Exclusive Interview With Sunju Patel
At the recently concluded MAQ T20 Tournament in Florida, newyorkcricket.com sat down with Sunju Patel, captain of the victorious US Tigers to get an insight of the team and its recipe for success.
Tell us a bit about Sunju Patel, including how long you have been playing cricket and the highest level at which you have played the sport.
I started playing organized cricket at the age of 14. I played in the Harris Shield in Bombay, India, and competed in Under-16 tournaments. Later I moved to Australia and represented my college for a year. I then moved to America in 1999 and literally there was no cricket being played in Charleston, SC, but when I moved to Atlanta, GA in 2000. That’s when I started playing cricket in the AGCC and managed to perform really well only to realize there is nowhere to move up, as there was no structure. I had played in Atlanta for one year, before I moved back to Charleston due to family commitments, and no cricket. In 2009 I got my family and friends together and formed a team to play in the MACC league where I managed to take the most wickets and scored the most runs. Today, I am not fortunate enough to play in a league or even soft ball cricket, so unfortunately cricket for me is from invitational tournament to invitational tournament.
Tell us about the US Tigers Team and from where primarily were the players drawn?
In 2009 after playing in the MACC league, I heard about the US Open taking place in Florida at the only cricket ICC Approved stadium in North America, so we decided to enter our team in the tournament. We started calling people we knew in the cricket fraternity and picking players based on their performances.
How did you begin the process of determining what kind of team you wanted this year?
Having played in five previous US Open tournaments and many different tournaments across the country, we knew what elements were missing. So we started to reach out to players through referrals and based on their performances, that way we were able to put together a solid team.
How did you go about acquiring the players for the US Tigers team, and how often has the US Tigers participated in the MAQ T20 tournaments?
My uncle and I started US Tigers for the 2009 MAQ T20 Tournament and we have competed in every tournament since then. I personally select each player.
How costly is it to maintain a team to participate in these types of tournaments?
It is extremely expensive to compete in this tournament for us, since we are not affiliated with any cricket playing league or organization. It is mainly our own money that we put in with the help of friends and family.
How nervous were you batting with Elmore Hutchinson?
I was actually not nervous at all, as I knew that Elmore is a monster who can hit the ball anytime he wants to, and I didn’t do too badly myself in the tournament having scored some runs and taken some wickets, so I was pretty confident. When I went to the middle to score 20 runs off 12 balls, I asked Elmore to stay calm and hit the ball within his range and let go of the rest. In return, the very next ball went for over 110 meters. He was hungry to win this for us and for himself, and I ended up scoring 18 runs off the 19th over from Darren Powell to put us in the driving seat.
What does this championship win mean to you personally?
This championship is extremely special to us not only because it is the biggest tournament of the year, but because the US Tigers was formed at the first US Cricket Open in 2009. We have come very close to winning the US Open in the past, but made some errors in the semifinals and quarterfinals which caused us many championship titles.
My daughter and nephews were crazy happy that we won as they knew how much time we have invested in the US Tigers.
How did the US Tigers celebrate the sensational victory?
We were all very tired so we went back to the hotel to freshen up and went out for dinner and had a few drinks. We are hosting a big party in February and are planning to invite over 200 people to celebrate this achievement.
US Tigers went unbeaten in the tournament, is this a first for the US Tigers?
We have played in roughly 20 plus tournaments since 2009 and have won nine championships and lost six times in the finals. Only twice have we been knocked out in the qualifying rounds since 2009.
It was very nice of you to acknowledge the support of your family on social media; however, what role did they play in your success and that of the US Tigers?
My family has been my backbone in supporting the US Tigers. The US Tigers is a name in our family that’s discussed regularly and is important to everyone. I started the US Tigers with my Uncle (Anil Patel) who has been there just about every tournament, and is a solid pillar of the US Tigers family. Later Shashi uncle (family friend) joined and has been a member. We have had a lot of support from our friends and extended family as well, because of what we were able to do. We also have similar support from everyone, even today. My daughter Simi and my nephews Dikesh, Jinesh, Rushabh, Dave and Dhiral are my confidence. We discuss a lot of things regarding the team and the players, and get a laugh or a two out of it.
Why did you dedicate the win to your uncle and Shashi’s (who is Shashi) uncle?
They both have played a very important role in the existence of the US Tigers, and having won just about every tournament across America except for the US Open, it was special to them.
How would you rate the MAQ T20 tournament, from the organizational and player competitive levels?
This year, the tournament was sanctioned by ICC, and they were able to pull some big names from the cricket circuit. It was a very competitive tournament as there were about 12 very good teams with many International players.
Do you think tournaments such as the MAQ T20 help the growth of cricket in the USA?
I strongly feel that tournaments such as the US Open do help he growth of cricket in America, as it gives a lot of exposure to American cricket through the international players who participate in the tournament.
Describe Elmore Hutchinson’s performance in the final?
Elmore Hutchinson was truly my go to man throughout the tournament. Every time I asked him for something he delivered both with bat and ball. He showed a lot character and confidence to be able to hit two monster sixes and a four when our team needed 20 off of 12 balls, and facing an international player like Darren Powell. Elmore is truly a genuine cricketer who is extremely down to earth and a team player.
What’s next for US Tigers?
We are going to rest a little and enjoy the victory as it gets sweeter by the day, and then play in the USA Friendship Cup T20 in the early part of next year
Finally, what is your take on the current state of cricket in the USA, and if you were a USA cricket administrator, what would you do to improve the standard of cricket in this country?
America has a lot of talent and with proper training and facilities can be groomed into professionals. I would definitely first try to clean up the mess within USACA to give enough confidence to the sponsors so they would invest money, in return we can start putting money in grassroots development and national tournaments. I would definitely try to implement one structure across America for first-class cricket. Currently there is no structure as such in America which makes it harder to track the progress of an individual player.
I am not part of any cricket league or organization in America but still have managed to voice my opinion through my work. I would urge people in power to please think outside the box and start implementing ideas for the betterment of cricket.