In the review of the 2023 MLC Domestic Player Draft, overall team draft grades are handed out as well as looking at which player was each team's best draft value along with who they made the biggest reach for drafting above their projected value.
Photo credit: Peter Della Penna
By Peter Della Penna (Twitter @PeterDellaPenna
MI New York: A
The franchise picked shrewdly by getting maximum value at nearly every pick and have solid balance. The power-hitting is checked off with Taylor and by also taking USA captain Monank Patel, the option is there to slot both of USA’s T20I openers into the same role for MI NY. They used their second pick on the 2021 MiLC MVP, Hammad Azam, who has been a superb allrounder throughout the last two years.
The bulk of the rest of their picks are bowling heavy as they snagged Ehsan Adil, who has been quietly impressive virtually everywhere he has played since migrating to the USA. An outstanding spin duo in Sarbjeet Singh Ladda and Nosthush Kenjige, who finished second and third overall in MiLC on the wicket-takers list in 2021 (Ladda was also third overall in 2021). Depending on who MI NY bring in as their overseas players, Shayan Jahangir could be a quietly solid pick as a wicketkeeper in round seven while eighth round pick Kyle Phillip showed immense promise in terms of what he could do in T20 cricket while with Winnipeg Hawks a few years back in the Global T20 Canada.
Best value pick: Nosthush Kenjige (Round 4, #22 overall)
MI NY coach Mahela Jayawardene said after the draft that he was pinching himself seeing Kenjige last until the fourth round because their projections had him going in the first two rounds. It’s hard to disagree with the former Sri Lankan captain. Kenjige ticks key boxes as an excellent left-arm spinner and a dynamic fielder but is also someone who won several Player of the Match awards last year for his batting where he has transformed into a troublesome middle-order finisher in MiLC after starting his USA career as a No. 11.
Biggest reach: Saideep Ganesh (Round 9, #51 overall)
Former USA coach J Arunkumar is a major fan of Ganesh, which explains how he went here in the U23 category round. But MI NY already used a domestic pick on Shayan Jahangir as a wicketkeeper and considering the other U23 options that were still available, including Sai Mukkamalla and Vatsal Vaghela (who went undrafted), this choice raised a mild eyebrow.
Washington Freedom: A-
Considering the way the draft board snaked around, the Freedom got the most consistent value out of their round-by-round slots. In terms of supply and demand, getting Andries Gous in the first round as a wicketkeeper was a great choice considering the lack of top to bottom depth at the position in the draft. They’ve ticked off the power-hitting box as well snagging Sujith Gowda in round seven, who hit the fifth most sixes in MiLC in 2022 for Dallas Mustangs as well as with former Pakistan international Mukhtar Ahmed, who impressed during the MLC Champions Open in the leadup to the draft.
It’s hard to find a really bad pick anywhere from their entire board and scooped up a trio of solid spinners in Obus Pienaar, Dane Piedt and Akhilesh Bodugum. In terms of variety, they snagged former USA captain Saurabh Netravalkar to provide his left-arm pace and quality cutters at the death as well as a solid left-handed batting option in Saad Ali. The only thing that they were missing on the domestic side was a high-end pace option, but they have already filled that with the announcement of Anrich Nortje as an overseas signing.
Best value pick: Akhilesh Bodugum (Round 9, #50 overall)
The 22-year-old born in Tennessee excelled with the champion Seattle Thunderbolts squad in MiLC as the fourth highest wicket-taker in the tournament last year with 24 wickets. He showed his stats were no fluke against an elevated standard of player in the MLC Champions Open ahead of the MLC Draft, finishing with three wickets and a very respectable 5.60 economy rate, which was the second best of all bowlers in the four-day event. Bodugum is someone who could very easily been taken in the main portion of the draft but was an outstanding pick in the U23 category.
Biggest reach: Dane Piedt (Round 6, #35 overall)
This is more of a statement on how well the Freedom used the rest of their picks. Piedt has a reputation as an excellent mentor to younger players, but statistically he’s been mediocre at best finishing tied for 105th
with eight wickets in 14 games in 2022, and tied for 70th
in 2021 with 11 in 10 matches. Considering that Bodugum and Pienaar are also in the team as spin options, aside from whoever may be signed as an overseas, Piedt may wind up continuing to serve in more of a mentorship role than an impact player on the field.
LA Knight Riders: B+
From a marketing standpoint, they hit a homerun taking Ali Khan with their first round pick. Not only is he synonymous with the Knight Riders franchise brand around the world – especially in the western hemisphere with Trinbago Knight Riders in the CPL, but he’s also USA’s most identifiable star. Though the team name may say “Los Angeles”, all games are going to be played in Texas, Khan’s current home state. Similarly from a branding perspective, they snagged Unmukt Chand in round two, who will always have a fond place in the hearts of the Indian diaspora for leading his native country to the 2012 ICC U19 World Cup title. They can also hang their hat on drafting one of four men to hit six sixes in an over in international cricket using their third pick on USA wicketkeeper Jaskaran Malhotra.
