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Bapu Nadkarni (left) shows S. Sriram, then playing for India, a few tricks of his trade during a visit to the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in 2000. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Dubai: Bapu Nadkarni, who produced one of the greatest spells in cricket when he bowled 21 successive maiden overs with his accurate left-arm spin against England in 1964 during the Madras (now Chennai) Test, passed away on Friday. For cricketers, journalists and even cricket administrators — he was a role model.

Nadkarni was a regular in Mumbai for all cricket conversations. I’ve listened to his many observations on the game but what used to impress everyone is his humble demeanour.

He never flaunted the fact that he was a world record holder and the new generation cricketers hardly knew him, though the bar he set for the bowlers to achieve has remain untouched.

Nadkarni lived long till 86 but his feat has remained surpassed in Tests and in first class cricket. He showed how a bowler can keep a batsmen under control with that spell of 32 overs, 27 maidens and just five runs in Madras.

Though he did not pick a wicket in that spell, it is still the most economical spell of bowling in Test cricket which features 60 or more balls. He played in 41 Tests and took 88 wickets from his international career that lasted 13 years.

A look at his ‘economy rate’ in international and first class cricket — even before the term got popular — will reveal the enormity of his skill as a bowler.

He ended his Test career with a staggering economy rate of 1.67 while in first class cricket, he has 500 wickets from 191 games with an economy rate of 1.64.

It was while attending the late umpire A.M. Mamsa’s umpiring classes in Mumbai that I got to meet Nadkarni. Mamsa introduced Nadkarni as ‘Mr Maiden Over,’ at which Nadkarni smiled and told: “Many call me by different names, some address me as an Economist and some as Miser. All I did was to bowl to a good line and length by following the basics.”

Nadkarni was an acknowledged master in bowling maiden overs. In 1960 when Pakistan visited India, he produced a spell of 32-24-23-0 in the Kanpur Test and followed it up with a spell of 34-24-24-1 in New Delhi.

Though people respected him for his bowling, he was a decent all-rounder and once hit unbeaten knocks of 52 and 122 against England at Kanpur in 1963-64.

Listening Nadkarni was like listening to a teacher. His prescription to anyone who asked him how he bowled those maiden overs was: “I played at a time there was only Test cricket and Ranji Trophy. So we aimed for perfection in those matches. If basics are correct you can do anything. In Mumbai those days, every Saturday, great cricketers turned up to play in the Kanga League. I grew up playing against and watching players like Vinoo Mankad and Polly Umrigar. Today’s youngsters don’t even get to watch great players as top players don’t play club cricket.”