The Minor League Cricket (MiLC) finally got underway in the United States of America after 5 years of uncertainty. The tournament that got underway last weekend is set to host 24 teams divided across 4 groups. (from September 12 – November 30 2020). The top teams from the Southern, Central, Eastern and Western Conference will then come together for the final stage. While the league includes three players of international stature in each team, it will stage one of the foundations for the Major League Cricket slated to begin in 2021.
As a part, 11 T20 matches were played across the country on the first weekend. Keeping in mind the interest, enthusiasm and the high fan-following of cricket in the USA, these matches Willow TV telecasted thses matches LIVE to more than 4 million homes. The historical weekend not only witnessed cricket at its imperious best but also stimulated the latent talent that had been raring to go for the longest of times in America’s domestic circuit.
The return of players to one of the most sought after tournaments saw some staggering performances and heartening moments. Two of the most celebrated ones came at a contrast, one from an amateur hobby-cricketer with the bat while other from a seasoned professional with the ball. Having said, either contributions helped their team win convincingly, putting up a case for further attention.
USA Minor Cricket League: The Atlanta Hotelier blasts onto scene
Darpankumar Patel, captain and the opening batsman for the Atlanta Paramveers got his team off to a flier. Playing against Atlanta Fire on Saturday, he scored a brisk 66 of just 25 balls being only the first half-centurion in the MiLC 2020. In a matter of hours, he backed it up with an even bigger feat becoming the first centurion in the Minor League Cricket 2020. Darpan, in the second match against the same opposition, finished with a 115 of just 45 balls. His swashbuckling innings consisted of 6 fours and 12 maximums.
Leading his team from the front, Darpan also chipped in with the ball bowling the crucial overs. Though the Atlanta Fire team came in close to chasing the target on both occasions, they were restricted well towards the end. Paramveers registered their respective victories with a 5-run and a 10-run margin. Darpan was the undisputed man of the match for his miraculous batting display. His knock sets up the tone for the team but more importantly also gives him confidence to do what he does best on the cricket field.
“I have always been a dasher. I am supremely confident in my own skin. This is the way I play. It’s a gamble. If I get out, I get out. But if I don’t, I know I will pulverize the opposition” said Darpan to Cricbuzz
💥The Franchise Exhibition Matches in #MinorLeagueCricket produced some real fireworks on opening day in Atlanta💥
Param Veers opener Darpankumar Patel smashed the 1st 💯!!
2⃣5⃣5⃣ Strike Rate
😀Great to have some domestic cricket going!🏏 pic.twitter.com/GXYAgQLoYj
— USA Cricket (@usacricket) September 13, 2020
Born and brought up in Surat, India, Darpan grew to play club cricket in the entire USA. He has led the Atlanta Paramveers to numerous titles and enjoys impressive numbers in the Atlanta Cricket Conference league. He averages 32 while striking at a hefty strike rate of 172. Interestingly, Darpan’s first taste of leather cricket came at the age of 21 when he moved to Canada. He started as a bowler who batted at No.7 in the initial years of his career. Things only changed when he was asked to open after moving to Atlanta at the age of 27. He also credits a major chunk of his success at the top of the order to Monty Desai, the former Rajasthan Royals coach, who has been frequenting the ParamVeers management over the years.
Now 36, he is a proud owner of 2 hotels in the city and finds time to train and play for the club following the love for the sport. Asked whether he is looking forward to featuring in the Major League next year, he modestly confesses, “I would love to! If I get the opportunity and time out of my business”.
USA Minor Cricket League: The former Pakistan International makes his presence felt
Almost 13 years ago, a 22-year old left arm pacer debuted for Pakistan against Sri Lanka in the UAE. Coming at the back of an impressive first class record, a lot was expected of Najaf Shah but fate had him a different plan. Throughout his career he remained amidst injuries that halted his international cricket career for the longest. Despite picking up more than 470 wickets in Pakistan’s first class cricket, he could not make it to fame at the highest level. However, the speedster did not give up. He fought his own battles to come up the ranks establishing another successful career in the United States since 2015.
Najaf Shah who now represents the Irvin Mustangs in the Minor League Cricket Tournament picked up a crucial four-wicket haul against the Austin Athletics. Quite reminiscent of his older days, Shah finished with impressive figures of 4-1-18-3. He was a revelation with the new ball and made the optimum use of the conditions under lights.
Having known cricket better than most others around him and having also been a part of the Pakistan Cricket’s national scouting camp, Najaf knows the little nuances about the sport. He also plays a guide to his juniors being aware of the fact that a lot is expected of him both as a player and as a senior.
“I try to give my 100%. Try to set the right example. I know people look up to me. An international player will always be the centre of gravity in local leagues here in America. If you saw me today as well. The kind of rhythm I was in, I would be clocking around 140 kmph.” said Shah to Cricbuzz.
The tall left-hander has been amidst the record books for USA’s domestic cricket for a while now. Recently he also turned eligible to even play for USA’s international team. The current US team led by the Indian-born Saurabh Netravalkar is a promising bunch of talents eager to make a mark on the international circuit. Asked about his desires to play for the country, Najaf said:
“I still believe I have a few years remaining before I hang up my boots and contribute to USA Cricket. That is why it is important for me to give my absolute best and contribute in more ways than one by sharing experiences in terms of match sense, fitness and skill set to all the young fast bowlers I interact with.”
Minor League cricket although in the exhibition format this year is worth watching out for. It is a place where one might see American cricket’s next star in the making. As for Darpan and Najaf, one hopes for their encounter against each other soon. Given the kind of form they are in, a humdinger of a contest wouldn’t be too far.
Najaf Shah’s International Debut against Sri Lanka: