Bapu Nadkarni, economy rate champion, dies aged 86

Vishal Menon
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Bapu Nadkarni 1933-2020. (Express archives)

Former India spinner Bapu Nadkarni, famous for his pin-point precision and enviable economy rate of 1.67, passed away on Friday evening in Mumbai due to age-related ailments. He was 86.

Nadkarni, a 41-Test veteran, plied his trade in the 1950s and 60s, a period when Test cricket was a turgid affair.

When asked about the secret behind his unrelenting accuracy, Nadkarni attributed it to his long, indefatigable sessions at the nets. Former India wicket-keeper batsman Nana Joshi also had a role in Bapu, a left-arm spinner, honing his craft.

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Former test cricketer Bapu Nadkarni, Nari Contractor, Polly Umrigar and Dilip Sardesai. (Express archive photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

As the story goes, Joshi would keep only the middle stump and ask the spinner to bowl for hours at Pune's SP College in the early 1950s. Without doubt, his finest hour came against the Englishmen in Madras during the 1964 season, where he produced scarcely believable figures of 32-27-5-0, which included 21 successive maidens, still considered a gold standard of bowling miserliness. Amidst the brouhaha surrounding his economical bowling, it's his resolute and gritty batsmanship down the order that often got overlooked. Unbeaten knocks of 52 and 122 against England in 1963 established him as a player of great all-round value.

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Cricketer Bapu Nadkarni. (Express archive photo)

His batting was fundamentally built upon a simple tenet: never give up. This was a trait that would get ingrained with Nadkarni in the years to come and it would also serve as a template for the future generation of Bombay batsmen.

"Bapuji epitomised gritty batsmanship. He played during the days when there were no thigh pads and equipment were not all that great. But still he would hang in there and not give an inch to the opposition. He was just fantastic. Indian cricket has lost a true champion,” former India captain Sunil Gavaskar said.

Overall, Nadkarni scored 1,414 runs that included a century and seven half-centuries, even as he claimed 88 Test scalps in an international career that spanned for more than a decade.

But Nadkarni was much more than these numbers. Beyond his bowling and batting, he was also a sound strategist, who as the manager of Mumbai's Ranji squad in the 1970s, would chalk out plans to outwit opposition teams.

"He would always come up with strategies. At lunch time or at tea interval he would always talk to the team and give us ideas, like asking the captain to bring a certain bowler on or ask someone else to bowl from around the wicket," Gavaskar remembered.

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Ravi Shastri and alongwith Bapu Nadkarni during Legends Meet at CCI on Wednesday. (Express Photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

Another inherent trait about Nadkarni was his ability to spot talent.

"As the assistant manager during India's tour to Australia in 1980-81, Bapuji was one of the main guys instrumental in getting Sandeep Patil back in the team after he copped the blow on his head by Lenny Pascoe's bouncer. He kept encouraging him despite his failures. Patil responded in style by scoring a 174 in the subsequent Test match in that same tour," Gavaskar quipped.

His cricketing nous notwithstanding, Nadkarni was also a compassionate human being and a loved team-mate. Chandu Borde, the former India all-rounder, remembered an incident when India were playing a Test against Australia in 1964.

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Bapu Nadkarni and Polly Umrigar at Thane Marathon. (Express photo by Deepak Joshi)

"Bapu was my room-mate during that match, and I was battling to save my spot in the team. That was when he got a telegram about my uncle's demise. But he hid it under his pillow and only disclosed the news to me after the match was over and I had scored 68 runs while batting at No.8," Borde reminisced. “He was a very affable human being and we even after all these years would still keep in touch and wish each other on our birthdays and during Diwali. Last Diwali was the last time when I had spoken to him," Borde said.