket Stadium. That win was largely thanks to a blisteringly good bowling performance, the Stallions all-out for only 99 runs. Ramone Medwinter was the pick of the Galaxy bowlers, taking 3/24 in a 3.4 over spell. Tagenarine Chanderpaul paced Orlando to victory with an unbeaten 69 from 46 balls, hitting six sixes along the way. It’s still a long shot for the Galaxy to make the playoffs, but it’s a better one than they had at the start of Labor Day weekend.
With two weekends to go, each division looks poised to have plenty of intrigue and intense competition to see who’ll make up the eight teams headed to the playoffs.