There were 38 scheduled minor league matches scheduled over Labor Day weekend. That's twice as many matches as the entire Major League Cricket season! Some squads had great weekends, some…not so much. If you didn't happen to catch all the action, fear not! That's what I'm here for. You're about four minutes away from being caught up on everything you need to know to head confidently into Week Six!
In the Eastern Division, The Philadelphians swept a pair of matches on Saturday to remain the only undefeated team in the league. In the opener against Empire State, the Titans were bowled for 107 in 19 overs and, once again, it was Raj Nannan who was doing a lot of the damage for the Phillies with the ball, grabbing a pair of wickets while restricting the Titans to only 17 runs. Raj got some help in the bowling attack from Soripul Islam, who took three wickets and allowed only 13 runs in 2.3 overs. The Philadelphians' bats would need less than 11 overs to grab the W, relying heavily on opener Ryan Scott, whose 58 from 29 -- a 200 strike rate -- set the tone for the victory.
In the afternoon game, Philly bats were aided by some late fielding miscues by the New England Eagles and posted a 142 total. Scott again opened strong with a quick 17 from 10 balls, but it was Jonathan Foo who anchored the Philadelphia offense with a solid 40 from the number five spot. Deveshwari Prashad (four wickets) and Soripul Islam (a second three-wicket haul for the day) were able to quiet the Eagles bats, bowling NE for 123 in 18.4 overs. Raj Nannan held onto his league lead in economy at 3.11 despite giving up 19 runs in three overs of work.
With every team playing four matches, there was lots of movement in the Southern Division. And for the Atlanta Lightning, it was all movement in the right direction. The Lightning won all four of their matches and went from being in a three-way tie for the top position to owning it outright. Lightning fans have been waiting for newcomers Unmukt Chand and Phani Simhadri to revert to 2022 form and this was the weekend that it finally happened. Chand, moved down to the number four position for Saturday's match against the Baltimore Royals, responded with a 43 not out to help Atlanta easily take down the Royals in a battle of 4-1 teams. The former Silicon Valley captain added another 57 in Sunday's match against the Orlando Galaxy.
Simhadri, who owned minor league batters in 2022, snagged ten wickets over the long weekend to move into the number four position in the league with 14 wickets overall.
The Atlanta Fire went 3-1 over the weekend to launch themselves into the playoff picture, while the Ft. Lauderdale Lions' 2-2 record was enough to keep them in a tie for the second spot in the South. The rest of the league all posted 1-3 records for the weekend. This was bad news for the Baltimore Royals and the Morrisville Raptors, who now see themselves on the outside looking in as the season winds down. But it was decent news for the Orlando Galaxy, who were able to avoid going winless for the season.
There was also a lot of movement in the Central Division, where the eight teams battled away in 15 matches. The Dallas Mustangs, who got off to a very lackluster 1-1 opening to the season, finally started to click. They went 3-1 over the weekend, thanks in no small part to Corey Anderson. The big New Zealander apparently thought that Labor Day in the US is traditionally spent bashing the daylights out of a cricket ball. After opening the season with ho-hum knocks of 14 and 8, he got into the holiday spirit and strung together innings of 16, 95, 78 not out, and 83 not out. That's 272 runs…and he did it at the seismic strike rate of 187.59. Joining him in the festivities was South African Andries Gous, who added knocks of 55, 69, and 49 over the weekend.
Looking at the points table, the Michigan Cricket Stars -- up until now, the most explosive team in the league -- could only scrape together a 2-2 weekend. But it was enough to claim a share of the top spot. They were joined by the Chicago Kingsmen, who strung together an undefeated 2-0-1 weekend. The Lone Star Athletics, who had been unbeaten, went 2-1-1. Sadly, a much-anticipated battle against the Kingsmen was canceled due to wet field conditions.
But while the Athletics-Kingsmen match was a washout, there were a bunch of head-to-head clashes among the division's top teams: The Cricket Stars, with some strong middle order batting, were able to easily chase down the Athletics 119 total in just 17 overs. The Kingsmen defeated the Mustangs behind a fearsome 80 from 35 knock from Tajinder Singh. And the Mustangs were able to take down the Cricket Stars, who were uncharacteristically bowled for just 108 in 15.4 overs.
What's it all mean? It means that the next couple of weeks are going to be pretty fierce in the Central Division!
The most intense playoff race is happening in the Western Division, where all six teams have a shot at post-season play. With the top two teams -- the East Bay Blazers and Silicon Valley Strikers -- having the weekend off, there was plenty of room for some teams to make their move.
The Surf Riders, who were winless in four matches, launched themselves into the playoff picture with a 3-1 weekend -- the strongest of any squad in the division. In one of the most exciting matches of the weekend, they were able to defeat the Seattle Thunderbolts on Saturday, running out Rishab Mohan on the final ball of the game to preserve a one-run victory.
The Thunderbolts, despite a 1-3 weekend, were buoyed by a resounding win over the SoCal Lashings. Dilpreet Singh Bajwa banged out 91 from 57 and Shadley Van Schalkwyk added a quick 18 from six while also grabbing three wickets.
The Lashings and the Golden State Grizzlies both went 1-1 for the holiday weekend setting up a tense final few weeks of play. It'll be interesting to see if the Surf Riders can build on their momentum, if the Thunderbolts can recover from a disappointing few matches, and how the Blazers and Strikers bounce back from a week off.
The Hot List --
Corey Anderson. I don't care what you did, Corey Anderson just flat-out had a better weekend than you. The Dallas Mustang spent most of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday destroying cricket balls, putting up knocks of 95, 78*, and 83* to jump into second place in runs in the Pacific Conference. And his 24 sixes over the weekend easily propelled him into the number one spot in that category.
Phani Simhadri. Simhadri finished 2022 with 43 wickets -- 16 more than his nearest competitor! And this weekend looked a lot like vintage Phani. In four matches over the weekend, Simhadri took 10 wickets and held the competition to 60 runs over 13.2 overs at an economy of 4.50.
Previously Winless Teams. The San Diego Surf Riders not only got their first win of the season, they got their first three wins of the season and played themselves into contention in the Western Division. Similarly, the Dallas Xforia Giants turned their 0-2 start upside down with a 2-0-1 weekend that gives them a solid shot at the post-season. And the Orlando Galaxy may, once again, find themselves at the bottom of the Eastern Division, but at least it'll be at 1-9 and not 0-10.
The Cold List --
Pallekele Weather. If you woke up at 5:30 am last Saturday to watch India-Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it was a total drag that Pakistan never got a chance to chase India's 266 total. Hopefully, the weather this Sunday will be better.
© CricAmerica.com/Steve Steinberg 2023
Divisional standings graphics courtesy of Brian Barrish