American Cricket National Championship
By Matt Becker
The Cricket Gods smiled on the third annual American Cricket Championship tournament in Orlando, and blessed the event with picture perfect weather and three days of excellent American cricket. From the first ball on Friday to the final catch of Sunday’s ruckus final match, everything about the tournament spoke well for the future of the game in America. Gutsy, hard nosed bowling, match winning knocks, great atmospheres and knowledgeable and energetic crowds – all making for a fabulous weekend in Florida.
The six finalists – in seeded order from one to six – were the Midwest Bears (defending champions), the Washington Eagles, the Massachusetts Patriots, the Arizona Scorpions, the Florida All Stars and the Midwest Chargers – and all had great stories on how they had made their way to the finals. The Bears ran ramshod over their division and sailed into Florida. The Eagles won five matches in a row after being beaten comprehensively in the first game. The Patriots did similarly, losing their first match before winning out the rest of the season. The Scorpions were hot out of the gate but had to squeak through on net run rate. The All Stars lost their last match to division rivals the Jacksonville Thunder, but still won their division thanks to impressive form earlier in the season. And the Chargers tied their first match and won their second by just one run to narrowly win the Ohio Valley division.
The tournament was set up for each team to play two matches based on seedings, with the top point earners to play in the final on Sunday. On the opening day of the finals – Friday, the 10th – the Eagles topped the Scorpions by five wickets, the All Stars walloped the Patriots by 168 runs and the Chargers stunned the defending champion Bears by 42 runs. Not a close game in the pack, but interesting results as two lower seeded teams (the All Stars and the Chargers) beat two higher seeded teams, which set up an interesting next day of the tournament.
On Saturday, the All Stars defeated the Bears by eight wickets – knocking the title holders out of the Tournament and advancing to the finals. While the Chargers continued to shock the world with a 171 run victory over the Eagles, setting up a final between the Chargers and the All Stars. Florida versus Ohio: winner take all. Also on Saturday, the Patriots beat the Scorpions by 245 runs in a dead rubber match.
The final was to take place at the Silver Star Grounds, a lovely setting for what was in the end one big party for the game in America. The crowd was large and energetic, the weather was perfect and the cricket didn’t disappoint either. Two brilliant centuries from the All Stars Bhim George and Krunal Bhange led the charge for the squad from Florida and helped their side amass a huge first innings total of 332. The target proved to be too much for the upstart Chargers, who collapsed all out for only 114 in 25 overs, making the Florida All Stars the 2014 American Cricket Champions.
Poetically, the final out was caught by Bhange, while his fellow centurion George fittingly took home the Outstanding Batting performance award. Rahu Desai was presented with the Outstanding Bowling performance award for his impressive marks of 5.3-0-25-5. The All Stars will represent their country well at the North American Championships in Phoenix.
Despite the fact that all of the matches of the tournament were a bit one-sided, the weekend overall was a rousing success. And the final on Sunday was the perfect end to a great weekend of cricket. To call it just a match would be a mistake, it was truly a celebration of the game in America – how far it has come and how bright its future is.
As one person mentioned via social media: it was clear to all that this past weekend in Florida was how cricket tournaments in America were supposed to look. Organized, entertaining, family friendly, great pitches, beautiful grounds, teams full of players that really wanted to be there, and more than anything: an accessible tournament for all American cricket followers and players.
The smiles from the players of the cinderella Midwest Chargers – a team that once drove 200 miles at the last minute to play a rain shortened league match, and who played swashbuckling and fun cricket all weekend only to lose heartbreakingly in the final – says all that needs to be said.