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Obituary: Bapu Nadkarni

1933-2020

Former India all-rounder Bapu Nadkarni, who built an extraordinary career with his parsimonious left-arm spin, has died at the age of 86 in Mumbai. He had been suffering from age-related illness.

Nadkarni enjoyed a 13-year international career, during which he played 41 Tests and snared 88 wickets. That included a best of 11/122 against Australia during the Chennai Test of their 1964/65 tour of the country. In all, Nadkarni took four five-fors, three of them against Australia at home and one against New Zealand in Wellington, the last one constituting a part of India’s first-ever overseas series win, on their 1967/68 tour.

However, arguably his more famous performances came outside of those. Nadkarni returned scarcely believable figures of 32-24-23-0 in Kanpur, when Pakistan visited India in 1960/61. Such performances would go on to become a running theme of Nadkarni’s career, as he followed it up with 34-24-24-1 in Delhi during the same series. Later, in 1964, he put in a world-record performance of 32-27-5-0 in the Madras Test against England.

That spell included 21 successive maidens – a feat unsurpassed in Test or first-class cricket featuring six-ball overs. His five runs off 32 overs also made it the most economical spell of bowling in Test cricket, featuring 60 or more balls, a record that stands to date.

Overall, Nadkarni ended his Test career with a staggering economy rate of 1.67, which is second only to that of South Africa’s Trevor Goddard, among bowlers with 50 or more Test wickets. Nadkarni also enjoyed a prolific first-class career, spanning 16 seasons, which ended with an even 500 wickets after 191 games. His first-class economy rate, at 1.64, was even better than that of his Test career.

Nadkarni was also a noted contributor with the bat, averaging 25.70 in Test cricket. He made seven fifties and an unbeaten 122 in Test cricket, the latter of those in a drawn Test against England in Kanpur, on the same tour where he delivered that maiden-infested spell. He also made an unbeaten 283 for Bombay, against Delhi, and ended his first-class career with an average of 40.36.

Tributes poured in for Nadkarni, with batting maestros Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar leading the way. "Very sad to hear about the demise of Shri Bapu Nadkarni,” 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.”

Gavaskar shared personal memories from the time Nadkarni served as an assistant manager on tours, saying: "He came as an assistant manager for quite a number of our tours. He was very encouraging. His favourite term was chhoddo math [don’t let go]. He was a gritty cricketer, despite playing in the days when gloves and thigh pads were not very good, not much protective equipment as you would get hit. But still hang in there, as he believed in chhoddo math.

"Every time he was on a tour, he was very very helpful in terms of strategy. At lunch time or tea time, he would say try this if you were a fielding captain. He would say, bring this bowler, or ask this bowler to bowl around the wicket. He was fantastic. Indian cricket has lost a real champion."

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