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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
In the second part of a two-part interview, USA batsman Sushil Nadkarni talks about his return to action in USA’s tour to Asia in February 2010, including the dramatic match against Nepal at ICC World Cricket League Division Five. He goes on later to discuss his approach to ICC WCL Division Three in Bermuda, which begins just a week away on April 28, as well as his thoughts on where he sees the USA headed in the near future.
The full episode can be accessed by clicking here and is also available for free download on iTunes. Part one of the interview can be heard here. The following is a brief selection of quotes from part two of the interview with Nadkarni, the 2012 New Inning Foundation USA Batsman of the Year and Cricketer of the Year.
Image (right) - USA batsman Sushil Nadkarni walks off the Central Broward Regional Park pitch after making a century in a 50-over trial fixture against Bermuda last month. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
Peter Della Penna: You went to Nepal for Division Five and the first couple of games you didn’t score any runs and then there was the huge showdown against Nepal. 15,000 there estimated in Kathmandu at the ground that day and basically US needed to win this match in order to ensure promotion to Division Four which was going to be in Italy later that year in 2010. You came into that match in a very very pressure packed situation with crazy crazy Nepalese fans all around…. Having not scored runs and still kind of going through the injury, how much pressure did you feel going into that innings, especially in the context of the match itself and what that match meant if USA didn’t win?
Sushil Nadkarni: I had tremendous pressure on me because I could literally feel my time running out at that time because as you said, the team management had persisted with me knowing that I wasn’t fully fit, had given me several opportunities before that and I hadn’t scored many runs. Going into this game, we knew this was the do or die game for USA. Having been part of the team that went to Jersey [in 2008] and lost in the semifinals there and not progressed to Division Four, that was something that had hurt all of us at that time, like really hurt us bad. To think that we may not progress again into Division Four having gotten a second chance, there was tremendous pressure. If I look back, I remember I did not sleep that night because I knew that this game was gonna be such a big game and that my time to score runs was on and I really needed to go out and score big runs. Even when I came into bat, the odds were totally against us because it was a completely turning track playing Nepal, who had the best spinners in the tournament and when I came in I think we needed about eight an over to win that game. I think just being able to pull that off with the support of my teammates at that time, that’s one of the best memories I have of playing.
PDP: You came in at 43 for 2 and it wasn’t just the fact that USA had to win that match, but you had to win it pretty quickly in a certain amount of time because there was a run rate scenario that was in play. It wasn’t just that you had to win. If you won and Singapore won that day and you and Singapore and Nepal all wound up at 4-1, the run rates became the tiebreaker so you guys needed to win I believe it was in 35 or 36 overs. So there was that element to the situation as well. You come in, take your time getting set, you get it and then it was in the 32nd over, you brought up your 50 with I believe it was the second or third six of the over, you deposited a ball with a slog sweep over midwicket and as the ball is sailing over the rope, coming in the opposite direction are these giant rocks and stones from the Nepalese fans going berserk that their team is about to lose. What was that situation like as you were experiencing it out in the middle?
SN: It was pretty nerve-wracking you know. I had personally not experienced something like that before. It wasn’t the first time I was playing in front of about 12 to 15,000 people but the fact that those people were not happy with us in the middle, that was the first time. We started hearing loud thuds in the stands and pretty quickly the riot police got into action and about 10 or 15,000 people started running around like crazy. That was pretty scary from in the middle because when you’re in the middle the one thought that came to me was I really really hope these guys don’t invade the ground because if they do then we are just helpless helpless cricketers in the middle of the ground with nowhere to go but luckily nothing like that happened. They were all kind of trying to run away from the ground but even in the middle we were told not to head to or run toward the pavilion because folks were kind of throwing stones and pelting stones into the ground so we would get in the crossfire. So I guess at that point you could say the safest place for us was on the wicket itself but it was quite an amazing experience, one that has been with me even until now because I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that again.
