Heading into Week Three, part of me was looking forward to seeing how the Atlanta Fire -- one of last season's finalists -- would look in their debut matches this year. And part of me was looking forward to seeing how the Atlanta Lightning would do with new additions, Unmukt Chand and Phani Simhadri. But -- to be honest -- the overwhelming majority of me was really just looking forward to seeing if the New Jersey Somerset Cavalier's Saad Bin Zafar could maintain his insane -- and league-leading -- 2.18 bowling economy.
And here's what happened!
The Eastern Division has been in somewhat of a power drought all season. The highest score put up by any of the six eastern teams is still the 133 the Cavaliers cranked out in Week One. (And this past week, The Philadelphians and Manhattan Yorkers combined for just 89 runs in a full-length game.) Obviously, some stingy pitches in the Northeast are partially responsible, but it does make for some super curious statistics.
In the Cavalier's first game of the weekend, they were punched out relatively easily by the New Jersey Stallions who were able to chase down 82 with 14 balls to spare. Don't blame Saad, though. He allowed just four runs in four overs -- with three wickets and 20 dot balls. (And that wasn't even the best bowling line of the weekend!) On Sunday, Saad was "hammered", at least by his standards, in a rematch win against the Stallions -- giving up an unheard of 27 runs and raising his economy to 2.89.
The line of the week? That would go to The Philadelphians' Raj Nannan, who has been just as unhittable this season. Nannan held the Yorkers to just three runs in four overs, while taking three wickets and bowling 21 dot balls. (That's 21 out of the 24 balls he bowled!) In three matches, Raj has allowed runs at a ridiculous 1.89 econ and he's a major reason The Philadephians sit alone at the top of the table in the east and are one of only four undefeated teams in the league.
In news that doesn't really involve statistical anomalies, the two Atlanta teams were finally able to bang away in the Southern Division. The Atlanta Fire, who lost to the Seattle Thunderbolts in the Minor League Cricket championship match last year, took two from the Orlando Galaxy and showed that they -- along with the Baltimore Royals -- are a force to be seriously reckoned with in the south. In the first game, aggressive batting took them to 190, with Jahmar Hamilton anchoring the offense with an impressive 56 not out from 32 balls. (And not to insert myself into the story any more than is absolutely necessary, I showed Jahmar a good stretch to target the outside of the hips during the playoffs last year.)
In the follow-up game, the Fire bowled the Galaxy for just 83 in 19 overs -- Corne Dry grabbing five wickets and allowing just 18 runs. Led by newly acquired opener Kennar Lewis' 52, the Fire were able to finish off Orlando inside of 13 overs. Lewis, who played sparingly but powerfully for the Cavaliers in the 2021 minor league season, may be the missing puzzle piece for the Fire this season.
The other Atlanta squad, the Lightning, split a pair of games with the Ft. Lauderdale Lions, who were also playing in their first MiLC matches of the year. In the opener, a very balanced offensive attack led by Sagar Patel (32) and Unmukt Chand (30) allowed Atlanta to post a solid 167. And an equally balanced bowling attack from the Lightning was able to hold the Lions to 140/5, despite a 60 not out knock from new Lions opener Tagenarine Chanderpaul. In the follow-up, Chanderpaul's 46 set the tone for the Lions' offense and they went on to pound out a 146/4 total. An early exit by Chand (8/10) hamstrung the Lightning in their chase and they could only muster 134 runs in 20 overs. Like Kennar Lewis with the Fire, Chanderpaul may be that missing puzzle piece that's been lacking from the Lions' offense the past couple of seasons. Lots of bragging rights are on the line this weekend. The Fire take on the Lightning in a clash of Atlanta teams, while the Lions take on the Galaxy to determine the Kings of Florida.
In the very crowded Central Division, the Michigan Crickets Stars continued to let their bats do the talking as they swept the Chicago Tigers. Fears that the team would lose offensive pop with the loss of last year's openers Nauman Anwar (now with the Dallas Mustangs) and Ryan Scott (now with The Philadephians) seem to have been unwarranted. Nicholas Kirtin, who's put up a league-leading 198 runs, and Rizwan Cheema have filled the openers roles well and are table-setters for what's the most potent offensive side in MiLC. In four matches, the Cricket Stars have topped the 150 mark three times. (And the only time they didn't was in a weather-shortened match where they notched 110 in 14 overs, which, if you do the math…) Central Division teams have this week off, but look for a ton of excitement over Labor Day weekend when the Cricket Stars, the undefeated Lone Star Athletics, and the Chicago Kingsmen will all take the field.
In the Western Division, as foretold, the Silicon Valley Strikers grabbed a couple of victories over the Golden State Grizzlies to leapfrog the undefeated East Bay Blazers into the top spot in the division. Riding the momentum of his Major League Cricket playoff run with the Texas Super Kings, Lahiru Milantha continues to put up quality numbers as the Striker's opener. His 63 set the tone for the team's successful chase of 139 in the opening game against the Grizzlies. Team USA's Rahul Jariwala seems to be finding his rhythm at the crease; his 43 not out in the first game, followed up by a 37 in Sunday's rematch, beginning to make up for an iffy opening four games of the season.
In that second game, the Strikers would rely more on their legs than their bats as a pair of byes in the final two balls allowed them to chase down the Grizzles' 131 total. Key to the victories in both games was the bowling of Saurabh Netravalkar. Saurabh grabbed six wickets over the weekend and restricted Golden State bats to just 29 runs at an econ of 3.625.
And speaking of Netravalkar, he, along with the Cricket Stars' Mohammad Mohsin, and the Mustangs' Nosh Kenjige and Corey Anderson were all signed to play in the International League T20, which starts in January.
The Hot List --
Raj Nannan. These numbers are crazy. In the eight overs he bowled over the weekend, Raj allowed just eight runs (a 1.0 econ) and took four wickets. Incredibly, out of the 48 balls he bowled, 43 were dot balls. These are video game stats!
Nicholas Kirton. How do you make Michigan fans forget about Nauman Anwar and Ryan Scott? Easy. You bash the daylights out the ball. Kirton has been a force this season opening for the Cricket Stars. His 77 not out on Sunday propelled him to the league lead in runs.
Saurabh Netravalkar. Not a bad week for the former USA Cricket captain. Six wickets and a sub 4.0 economy over the weekend and a contract to play for the Gulf Giants in the ILT20 this winter. Throw in the fact that he can write code better than 99.9 percent of the people reading this and you know why he made the list.
The Cold List --
Caribbean Weather. Four of the first six CPL matches of the year were lost to rain.
© CricAmerica.com/Steve Steinberg 2023