But they also got excellent value with most of their other picks. Nitish Kumar’s performance suffered in MiLC 2022 playing on a bad Lone Star Athletics team, but he showed up motivated to impress the franchise scouts at the MLC Champions Open and was arguably the most consistently impressive batter on the week. He also has a tremendous record in international cricket for Canada. Corne Dry was a division MVP in MiLC 2021 and continued to play a key role in 2022 to propel Atlanta Fire into the final, tied for 21st
with 17 wickets. Shadley van Schalkwyk also offers solid value as an allrounder taken with the last pick in the main rounds while Bhaskar Yadram, who was the East Division MVP in 2022, managed to hang around until the U23 round. They also took a gamble on USA U19 left-arm spinner Ali Sheikh in round six, but based on his all-round exploits during the MLC Champions Open where he claimed two Player of the Match awards, it could wind up being one of the most prescient selections made by any franchise.
Best value pick: Ali Khan (Round 1, #5 overall)
In terms of domestic fast bowler supply and demand, few others around the USA can consistently bowl 135-145 kph and land yorkers as precisely as he does. There will always be durability concerns with Khan, considering his extensive injury history including most recently needing surgery for a broken arm which kept him out of action for nearly six months. And if he’s out of rhythm, he can be on the receving end of some harsh treatment like he was during the MLC Champions Open. But his absence in the USA squad after suffering that injury during the T20 World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe highlighted his value by his absence. USA were never the same team once he went down as his bowling skillset was impossible to replicate.
Biggest reach: Jaskaran Malhotra (Round 3, #17 overall)
Malhotra may be the man who gained fame around the world for hitting six sixes in an over in a September 2021 ODI against Papua New Guinea. He’s also infamous for passing 50 just twice in 20 innings since then, leading to him getting dropped from the USA squad. According to sources, part of the reason for the completely bizarre decision by USA management to send Duvvarapu Siva Kumar in ahead of Malhotra at No. 5 in the must win semi-final against the Netherlands at the 2022 T20 World Cup Zimbabwe is because Malhotra himself refused to go in at No. 5 when the third wicket fell in the ninth over and wanted to be held back for later. Time will tell if Malhotra’s moment against PNG was the start and finish to his 15 minutes of fame.
San Francisco Unicorns: B-
The franchise with links to Victoria leaned on those links taking Brody Couch in round six while it was also announced during the draft that Aaron Finch and Marcus Stoinis will be two of their overseas signings. The squad is laden with plenty of experience and guys who are leaders used to winning. They used their first two picks on Corey Anderson, who memorably played a pivotal role in getting New Zealand to the 2015 World Cup Final, and Liam Plunkett, who took three wickets in the final at Lord’s during England’s 2019 World Cup triumph. Later on, they used an eighth round pick on Smit Patel, who helped India win the 2012 ICC U19 World Cup title in Australia.
Aside from Couch, who is only 23 and still a promising up and coming pace talent in Victoria, what really stands out though is how old this team is. Aside from Sanjay Krishnamurthi taken in the mandatory U23 slot, the next youngest player is Chaitanya Bishnoi at age 28. Patel and Carmi Le Roux are 29 while everyone else is over the age of 30. That can be a good thing as over the years, T20 has contradicted the early notion that it was a young man’s game when in reality, teams with more experience in their ranks have racked up titles at domestic franchise level. However, one area where age does not bode well is in the fielding department and there are plenty of fielding passengers in this side, which may be cause for concern.
Best value pick: David White (Round 7, #40 overall)
After a mediocre first season in MiLC, White exploded in 2022, finishing fourth overall in runs behind Gous, Shehan Jayasuriya and Unmukt Chand. He also finished tied for second with 37 sixes. It’s hard to find someone with that kind of power lasting until the seventh round but White was taken with the 40th
pick overall. He can run hot and cold at times, as he looked scratchy on a few occasions during the MLC Champions Open but went on a blitz on one occasion, hitting 72 off 41 balls to show what he’s capable of when he’s locked in.
Biggest reach: Chaitanya Bishnoi (Round 4, #21 overall)
There are quite a few players who are milling around the USA now who have actually played in the IPL, not just ridden the bench in an IPL squad. Bishnoi falls into the latter category, arriving to the USA to play in the MLC Champions Open. Scores of 32 off 26 opening the batting and 21 off 19 at No. 6 don’t scream “can’t miss prospect” coming off the board at No. 21 overall in the fourth round, especially considering what others did around him by comparison in the Kingsmen team and where they were drafted. Knowing that Finch and Stoinis are two of the overseas players, there’s a very reasonable probability that Bishnoi won’t be in the opening day starting XI for Unicorns, further highlighting a questionable draft decision when one of your top five domestic picks doesn’t wind up being one of your five domestic players appearing in the first choice XI.
Seattle Orcas: C
Anyone who has been in a fantasy football draft can tell you that picking first is not nearly as good as it is cracked up to be because in a draft with broad-based depth but few slam dunk talents, you don’t want to be waiting 11 selections between picks with the snake order reversing each round. Orcas made same great picks, but also had some major headscratchers.
