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By Sadiq Yusuf - MCC
Midwest Cricket Conference officially launched its premier T20 cricket tournament of the season, the second annual Shekhar Aravind Memorial Unity Cup, to be played in Chicago-land over the upcoming Labor Day weekend (September 1-3, 2012).
"Sheks", as he was universally known, was the dynamic reform-minded President of Midwest Cricket Conference, who tragically passed away a year ago in a boating accident on Lake Michigan. The concept of the "Unity Cup" was the last official task he worked on as league president - and, inspired to continue his vision, Midwest Cricket Conference held the inaugural Unity Cup named in his honor only 3 weeks after his passing in 2011 consisting of 12 teams (with 8 local teams, and including strong support from the Central-East Region, with Minnesota CA, Michigan CA and American Cricket Conference all providing squads at short notice). The tournament was a rousing success, by consensus the best-organized tournament seen in the Central-East region in many years. It featured thrilling and high-quality cricket, culminating in a high-octane thrill-a-minute final under floodlights with a spectacular finish - as Sheks' favorite "Youth Team" edged the squad skippered by his captain and best friend Bhavesh Amin by 1 wicket on the last ball of the game.
In 2012 the Shekhar Aravind Memorial Unity Cup has taken a quantum leap forward, with the addition of significant prize-money thanks to the generosity and support of Mahammad A. "Maq" Qureshi and Cricket Council USA, and a consequent leap in the level of national awareness and interest.
The 2012 Shekhar Aravind Memorial Unity Cup will see 20 teams battling it out for supremacy, chasing the Grand Prize of $10,000 ($7500 to the winner and $2500 to the runner-up). Teams from as far afield as Seattle (Washington), Memphis (Tennessee), Cincinnati (Ohio), Atlanta (Georgia), Dallas (Texas) and Fort Lauderdale (Florida) will join squads from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana - all congregating in Chicago for a Labor Day Weekend festival of cricket. Chicago itself will remain strongly represented, with every significant league in the city and region sending a representative outfit to battle for the prize.
The host-league's Midwest All-Stars will be led by Team USA spinner Asif Khan, and include, among others, erstwhile Team USA wicket-keeper Ashhar Mehdi. USA Under-19 stars Fahad Babar and Abhijit Joshi will both represent the Defending Unity Cup Champion "Midwest Cubs" - the Midwest Cricket Conference's Youth-based squad who will be looking to retain their cherished trophy.
The official launch of the 2012 Shekhar Aravind Unity Cup took place at a local restaurant, with an "NFL-style Draft" of registered players, with "team captains/general managers" drafting their own squads.
The 3 Midwest-team captains - Bhavesh Amin, Romeen Lavani and Shiraz Najam - had the difficult task of choosing from 178 players, all of whom had registered and expressed the availability and the desire to play in this season's Unity Cup for Midwest squads. With "restrictions" in place - the ability to draft only 8 "Division One" players each, and the need to draft at least 1 additional Youth Player each being examples - the 3 captains did an outstanding job playing General Manager of the Bulls, Sox and Bears respectively. They sat through 15 Rounds of the NFL-style Unity Cup Draft, taking turns in choosing players and building, in the end, three extremely strong squads that they will lead onto the field on the first day of September.
Games will be played at the famous Washington Park facility in Chicago, Illinois, and in Hanover Park, Illinois. Etihad Airways will present a High Flying Sixes Award- a free round-trip airline ticket from Chicago to Abu Dhabi to the "highest six hitter" of the tournament. Other cash-prize cricket-skills contests are also planned. Further details about the 2012 Shekhar Aravind Memorial Unity Cup can be found at www.midwestcricket.org