Yesterday (January 12) was the anniversary of a remarkable event in the history of Indian Test match cricket. Left-arm orthodox spinner Bapu Nadkarni bowled four spells to batsmen from England that continue to be spoken of, more than 50 years on, as the gold standard of bowling miserliness.
Cricket statistician Mohandas Menon recalled Nadkarni’s stats on Twitter: 32-27-5-0, broken into spells of 3-3-0-0, 7-5-2-0, 19-18-1-0, and 3-1-2-0. He sent down 131 consecutive dot balls — or 21 overs and five balls without conceding a single run.
However, this feat was achieved also at a time when Test cricket went through a phase of unexciting safety-first style of play, and the game paid the price for it with a sharp decline in popularity.
It was the third day of the fourth Test (January 10-15, 1964, including a rest day) between India and England during England’s 1963-64 tour of India at the Nehru (Corporation) Stadium in Madras. This is what had happened earlier.
India, batting first, declared at 457/7, with opener-wicketkeeper Budhi Kunderan scoring a career-best 192, and Vijay Manjrekar getting 108. Captain MAK Pataudi (who unfortunately could not get off the mark himself) gave England 90 minutes to bat on the second day, during which time India sent back two English batsmen, and the visitors ended the day at 63/2.
When England returned on day 3 (January 12, 1964), several of its players were not fit. As Martin Williamson recalled in an ESPN Cricinfo article in 2012, both Mickey Stewart (the father of former England batsman Alec Stewart) and wicketkeeper Jim Parks were too ill to take the field, and Fred Titmus and Barry Knight, though at the ground, were unwell too.
“Against this backdrop, and with the pitch starting to misbehave, England decided their only hope was to put up the shutters,” Williamson wrote.
Nadkarni, who came on after lunch, achieved his feat under these circumstances. His slow, flat spinners were accurate; however, the English batsmen also helped him along by making no effort at all at scoring — “even half volleys and long hops were studiously patted to fielders”, Williamson wrote.
When Nadkarni was finally taken for a single by Ken Barrington, he was, as The Times, quoted by ESPN Cricinfo, reported, “immediately taken off as though being altogether too expensive”.
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