ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2012 March 11, 2012

Nadkarni ready to atone for previous UAE tour

USA captain Sushil Nadkarni is aiming to perform in a big way for his side beginning this week at the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier, to make up for a subpar performance he had at the same event in 2010. Nadkarni came into the qualifier two years ago less than 100% fit, hurrying back after an Achilles tendon tear. He scored just 13 runs in two matches against Scotland and Afghanistan then, and feels the opposition didn't get to see the type of destructive player he can be.

"When I was here two years back, I was just coming off a major injury," Nadkarni told ESPNcricinfo. "I didn't really get going in the batting department. One of my challenges to myself has always been to test myself against better and better opposition, and looking at this tournament I think this is the highest level of cricket that I would have played in the last two years. So, absolutely, I'm looking forward to the competition in this tournament and really want to prove, not to the opposition or to other teams but to myself, that I'm a much better player than what I did two years back."

Nadkarni, 35, was USA's leading scorer at the 2011 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament in July, when USA finished second behind Canada. He scored 149 runs in five matches at an average of 37.25 and carried that solid form to Sharjah on Thursday, where he scored 79 not out off 56 balls in a warm-up fixture against an Emirates Cricket Board XI. Nadkarni is one of only three players who played in this tournament for USA in 2010 and says it's up to senior players like himself to take the pressure off the less experienced players in the squad.

"We've been trying to talk to the younger guys about what it feels like while playing a big tournament like this," Nadkarni said. "We've been trying to talk about the differences you might see when you play your club level cricket versus playing at this level. We've been talking about the different wickets out there. For instance Sharjah which everyone knows is slow and the ball turns quite a bit. We've got about three to five spinners in the team and they should be ready to come up to bowl at any point. We've been chatting with the young batsmen, to give them pointers on how not to throw away a wicket when you're set or when you've just hit a four or six."

One young player that Nadkarni believes could provide a big boost to the squad is Steven Taylor. The 18-year-old finished tied for second overall on the run charts this past summer at the ICC Under-19 World Cup Qualifier in Ireland. Taylor had 455 runs in nine innings including two centuries and Nadkarni liked what he saw of the teenager at a camp held for the USA squad in January in Florida.

"This guy, from what I've seen, hits the ball harder than anyone else on the team," Nadkarni said of Taylor. "In one of the games in which I was watching him bat, [I noticed] his footwork is very quick. For somebody at his age to bat so naturally in the manner that he does, it really impressed me."

Despite USA's low international ranking heading into the tournament, Nadkarni says he's tried to encourage the players to not be intimidated by ODI nations in their group, like Ireland, Kenya and Scotland. The UAE was the site of one of USA's greatest triumphs in 2004, when they won the Six Nations Challenge to qualify for the Champions Trophy, and he wants the team to believe they can pull off a similar feat over the next two weeks.

"From a team perspective, we really don't want to think of ourselves as minnows in this tournament," Nadkarni said. "We want to be extremely positive. We want to go deep into the tournament to begin with and the first step is making the playoffs. So three teams from each group moving up means that our first step is to qualify for the playoffs and once we do that the next goal is to get into the top two in the tournament. So that's basically the two step goal for the tournament."

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey