The victorious Northern California Cricket Association team.

San Jose, California: Following a week on the heels of the Sri Lanka vs. New Zealand T20 cricket encounters in faraway Florida, some of the top local cricketers gathered locally among the vineyards of northern California to participate in the 2010 Kirigin Cellars Invitational, a triangular-series of 50 over and 20 over matches over the long Memorial Day weekend to combat a top team visiting from southern California, the LA Invaders.

The Kirigin Cellars Invitational this year was a compact contest organized by the host, Dhruv Khanna, owner of Kirigin Cellars.  Khanna invited his long-time friends in the Northern California Cricket Association, an association in which Khanna has played his cricket since 1986, to field a team.  He enticed NCCA to join by first securing the participation of the LA Invaders, a team organized by Khanna’s friend, Veman (Polam) Reddy, a long-time icon of cricket in Southern California.  All matches were played on the scenic Cabernet Cricket Field at Kirigin Cellars located in the southern part of Santa Clara County equidistant from downtown Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

In the first match, on Saturday May 29, a 50-over-a-side contest between NCCA and the visiting LA Invaders, the NCCA team proved emphatically dominant.  NCCA appeared intent to build on its record-setting win over the North-West Cricket League of Seattle-Portland in April 2010 (where NCCA’s opening bowler, Imran Khan took 5 wickets and caused NWCL to lose all-ten wickets for 19 runs).  Batting first again, NCCA ran up a score of 300 runs, with local favorite Sunny Singh smashing a quick 28 runs with 3 sixes as an opening batsman.  Sunny’s team-mates almost all pitched in with significant scores – Shiva Vashist scored 77, Shantanu Divekar scored 53 and Saqib Saleem scored 48.

Taking 4 wickets, Imran Khan once again gutted the visiting team’s batting.  He was ably supported by Piyush Shanker who pitched the ball with robotic consistency, giving nothing away to the batsmen.  The LA Invaders, including Captain Tarun Bhoomireddy, and leading lights Ravi Timbawala and Nikhil Iyer, folded meekly putting 90 runs on the board.

Early the next (Sunday) morning, the visiting LA Invaders came back strong in its T20 match against Khanna’s Kirigin Tigers.  Kirigin Tigers posted a respectable score of 140 in 20 overs.  Recovering from two successive strikes by Timbawala to take out the Tigers’ opening pair, Majeed Mohammed and Kitty Kulwant each made significant contributions with the bat.  However, the LA Invaders knocked off the runs in 17 overs losing only 5 wickets in the process.  Captain Bhoomireddy was the highest scorer with some assistance from dropped catches by the Tigers.

Sunday afternoon, the LA Invaders, with the exception of Ravi Timbawalla, batted poorly again, posting a score of 89 runs all out in the T20 against NCCA.  In an unconvincing display of batting, based only in part on an experimental batting-order, NCCA managed to score the needed runs with the loss of 7 wickets and considerable heart-burn.  Sher Ali and Divekar remained unbeaten but the outcome may have been different had Bhomireddy held on to a difficult chance behind the stumps offered earlier by Ali.

On Monday, Memorial Day, NCCA added some youth-power to its side and rested some of its more experienced players.  It is not clear whether or not, going into the match, the young NCCA side expected to walk all over and otherwise trample on the wine-drenched Kirigin Tigers.  But that is not what happened.  NCCA was bowled out 70 runs (batting 12) with Jaggi Singh, Majeed Mohammed and Arsh Singh for the Tigers sharing the key bowling honors, and Prabhjot Gossal (substituting behind the stumps for an injured Khanna) and skipper Ayan Banerjee sharing the fielding honors.  The Tigers knocked off the runs in 7 overs for the loss of one wicket with Tigers bastmen, Prabhjot and Jodha Singh, doing most of the damage.

While NCCA (2-1) trumped the LA Invaders (1-2) and Kirigin Tigers (1-1) with their win-loss record in the tournament, NCCA’s batting clearly displayed some vulnerability in the NCCA’s second match against the Invaders and caused its pitiful loss to the Tigers.

The matches were sporadically attended by a smattering of spectators – 2 a-piece from the leading cricketing clubs in the area, Santa Clara and Cougars; and 5 Gilroy residents picnicked through the T20 matches clearly enjoying the contests.

Based on a reliable poll which revealed that the average cricketer in the Kirigin Invitational works out 2-3 times a week, and the up-and-down display of batting, bowling and field on display, it is clear that local cricket unsurprisingly, and like most other things in life, needs improvement.  The gulf between local and first-class standards was demonstrated by a cameo first T20 over bowled by the LA Invaders’ NC Aiyappa, a Karnataka Ranji Trophy player in which a leading NCCA batsman had great difficulty in persuading his bat to make any contact whatsover with the ball.

That said, Khanna believes that carefully organized and managed (and operated at low cost) amateur matches like those held in the Kirigin Cellars Invitational do more to advance the cause of local cricket than the week-earlier matches held in Florida between international titans.