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Minor League Cricket in Chicago

When one looks up the word “minor” in the English dictionary, it implies “lesser in importance, seriousness, or significance.” However, this Minor League Cricket assumes massive importance with very serious folks interested and has the potential for huge significance for Cricket in the USA down the road. Chicago and their two Minor League teams are at the forefront of this cricket revolution in this country.

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Emaad Hussain, Tariq Khan, Niraj Patel, Iftekhar Shareef, Khurram Syed
Tariq Khan and Iftekhar Shareef ( with the bat)

By Dr Nilesh D. Mehta hiINDiA Sports 

Cricket and Chicago have been inseparable for the South Asian diaspora. Away from their motherland, cricket has been the unifying platform where a conversation can be had at any time. Driving around Chicago, in the past, one could easily see cricket being enjoyed on weekends by many. Despite the limitations of the weather in Chicago, cricketers make the most by playing for their respective leagues.

HiINDiA attended the tryouts for the Minor League Cricket teams in Chicago. On Sunday, August 30, Chicago Blasters organized their event for the players who had traveled from as far as Minnesota. With the weather being conducive to cricket, players got an opportunity to display their individual talents and impress the selectors for their inclusion. Over 50 players played on the turf wicket, designed in 2019, at the Prairie Lake Ground in Des Plaines, Illinois. Under the eagle eyes of Niraj Patel, a celebrated first class cricketer, tryouts were conducted for several hours. Team owners, Iftekhar Shareef and Khurram Syed took care of all the logistics for the players who converged for a potential place in the Minor League Cricket team.

Shiraz Najam Arshad Yousaf, Nishanth VJ ( Chicago Catchers )

As an entertainment and sport, cricket has been the mainstay for many who immigrated to the United States from the erstwhile commonwealth nations. It is believed that there are thousands of leagues all over the nation with over 200000 players entertaining themselves primarily on weekends. USA Cricket in partnership with American Cricket Enterprises, announced the owners of the 24 teams who will participate in Minor League Cricket ( MiLC) which is slated to be launched in Spring 2021. There has been a distinct buzz of excitement within the cricket fraternity despite the Covid 19 stricken pandemic. It will certainly be an arduous task for the organizers to figure out the details and logistics behind this league and preparations are in full force to make this a success.

Chicago has two minor league cricket teams – Chicago Blasters and Chicago Catchers. The Chicago Blasters team is owned by Iftekhar Shareef, Khurram Syed and American Cricket Academy and Club. Chicago Catchers are owned by Cricket management group LLC. Speaking to HiINDiA, both Iftekhar Shareef and Khurram Syed were excited about the prospects of this league. “It gives an opportunity for the boys to showcase their talent. We will provide them with proper facilities to play the game”, said Iftekhar Shareef. While viewing and surveying the pitch, he also took the long handle and displayed his interest in the game.

Over the Labor Day weekend, coupled with the 15th Annual Diversity Cup, Chicago Catchers conducted their tryouts piggybacking with the tournament itself. Matches were held at multiple grounds including Skokie and Evanston. HiINDiA spoke with the management of Chicago Catchers during their megaevent.

Players were displaying their potential to catch the eye of the selectors. A place in the Chicago Catchers could be the stage to launch their careers to the next level of competition. A dreary morning certainly did not dampen the enthusiasm of the cricket enthusiasts at Skokie Park on Sunday, September 6, 2020. HiINDiA met up with Arshad Yousaf ( Chief selector of Chicago Catchers) and Naishanth V J ( consultant to Chief Selector) as they outlined their vision for the Minor League team.

In between cheering for his teammates, Shiraz Najam shared his thoughts on cricket in the United States particularly Minor League Cricket. He thanked Muhammad A. Qureshi of Cricket Council USA for his vision and support for the tournament. Sharing his thoughts, Shiraz commented, “ I want to align with the vision of Cricket Council USA to promote local cricket and grassroot cricket. We want to bring our youth into the mix and give them an opportunity to become world class players.”

Mr. Marghoob Syed, chief of Umpiring operations, added, “players are quite excited in their match play and I am glad to be honored with this tournament.” Mr. Syed is widely respected by the players as he continues to offer his wisdom. While the two Chicago teams will be competing with each other, it would be nothing new to the sports fans in this town as the Major League Baseball teams – Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs – do lock horns primarily for bragging rights.

Tariq Khan and his close confidante Emaad Hussain have been involved with the sport for several years providing the youth to participate in their CASO league. Emaad Hussain, speaking to HiINDiA in Des Plaines, mentioned, “ We need to have inter-league tournament to enhance competition and then we will find the cream among cricketers”. With weather being a factor in the Windy City, making proper use of the few months in a year is crucial. At the present time, there is no stadium in Chicago that is exclusively dedicated to Cricket. Several different types of cricket are being played which include tape ball cricket, hard tennis ball cricket, leather ball cricket and box cricket. Those interested in trying out their skills had to register with the organization ( USA Cricket )  to become eligible to play in the Minor League Cricket teams. Eventually, those serious and talented players  gravitated towards the leather ball cricket and engaged themselves in the tryouts for the two Minor League Cricket teams in Chicago. 

Besides CASO, American Cricket Conference (ACC) has also been providing an opportunity for cricket enthusiasts to play competitive league cricket in Chicago and its suburbs. ACC has over 36 teams & over 500 players actively participate annually. In addition, Midwest cricket league has also featured among the Chicago leagues 

Bollingbrook Premier League ( BPL ) is another sports organization that offers cricket playing opportunities. Mir Ali quipped, “Minor League Cricket in USA does provide a good platform to the youth to display their talent.” BPL offers a full youth cricket league with coaches and the facility is unique with availability of lighting and electronic scoreboard.

As per the USA Cricket official website, Minor League Cricket is the only nation-wide T20 tournament in the US that is sanctioned by USA Cricket, and recognized by the International Cricket Council (ICC). This league provides a crucial pathway for all players to be selected in Major League Cricket starting in 2021. Plans for televising cricket games on Willow TV are in the works and this would allow cricket within the United States to reach 4 million homes.

At the present time, Minor League Cricket is divided into four Conferences.

Western Conference Teams: Silicon Valley Strikers, Bay Blazers, Golden State Grizzlies, SoCal Lashings, Hollywood Master Blasters, San Diego Surf Riders

Central Conference Teams: Houston Hurricanes, Irving Mustangs, Austin Athletics, Chicago Blasters, Chicago Catchers, Michigan Cricket Stars

Eastern Conference Teams: Empire State Titans, New Jersey Stallions, Somerset Cavaliers, New England Eagles, DC Hawks, The Philadelphians

Southern Conference Teams: Atlanta Fire, Atlanta Param Veers, Morrisville Cardinals, Florida Beamers, Orlando Galaxy, Ft. Lauderdale Lions

When one looks up the word “minor” in the English dictionary, it implies “lesser in importance, seriousness, or significance.” However, this Minor League Cricket assumes massive importance with very serious folks interested and has the potential for huge significance for Cricket in the USA down the road. Chicago and their two Minor League teams are at the forefront of this cricket revolution in this country.

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