After sailing the high seas of international cricket for the past nine years, the time has come for the SS Nadkarni to dock permanently in Houston, Texas. The territorial waters around the Americas will be a bit calmer with the retirement of a player who plundered more than his fair share of opposition bowling attacks. This correspondent's desire to cover the USA cricket beat was sparked in part by one of Sushilkumar Suhas Nadkarni's record-setting feats. Perusing the scorecards on ESPNcricinfo one day in November 2008, yours truly clicked on a match between USA and Suriname and the first name at the top of the sheet read "SS Nadkarni… c Doekhie b Sewanan… 197". One-hundred-and-ninety seven? Damn! Who was this guy and where could I see him play?
The first opportunity to report on him in person came at a USACA national tournament in August 2009 in Minnesota, where on the second day of the event, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. At that stage, one might have thought that the opportunity to see the best of Nadkarni had passed for good.
But as far as Nadkarni was concerned, his best was yet to come, and it's hard to argue with his assessment going by the 57 not out off 59 balls he scored against Nepal at Tribhuvan University on the outskirts of Kathmandu in February 2010.
Up to that stage, Nadkarni had experienced a disastrous time on that tour in what was a rushed comeback from an Achilles injury. He hobbled around Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Kathmandu more or less on one leg. The way he moved at 33, he looked older than 43-year-old team-mate Sudesh Dhaniram.
After a half-century in a warm-up game against the UAE ahead of the World T20 Qualifier that preceded the WCL Division Five in Nepal, he could not get going once each tournament was underway. He started with scores of 1, 12 and 1. It was obvious he could not buy a break when he middled the first ball of USA's chase against Singapore straight to square leg for a golden duck.
That's what made it all the more remarkable when he produced a Man-of-the-Match performance against Nepal in the midst of a volatile atmosphere in Kathmandu. When everything else in his cricket had gone to pieces, he went back to his cornerstone, the slog sweep. The confidence he had in that one shot alone helped resurrect USA's fortunes in that match. As his fourth six sailed over deep midwicket, a steady stream of rocks, plastic bottles, aluminium cans and assorted other debris came back in the opposite direction to salute his half-century. Nadkarni kept his cool after the ensuing riot and the steamship carried on full speed ahead for the next few years.
Regardless of the opponent, on most days a healthy Nadkarni was ruthless. He claimed ten Man-of-the-Match awards in his career, the most for any USA player, as well as two Player-of-the-Series honours. His four centuries are also a USA record. Quite a few of his 14 fifties could have been three-figure scores had it not been for the fact that USA often had low targets to chase, thanks to a stifling bowling unit.
Yet that was no excuse for Nadkarni because even with a target of 130 against Cayman Islands in 2010, he managed to blaze USA's fastest century, off 54 balls, wrapping up the chase in 13.5 overs in the process.
His record against most teams was respectable and he feasted on the Americas sides, but more impressively, he had a superb record against Nepal: in seven innings, Nadkarni scored 300 runs at an average of 60, and twice claimed the Man-of-the-Match award.
Although he was best suited to play as an opener, he voluntarily moved down to No. 4 or 5 in games against Nepal for the sake of the team, because on most occasions, he was the only left-handed batsman available to tackle Nepal's arsenal of left-arm spinners. As USA's best player of spin, it was vital that he blunt Nepal's most potent weapon during the middle overs, a task he carried out with considerable aplomb.
Regardless of the opponent, on most days Nadkarni was ruthless. He claimed ten Man-of-the-Match awards in his career, far and away the most for any USA player, as well as two Player-of-the-Series honours. His four centuries are also a USA record
On his last tour, though, Nadkarni finally started to run out of steam. A series of nagging injuries contributed to him only taking the field for one game, in October on the tour of Malaysia in Division Three, scoring just 9. For all the mayhem he brought to cricket ovals around the world, it was a peculiarly quiet way to go out, though his last match in the USA for the national team was an unbeaten century in a warm-up against Bermuda in 2013.
Aside from the mountain of runs he scored, one of Nadkarni's most significant contributions to USA cricket was awakening the national administration to the fact that quality cricket exists outside the traditional power bases of New York, Los Angeles and Florida.
Many players who have subsequently been selected to play for USA while plying their domestic trade in cities like Milwaukee and Seattle owe a debt of gratitude to Nadkarni for proving that players based in non-traditional areas are capable of performing if given a chance. Imagine how much better USA might have fared if Nadkarni had been in USA's squad for both the 2004 Champions Trophy and the 2005 ICC Trophy.
That ship sailed long ago, though, and now this one must be moored as well. The SS Nadkarni. A trusty, sturdy steamship indeed.