Nine weeks of Minor League Cricket this summer has taught us that many different things can happen over a blank sheet of 40 overs.
The 13-1 Silicon Valley Strikers were the class of the league, and a year after lifting the trophy, they were back at Church Street Park to try and claim the 2022 Toyota Minor League Cricket Season presented by Sunoco.
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, however, were the men in pink and blue from Seattle. The Thunderbolts had clawed and scrapped and earned their way to Morrisville with skill and desire.
That Silicon Valley won both regular season matches with Seattle was meaningless now. In a knock-out format, it’s black and white. Win today, or go home.
And thanks to a stout knock from Rishi Bhardwaj, and a superb bowling and fielding effort, it was Seattle who claimed the Pacific Conference title, playing their way into Sunday’s Championship Final.
Harmeet Singh won the toss and elected to bat, feeling that the warm conditions on the quick Church Street outfield would help continue the flow of runs that spewed forth in the Dallas series. The opening pairing of Rayyan Khan Pathan and Andries Gous had helped carry the Thunderbolts to this juncture of the tournament.
But to continue their success, they had to deal with the deadly attack of West Indian veteran Fidel Edwards and US National Teamer Saurabh Netravalkar. Edwards removed Pathan in the second over for five runs, Pathan’s lowest output in his five matches with Seattle. Then Netravalkar bowled Shubham Ranjane all-ends-up with the inning’s fifteenth ball, and when Edwards induced captain Singh to hole out in the fifth over, it appeared the Thunderbolts power play had been short circuited.
Seattle needed a lightning rod, and they got it in Bhardwaj. It had been nine matches since the Indian batter notched the last of his three half-centuries, and he anchored himself in the crease to help build up the total. Bhardwaj found holes in the Strikers field, and formed a partnership with Shadley Van Schalkwyk of 68 runs, ending the innings in the middle on 66* from 47. Edwards took a 3-fer though was expensive, giving up 55 runs, and Netravalkar ended with a pair of wickets.
Thanks in part to Bhardwaj’s stewardship, Seattle totaled 155/7, right around a par for the pitch, but one felt it might not be enough against the mighty Silicon Valley lineup.
It seemed to be business as usual for the Strikers openers, as they feasted on Van Schalkwyk’s bowling on the familiar turf wicket for twenty runs in his first two overs. In spite of that, the Strikers were kept to 44/1 at the end of the power play. With two of the top scorers in MiLC in Unmukt Chand and Shehan Jayasuriya at the crease, however, there was still an inherent advantage to the Californians.
Seattle had had their backs to the wall for pretty much the last month of the season. From the struggle for second place in the West with the East Bay Blazers, having to win two from two in Texas against Dallas Mustangs last weekend, the Thunderbolts bowlers thrived on pressure. Jayasuriya was trapped LBW for 12 off the bowling of Phani Simhadri, and Chand fell not long after for 24, caught off the bowling of Shubham Ranjane.
1,385 runs may have been sent back to the shed, but now there was the specter of Simmons, Pranay Suri, and Gary Graham still lurking. Simmons and Suri brought things back on terms with a 52 run stand before Simmons went for a top score of 39. Even though Silicon Valley still needed 51 runs off of the last 33 deliveries, there seemed to be little doubt that the defending champs would be able to defend their title on Sunday night.
That doubt, however, grew with the wicket of Graham. The Jamaican List-A alumni thrives in scenarios where the game is on the line, and it seemed like this was tailor made for the 40-year-old veteran from Trewlawny. Simhadri had other ideas. With eight wickets in last weekend’s Dallas series, and a league high 41 from sixteen games in 2022, Simahdri was here to assert his own dominance. He was able to get Graham to sky out to Van Schalkwyk, and now it was up to the Strikers’ tail to get them 30 from 35 balls.
Suddenly, this was now one of those Morrisville Magic type matches as the clouds rolled in. The equation dwindled down to 11 runs from the final over, and van Schalkwyk was given the ball. The South African rising star had recovered from his power play nightmare with two nice catches in the field, and it was on his shoulders to get his team to the final hurdle.
Three singles reduced the target to seven. On the fourth ball, Narsingh Deonarine popped one up into the hands of Akhilesh Bodugum. After Suri was run out trying to stretch one run into two and force the game into a situation where a six would win the contest, Kulvinder Singh now needed a maximum just to keep the Strikers alive in a super over. His strike was true, but fell short at long on. The chase came six runs short, and there will be a new MilC champion crowned in 2022.
The sun was still peeking through the clouds, but thunder rang out around the scenic ground. Seattle had done it.
“I think our team has peaked at the right time,” said Thunderbolts captain Harmeet Singh. “The way we played in the field showed character from the boys and the way we fielded right from ball one and the way we took wickets was very important.”
There was of course disappointment for Seattle’s west coast opponents. “We were on track, some mistakes here and there. I think [Seattle] played very well, they bowled well, so they’re on the winning side,” said Strikers captain Chand. “We’d been sensational through the tournament, we’d only lost two games. I think it’s been a great show by everyone. We just couldn’t do it today.”
Bharwaj’s stoicism at the crease, and his grit after an apparent injury in the field, netted him Player of the Match honors. “I’m really excited our team won,” he said. “Everything is good now.”