PDP: It was a very bizarre scenario and situation from that standpoint because you said initially you were concerned about fans invading the pitch but it was pretty clear to us, the people who were sitting outside that there were enough riot police that circled the perimeter of the ground, after the initial excitement it was clear that they weren’t going to be able to get onto the ground but as a consequence of that they were heaving stuff onto the pitch. So it became pretty apparent that the safest place to be actually was out in the middle like you said. It was almost like there was a greater risk trying to run off the pitch to get back into the locker room than there was in just staying where you were… What was going through your head at that point?
SN: From my mind, there were a few things going through my mind. One of the bigger things was the safety of my parents who had actually flown in and were amongst the audience members at the ground. They were amongst the people directly behind the sightscreens watching the game and one of the first things was I hope that their section of the ground is safe because I didn’t want any harm to come to them. Secondly, it was just kind of absorbing what was going on, trying to make sure that I follow instructions from whoever was giving any sort of instructions but we were clearly being just to stay on the wicket and not move too much. But it was a five-minute thing and pretty quick we also realized that things are under control and the ground and the wicket is not going to be invaded by hundreds of people and our safety is not at risk at the moment. After that, also there was a realization that it was a big morale booster that yeah, we had the match in our grasp now and I think at that point we needed less than a run a ball or something after that over. Basically I kind of realized that we are gonna win this game and proceed and get promoted to the next division so there was some jubilation starting to kind of develop as well.
PDP: So many people keep saying that Twenty20 is the format that’s going to be the most attractive and the one that’s going to be able to spread quicker and hopefully make cricket more popular in the US and it’s going to be the wave of the future yet not just yourself but several other senior members of the team instead of opting for the [ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament and making themselves available], if they had to choose between the two [based on work availability] going for the Twenty20 tournament, they saw the 50-over matches [against Bermuda in Florida ahead of WCL Division Three] as a higher priority. Why do you personally and why do you think maybe some other people in the team felt that the 50-over matches, there’s still some value to it for you and for the USA in terms of World Cup qualification potentially in 2015?
SN: It’s difficult for me to speak for others not knowing what their decision making criteria was. For me personally, I think my journey with the US team began in 2006-2007 and that’s when we began our journey in Division Five of the World Cricket League and we stayed there for two years and then came up to Four and then Three and then went back to Four. So for me personally, it’s a journey for me which has taken me up and down with the team. There were many many times during these tournaments, because of having lost some easy games or games which we should have won, we used to huddle up in the hotel room and a few of us would think well it looks like tomorrow’s going to be the last game we play for USA because if we don’t win we’re out of the tournament and pretty much we don’t have much to play for after this and every time, 100% of the time we’ve won that game because we’ve all been so motivated to win that game. So now having come back to Division Three, I think for me personally, my ambitions lie with pushing US into Division Two and then going into unchartered territory as I’m looking at it because that’s a level of cricket that I have not played. I know my teammates in the US team that have been a part of the team since 2006 say we have not played or tasted that level of cricket so that’s something that’s the one motivation that’s remained with me. You can say it’s like a dream for me right now that I be a part of the US team that has made it from Division Five all the way to Division Two of the World Cricket League that gets an opportunity to play in the World Cup Qualifier. So that’s something that we have not experienced. We have not played in many many years at that level. So getting the opportunity to do that is kind of the dream at least for me right now and that’s why I would say I’m putting a lot of emphasis and a lot of time towards preparing myself for the Bermuda tournament.
PDP: Where do you see US Cricket going in the next few years?
SN: What I hope to see are two things. One is as I said before, that US is playing Division Two or Division One cricket in the World Cricket League. That’s one thing. The second thing which I hope can happen within the US is the IPL-style league that was supposed to happen this year. A little disappointed that it’s not happening this year but very hopeful that it will happen next year because I think that’s going to open up a lot of opportunities within US cricket so I’m hopeful that those two things can happen within the next two years, knowing that my opportunities to participate are limited, but one way or the other I hope to continue playing for the US as long as I can and after that look for opportunities to kind of be a part of the US cricket system.