Harmeet Singh seemed an obvious pick first overall if ownership wanted to maintain continuity and crossover from the champion Seattle Thunderbolts squad that Harmeet captained to the MiLC title in 2022. They were also able to achieve that with Shubham Ranjane and Phani Simhadri, who somehow lasted until the first pick of round seven. The same could be said for former Sri Lanka international Angelo Perera, who lasted until the final pick of the open portion of the draft, quite extraordinary for someone with more than 2000 runs in official T20 cricket.
On the flip side, they had some major headscratchers, especially burning a pair of premium top five picks on Cameron Gannon and Aaron Jones. Gannon has had a modest first-class career in Australia and has featured a handful of times for Western Australia this season across formats, as well as playing one match for Brisbane Heat this past BBL season. But his BBL and T20 stats in general are nothing to write home about, in particular an 8.67 economy rate in 28 matches.
Jones is someone who is arguably USA’s most consistent performer in ODIs, but a player who many observers question whether he even belongs in USA’s T20I squad. They certainly didn’t miss him when they beat Ireland in 2021, whereas his typical slow starts killed USA’s chances in their two most important matches of the T20 World Cup Qualifier last year in Zimbabwe, when he made 7 off 10 balls against the hosts and an inexplicable 15 off 19 balls against the Netherlands in a semi-final with a spot in the World Cup on the line. It’s entirely possible that neither Gannon nor Jones will not be in the opening day first choice XI for the Orcas, which is not a good look for a pair of picks inside the first five rounds when five domestic players have to play in the XI.
Best value pick: Phani Simhadri (Round 7, #37 overall)
The left-arm pace bowler most likely fell so low because there may be doubts about whether he would ever be able to realistically replicate his 2022 MiLC season when he claimed 43 wickets in 17 matches, which was somehow 16 more than the second best player on the list, Sarbjeet Singh Ladda. Will his slower balls and cutters fool a higher class of batter in MLC compared to the ones who struggled so badly to pick it up in MiLC? We’ll find out. But it’s hard to imagine any other league in which the leading-wicket taker and league MVP on a champion side from the previous season hangs around until pick #37 to start off round seven.
Biggest reach: Cameron Gannon (Round 4, #24 overall)
A case could be made that he wasn’t even the best dual national Aussie available (Brody Couch and Cameron Stevenson were taken later, while Ian Holland went undrafted) when he came off the board with the last pick in round four at #24 overall. Many people still remember his T20I international debut tour for USA at the 2019 T20 World Cup Regional Qualifier in Bermuda, and not in a good way. There’s a reason why he’s never played in the four years since then for USA, benched after taking three wickets in four matches.
Texas Super Kings: C-
Looking at every roster, each team has at least one truly marquee name, if not more than one. If a team doesn’t have a truly marquee name, then they at least have a truly marquee statistical performer (or more than one) from some domestic or overseas franchise competition, or someone who has performed exceedingly well in international cricket. Somehow, Texas Super Kings did not really tick either box with their picks. The majority of them are what would be characterized as role players, but few genuine headliners.
Rusty Theron is a good player when healthy, but durability is a concern for him. Though Calvin Savage was not dominant in either batting or bowling category in MiLC, finishing 55th
overall in runs and tied for 21st
in wickets, he was the Central Division MVP in MiLC 2022 and performed very well at the MLC Champions Open. But going seventh overall felt like somewhat of a stretch considering the options available at the time.
The general strategy in when picking last in round 1 and first in round 2 in a snake-order draft tends to default into taking players slightly earlier than you would normally because you don’t want to regret seeing the preferred players on your draft board to disappear while waiting for the draft order to snake back around going 11 players in between your two back-to-back picks. With the exception of Lahiru Milantha – who finished fifth overall in runs scored in MiLC 2022 and was arguably the best wicketkeeper available at the time – taken with the last pick of the third round, almost all the Super Kings first five picks were players who were arguably taken above their actual draft slot value.
Best value pick: Zia Shahzad (Round 8, #43 overall)
The legspinner finished fifth overall in wickets in MiLC 2022 and was sixth overall in the 2021 season and is an excellent fielder overall. In a format where legspinners typically reign supreme, it was surprising to see him fall as low as he did, perhaps an indication that most franchises intend to shell out big bucks for high-profile overseas leggies.
Biggest reach: Rusty Theron (Round 1, #6 overall)
Winding back to his last tour with USA at the 2022 T20 World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, Theron went wicketless in USA’s two biggest matches of the tournament against Zimbabwe and Netherlands. Not only that, he went at 10+ runs per over on each occasion. In terms of his MiLC stats, he took 15 wickets in 12 matches to be tied for 40th
overall in 2021 – though he had an outstanding 5.24 economy rate, good for ninth overall – but only played four matches in 2022. Theron offers someone with plenty of T20 franchise experience around the world and brings some marketing value, but he also turns 38 during the tournament and with the durability concerns mentioned above, everything adds up to indicate the risks may outweigh the rewards.
[Views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of DreamCricket management. If you have different views or opinions, we respect those views and urge you to provide your feedback, both positive and negative. Feel free to respond to the author via Twitter @PeterDellaPenna.]