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Obituaries

Bapu Nadkarni

"Indian cricket has lost a real champion"

11-Nov-2021
Bapu Nadkarni bowling against Australia  •  Getty Images

Bapu Nadkarni bowling against Australia  •  Getty Images

NADKARNI, RAMESHCHANDRA GANGARAM, died on January 17, aged 86.
"Bapu" Nadkarni was a mesmerisingly accurate left-arm spinner, best remembered for an astonishing performance in the First Test of India's 1963-64 home series against England at Madras. He wheeled down 21 successive maidens - a world record - and finished with figures of 32-27-5-0.
England did have an excuse for their go-slow on the third day: several players had food poisoning. As Nadkarni recalled: "They had absolutely bad tummies - four or five or six people were down." The Times delicately described the problem as "internal misfortunes". With a rest day coming up, Brian Bolus and Ken Barrington - two of the most obdurate batsmen England have ever produced - dug in, to give their team-mates a chance to recover. There were only 27 runs between lunch and tea, and a further 59 in the final session, most while Nadkarni was having a rest. "Much as I hate such things on the cricket field," wrote John Woodcock, "there is no denying that England had some justification for their tactics."
On a pitch taking slow turn, ball after ball was patted back to the bowler or the close fielders: one 19-over spell from Nadkarni produced just a single, from his final delivery. His usual style was to fire the ball in at the right-hander's pads, as Barry Knight - one of the recovering invalids - confirmed: "He was a flat left-arm spinner, like Derek Underwood. He didn't exactly loop it up." Nadkarni said: "The basic principle was to be accurate to the point of perfection."
His feat at Madras was not a one-off: against Pakistan at Delhi in 1960-61 - another series in which all five Tests were drawn - he had followed 34-24-24-1 in the first innings with 52.4-38-43-4. In total, he had an economy-rate of 1.67 in Tests, the second-lowest by anyone bowling more than 500 overs (0.03 of a run behind the South African left-arm medium-pacer Trevor Goddard), and was even more miserly in first-class cricket (1.64).
Of Nadkarni's 1,527 overs in Tests, 665 were maidens. He had made his Test debut in 1955-56, failing to take a wicket against New Zealand, and was part of India's dispiriting tour of England in 1959, when they lost 5-0. Nadkarni, though, finished the trip with 55 wickets and 945 runs.
Back at Madras in 1964-65, he took 11 against Australia, but was on the losing side again. By then, India were ushering in a new generation of spinners, with Bishan Bedi the left-armer of choice, and Nadkarni missed out on another England tour in 1967.
But, at the urging of the Nawab of Pataudi, he returned for a final hurrah in Australasia in 1967-68. He retired at the end, signing off in a 272-run victory at Auckland with trademark figures of 14-6-16-1 and 2-1-1-1. He finished with 88 wickets in his 41 Tests, and exactly 500 in first-class cricket.
Nadkarni was also a very useful left-hand batsman, with 14 first-class centuries and an average of 40. That included an unbeaten seven-hour 122 as India followed on in the Fifth Test of that 1963-64 series, to ensure the fifth draw. In the 1960-61 Ranji Trophy semi-final, in his first season after joining Bombay from Maharashtra, he made 283 not out against Delhi, then 96 against Rajasthan in the final, to help seal the first of his six Ranji titles.
After four productive seasons for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League, Nadkarni filled various administrative roles at home, including a stint as a Test selector, and accompanied several tours as assistant manager. He became a sounding board for a generation of players, as Sunil Gavaskar recalled: "He was very encouraging. His favourite term was chhoddo matt [hang in there]. And he was very helpful in terms of strategy - he would say bring this bowler on, or ask that one to bowl round the wicket. Indian cricket has lost a real champion."