The cricketing world’s most economic bowler ever and one of India’s most useful all-rounders, Bapu Nadkarni, passed away last week at the age of 86.
Born Rameshchandra Gangaram Nadkarni (R.G. Nadkarni in the record books) in Nasik in 1933, Bapu came to be known as the most miserly bowler world test and first-class cricket has ever known.
And he holds at least one great record that one can safely say will never ever be broken. In the Madras (Chennai) 1963-64 India-England test series, he returned the scarcely believable bowling figures of 32-27-5-0 for Team India – comprising 21 consecutive maiden overs. The first five balls of the twenty-second were also dot balls, and that too because of a misfielding, which yielded the run!
Inexplicably, the captain took him off the attack right after that, a thing which is said to have rankled Bapu lifelong. Be that as it may, but 131 continuous dot balls is most certainly an all-time record hard, nay, impossible to surpass, especially in this age of quick scoring cricket where even six dot balls is a real big deal.
And that display of extreme parsimony in Madras was far from an accidental one-off. Consider some of his other figures earlier: 32-24-23-0 in Kanpur, with Pakistan in 1960/61 and 34-24-24-1 in Delhi in the same series.
An allrounder in the true sense, in the 1950s and ’60s, Bapu played 41 tests for India scoring 1441 runs and taking 88 wickets with 6/43 as his career best in tests. He scored a match-winning 122 not out (and 52 not out in the earlier innings) against England.
His richest haul was eleven wickets in a single match (against Australia). He also played 191 first-class matches for the Bombay and Maharashtra teams scoring 8880 runs and scalping 500 wickets. His economy rate at retirement was an unbelievable 1.67 (second best in world test history for bowlers taking over 50 wickets) and an even better 1.64 in first-class cricket.
Post-retirement from active cricket, he served as the Indian team’s assistant manager, and was a mentor to Sunil Gavaskar. Speaking to media after Bapu’s passing, Gavaskar said, “His favourite term was ‘chhodo mat’. It means hang in there. Chhodo mat. You are playing for India. That thing we learned from him.”
Sachin Tendulkar tweeted, “I grew up hearing about the record of him bowling 21 consecutive maiden overs in a Test. My condolences to his family and dear ones.”
How Bapu developed such an accurate line and length is the stuff of Mumbai’s cricketing lore. Before a practice session, Bapu would drop a ‘chauanni’ – a 25 paise coin – on the good length spot, draw a circle around it, return to his run up at the bowler’s end and bowl left arm to hit the spot ten out of ten times. Something that has been essayed slightly differently by Muttiah Muralitharan in a famous YouTube video.
Gavaskar said Bapu was valued by the team for his strategic advice while on tour, especially in the dressing rooms between sessions as the match progressed.
Bapu was as humble and self-effacing as he was well-respected. The Indian team played their series-deciding third match with Australia wearing black armbands following his passing on 17 January.
New Zealand had a special significance to Bapu in the sense that he debuted his test career playing against New Zealand in the 1955-56 test series in New Delhi. He played his last test too against New Zealand in Auckland in 1968.
Just a namesake – no maidens
I often get asked by old-time cricket aficionados all over the world if I being a namesake had any connection with Bapu. I wish I could say yes. I did meet him but never really knew him or have spoken to him. Yet our paths did cross once when my father and he were bidding for the same home in suburban Mumbai. It wasn’t an auction but rather the developer was asking for offers of which he had two.
He told us – “We have two bids; both from Nadkarnis.” Somehow, my father got the home and that for us was like a run stolen from the parsimonious bowler.
And then years later in a bar in Port Vila, Vanuatu, an elderly visiting Australian professor asked me that question again – “Any connection with that miserly bowler Nadkarni?” I replied in the negative.
“Do you play cricket?” was the next question.
“I used to. But I’ve never managed to bowl maidens of any description,” I said.
Dev Nadkarni is the founding editor and Editor At Large of The Indian Weekender