Harmeet Singh goes first in MLC Draft to Seattle Orcas; Ali Khan and Unmukt Chand snapped by LA Knight Riders
Former NZ allrounder Corey Anderson and England international Liam Plunkett picked up by San Francisco Unicorns
A former India Under-19 World Cup champion from 2012 went first overall in the 2023 Major League Cricket domestic player draft held at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on Sunday night, but not the one some people might have expected.
Harmeet Singh, the 30-year-old left-arm spinning allrounder formerly of Rajasthan Royals who last played first-class cricket in India for Tripura in 2020 but has since migrated to the USA, was the first overall selection by Seattle Orcas. Harmeet has made a name for himself on the cricket scene in the city after captaining Seattle Thunderbolts to the Minor League Cricket T20 championship last August.
Harmeet was one of six players taken in the first round, all priced in a fixed $75,000 draft slot for the round. He was followed by a team-mate of his on the Thunderbolts, former South Africa Under-19 wicketkeeper Andries Gous taken by Washington (D.C.) Freedom.
Former USA captain Steven Taylor went third overall to Mumbai Indians New York. It was a sign of things to come as MI New York wound up taking six USA national squad players, far and away the most of any franchise. J Arunkumar, who served as USA men's head coach from April 2020 until December 2022, now serves as an assistant coach for Mumbai Indians and had been on hand in Houston throughout the week leading up to the draft to continue scouting local talent.
Former New Zealand allrounder Corey Anderson, who married an American and migrated to her home state of Texas in 2020, was taken fourth overall by San Francisco Unicorns. Los Angeles Knight Riders took USA fast bowling superstar Ali Khan with the fifth overall pick in the first round, maintaining continuity with a player who has been a squad member with Kolkata Knight Riders, Trinbago Knight Riders and Abu Dhabi Knight Riders. Rusty Theron, who previously represented South Africa prior to moving to the USA whom he subsequently debuted for in 2019, went with the final pick in the first round to Team Texas, the franchise affiliated with Chennai Super Kings.
Unmukt Chand, who gained fame in India for captaining India to the 2012 Under-19 World Cup, was LA Knight Riders' second pick in a round valued at $65,000. In the third round ($50,000), Knight Riders also snapped up USA wicketkeeper Jaskaran Malhotra, who became the fourth player to hit six sixes in an international match in 2021 in an ODI against Papua New Guinea, as well as former Canada captain Nitish Kumar in round four ($40,000).
One of the other most notable headline names in the league joined Anderson at the Unicorns in round two. Liam Plunkett, whose final match for England was the 2019 World Cup Final at Lord's where he took three wickets in the epic super over win over New Zealand, was the ninth overall selection. After wrapping up his English domestic career with Welsh Fire in The Hundred competition in 2021, Plunkett moved to suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his American wife's hometown.
A significant presence of former Pakistan players now residing around the USA were taken in the draft. Hammad Azam was the first of six ex-senior Pakistan internationals now in the USA who were drafted, taken by MI New York. He was followed one pick later in the second round by Mukhtar Ahmed to Washington Freedom. Ehsan Adil joined Hammad at MI New York in round four while round five ($35,000) saw Saad Ali go to the Freedom and Sami Aslam taken by Team Texas. Nauman Anwar was the last one to go in round six ($25,000) to Seattle Orcas. Aside from those six, three other players with first-class cricket experience in Pakistan were also drafted: Shayan Jahangir to MI New York and Saif Badar to LA Knight Riders in round seven ($15,000) and Zia Shahzad to Team Texas in round eight ($10,000).
Eleven other current or recent USA national team squad members were chosen, including a trio in round four - Nosthush Kenjige (MI New York), Saurabh Netravalkar (Freedom) and Cameron Gannon (Seattle Orcas) - as well as current USA men's captain Monank Patel (MI New York) and his vice-captain Aaron Jones (Seattle Orcas) in round five.
But perhaps the biggest winner of the night was 20-year-old left-arm spinning allrounder Ali Sheikh, who went to LA Knight Riders in round six. The former USA Under-19 squad member has yet to make his senior team debut, despite being in the T20I squad for USA's 1-1 T20I series draw against Ireland in December 2021.
But Sheikh saw his stock rise dramatically during a T20 Quadrangular series staged by MLC last week in Houston played among the pool of draft prospects in which he claimed two Player-of-the-Match awards for a pair of phenomenal death displays on both sides of the ball. On the first occasion, he took three wickets in the 20th over before top-scoring with 49 two days later, which included two fours and two sixes in the 20th over.
Among other players who were picked having previously played senior international cricket for Test nations were the Sri Lankan pair of Shehan Jaysuriya (R2, Seattle Orcas) and Angelo Perera (R8, Seattle Orcas) as well as former South Africa spinner Dane Piedt (R6, Freedom).
Seattle Orcas - Harmeet Singh, Shehan Jayasuriya, Shubham Ranjane, Cameron Gannon, Aaron Jones, Nauman Anwar, Phani Simhadri, Angelo Perera, Matthew Tromp (U23).
Washington (D.C.) Freedom - Andries Gous, Mukhtar Ahmed, Obus Pienaar, Saurabh Netravalkar, Saad Ali, Dane Piedt, Sujith Gowda, Justin Dill, Akhilesh Bodugum (U23).
MI New York - Steven Taylor, Hammad Azam, Ehsan Adil, Nosthush Kenjige, Monank Patel, Sarbjeet Ladda, Shayan Jahangir, Kyle Phillip, Saideep Ganesh (U23).
SF Unicorns - Corey Anderson, Liam Plunkett, Tajinder Singh, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Carmi Le Roux, Brody Couch, David White, Smit Patel, Sanjay Krishnamurthi (U23).
LA Knight Riders - Ali Khan, Unmukt Chand, Jaskaran Malhotra, Nitish Kumar, Corne Dry, Ali Sheikh (U23), Saif Badar, Shadley van Schalkwyk, Bhaskar Yadram (U23)
Team Texas - Rusty Theron, Calvin Savage, Lahiru Milantha, Milind Kumar, Sami Aslam, Cameron Stevenson, Cody Chetty, Zia Shahzad, Sai Mukkamalla (U23)
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna