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By Peter Della Penna
After the hue and cry that came from Down Under earlier this month over the axing of batsman Simon Katich from Cricket Australia’s list of central contracts, it’s not surprising to scan through the comments and feedback forums on the DreamCricket site to get a taste of a similar sense of outrage arising from the composition of the USA senior team for the upcoming ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in Florida. There is no rhyme or reason why players have been selected or not selected. Rules apply for some but not for others.
Many players feel hard done by, but probably none more so than Sushil Nadkarni. While I could spend countless paragraphs illustrating the hypocrisy of numerous selections and non-selections in the 14-man roster, the case of Nadkarni is by far the most compelling one to analyze. His non-selection defies logic for a multitude of reasons.
Chief selector Sew Shivnarine’s assessment that Nadkarni is not a Twenty20 player directly contradicts hard evidence. Aside from the fact that he scored the fourth most runs in New Jersey at the USACA Twenty20 Nationals, his strike rate of 180.00 in the tournament is higher than every player that was selected for the team. In a format of the game where scoring runs quickly is paramount, Nadkarni proved he was well suited for the job.
At the ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 last year in Bermuda, Nadkarni not only scored the most runs for USA with 90 in four games, he had the highest strike rate (130.43) for anyone who batted in USA’s top seven (Nadkarni, Carl Wright, Lennox Cush, Steve Massiah, Aditya Thyagarajan, Rashard Marshall, Orlando Baker, Clain Williams, Ashhar Mehdi).
Aside from the limited Twenty20 stats available, which demonstrate that he is as good or better than those who made the cut, the runs he has scored in 50-over cricket, particularly against teams who will feature in the ICC Americas tournament, appear to have been ignored but definitely should have been taken into consideration. Since making his debut for USA at the 2006 ICC Americas Division One Tournament in Canada, no one has scored more runs for USA than Nadkarni. There is no clearer demonstration of the high class batting skills that he possesses, skills that can be applied and adapted to any format of cricket.
Overall, Nadkarni has scored 1538 runs since his 2006 debut for USA in both 50-over and Twenty20 matches. Steve Massiah is second in that time span with 1429 runs. In 50-over cricket, Nadkarni has scored 1435 runs in 34 innings at an average of 55.19. In 2010 alone, he was USA’s third highest scorer in 50-over cricket with 532 runs and had the highest average on the team at 59.11 in 14 innings.
His numbers shoot even higher against ICC Americas teams (Argentina, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Suriname). In 50-over matches against them, Nadkarni has scored 945 runs at an average of 72.69 in 16 innings with four centuries and five half-centuries. Yes, that’s right. He crosses 50 more than 50% of the time he bats against a regional opponent. The man averages 49.33 against Argentina, 52.00 against Bermuda, 190.00 against Cayman Islands and scored 197 in his only knock against Suriname. His most recent century is believed to be the fastest on record for a USA player, a 54-ball unbeaten effort against Cayman Islands in 2010 that brought about a 10-wicket win in just 13.5 overs.
He was named Man of the Series after scoring 407 runs when USA won the 2008 ICC Americas Division One in Florida. The only team inside the region that he’s failed against in 50-over cricket is Canada, with 10 runs in three innings. However, he showed signs of changing that in the Twenty20 format against Canada last year in Bermuda with knocks of 22 in 16 balls (three fours, one six) and 25 in 27 balls (one four, two sixes).
There are two crucial aspects to leaving him out of the USA team against regional competition. First, he has an enormous amount of experience and knowledge regarding the bowling attacks that USA will face, attacks he has largely succeeded against. Nadkarni would have been an invaluable asset for the newer players in the team to communicate the ins and outs of what to expect from each side. In the 14-man squad that was picked only Steve Massiah, Timroy Allen and Orlando Baker have played in multiple ICC Americas tournaments for USA.
The selectors have taken a major gamble by discarding Nadkarni because they’ve cut off access to a vault of knowledge, experience and dependability. Finishing in the top two to clinch a spot at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in Dubai next March is no longer a slam-dunk proposition. Senior players like Massiah and Baker now have an unfair and tremendous burden placed on them to score runs in the absence of Nadkarni while Allen and Usman Shuja face even more pressure to restrict scoring because runs may not be as easy to come by when it’s time for USA to bat.
Second, and just as important, Nadkarni’s presence provided a massive intimidation factor for USA. For comparison’s sake, place Sushil Nadkarni in Group A and the current USA 14-man squad in Group B. If any random player out of Group B was placed side-by-side with the lone player in Group A and the question, “Which player would you least like to face at the crease?” was posed to any ICC Americas bowler, the lone player in Group A, Sushil Nadkarni, would be named every single time over anyone in Group B. Nadkarni is a champion, a match-winner through and through. It’s safe to say that the other five teams in this tournament started high fiving each other when they found out Nadkarni was left out of USA’s squad.
The other excuse given by Shivnarine, that Nadkarni’s fitness is not up to standard, is completely hypocritical. In December of 2009, all players were informed at a selection camp in Florida prior to the tour of the UAE and Nepal that anyone who failed the fitness test at the camp would not be selected to go on the tour. A major component of the test was running a mile and a half in 10 minutes and 30 seconds. Akeem Dodson and Ryan Corns were the only two players to successfully complete the distance in the allotted time. Neither player was selected.
Nadkarni’s level of fitness on that tour of the UAE and Nepal in February 2010 was poor, mainly because he was still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered only six months prior. Nadkarni hobbled around during the entire tour, frequently coming off for a substitute fielder, and was nowhere close to 100%. Yet his fitness was deemed suitable enough to merit selection to the team.
He struggled in most games on that tour but saved USA’s bacon against Nepal in the final do-or-die group game of ICC WCL Division Five, turning in a gutsy 57 not out in an extremely hostile crowd environment in Kathmandu to deliver a five-wicket win for the team and secure a spot for USA in Division Four. For that performance, he received the first of five Man of the Match awards in 2010, the most for any USA player last year.
Image (right) - Sushil Nadkarni, during his Man of the Match performance against Nepal at ICC WCL Division Five in Kathmandu. [Courtesy: Daniela Zaharia/USACA]
His fitness steadily improved over the course of the year and by August, he was running around the fields at Division Four in Italy without any trouble while scoring another big stack of runs. He was named Man of the Series and collected three Man of the Match awards, including one for a déjà vu display against Nepal in USA’s fourth group contest. He wasn’t as nimble in the field in Hong Kong last January, but was it his fault that the batting collapsed in almost every single game? No. Could he stand to lose 15 pounds? Probably. Does he have the conditioning to last 20 overs in the field and at the crease? Yes.
Perhaps the worst part of all is the fact that the selectors, and everyone else in the USACA administration, didn’t have the common courtesy to give Nadkarni a phone call to inform him that he was being left out and explain to him the reasons why. It follows the modus operandi of the selectors for the last few years from other players who have shared identical stories. No phone call, no email, no letter, no explanation as to why they’ve been left out and what they need to work on, if anything, to get back in the team.
Asif Khan is going through the same experience. The left-arm spinner says that he only became informed that he was left out of the USA squad for next month when someone from his own region called to tell him that the team had been published on the web and he was not in it. Khan said he never received any sort of communication from the selectors at any point in time. Despite the fact that all three selectors – Abrar Ahmad, Sunny Khan and Sew Shivnarine – were present in New Jersey for the USACA Twenty20 Nationals, Khan said he never met any of them on the weekend nor has he ever met or had any conversations with any of them, including Shivnarine. When I asked Shivnarine on Monday night why Asif Khan was left out of the USA squad, he responded, “Who’s Asif Khan?” I’m fairly confident that Shivnarine would not be able to identify Asif Khan in a police lineup.
That is the plight of a player who has made just one tour with the USA, one that included a gritty performance of 3 for 11 in 5.4 overs followed by 31 not out in a two-wicket win over Oman. Imagine how Nadkarni must feel having poured his heart and soul into the USA uniform for four years. He’s been a match-winner on so many occasions, a huge reason why USA went from Division Five to Division Three in the span of six months, and he can’t even get a single phone call to say why he’s been left out. Instead, he finds out second-hand, by reading a report in the media, that the chief selector thinks he’s unfit. Or, even crueler, he gets to hear through a game of Chinese Whispers that one of the other selectors felt he should be dropped because the selector thinks he can’t pull or cut. It’s incredibly insulting and shows a fundamental lack of respect for Nadkarni or any other player who has suited up for the national team.
Fans may remember that Abrar Ahmad, Sunny Khan and Sew Shivnarine were not invited to Florida last year for USACA Senior Nationals while USA vice-captain Nadkarni, who was not playing in the tournament, was flown in to help USA captain Steve Massiah and USA coach Clayton Lambert select the team for Hong Kong. With the exception of The Pearls Cup matches against Jamaica in Florida last year, I have never seen Abrar Ahmad, Sunny Khan or Sew Shivnarine present at any match the USA senior team has played.
The first match I covered involving the USA senior team was in Abu Dhabi against Scotland in February 2010. I have been present for four international tournaments that the senior team has played in – 2010 World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE, ICC WCL Division Five in Nepal, Division Four in Italy, Division Three in Hong Kong – and these men were not present. On the other hand, Massiah, Nadkarni and Lambert – despite any bias or conflict of interest they may have had from being teammates or former teammates of the players involved – were definitely present at all of those tournaments to witness and assess how everyone performed. How can Ahmad, Sunny Khan and Shivnarine properly evaluate players on performances which they’ve never witnessed?
Heading into the selection trials that took place two weeks ago, the expectation was that multiple players would be added and dropped from the USA national team due to a change in formats from 50-over to Twenty20 as well as the fact that USA finished last in Hong Kong. However, the process used to arrive at decisions which have a dramatic effect on the careers of many individuals is a total disgrace, from the grotesque condition of the grounds used in New Jersey for the USACA Twenty20 Nationals to the erratic, inconsistent, hypocritical reasoning and methods used for selection. USACA has sucker punched one of its best assets in Sushil Nadkarni, as well as many other players, and shattered the confidence of its stakeholders.