Bapu Nadkarni © Getty Images
Bapu Nadkarni © Getty Images

On January 12, 1964, Ken Barrington and Brian Bolus stonewalled spectators to sleep as Bapu Nadkarni bowled 131 consecutive balls without conceding a run. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the day the scoreboard was brought to a virtual standstill with the left-arm spinner going on and on with metronomic accuracy.

There have been notorious misers in history and fiction. From Michaelangelo who slept with his boots on and denied himself the most basic creature comforts, to the preposterously thrifty young Andrew Carnegie, to the immortal Ebenezer Scrooge of Christmas Carol. However, just for his show on the cricket field, Bapu Nadkarni will stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest stalwarts of this curious hall of fame.

Nadkarni’s career economy rate of 1.67 stands second only to Trevor Goddard among bowlers who have captured more than 30 wickets in Test cricket. According to H Natarajan on cricinfo, when playing Bapu Nadkarni’s left-arm spin, “batsmen had two scoring options to choose from: nil and negligible.”

However, even by his severely parsimonious standards, Nadkarni reached the peak of tight-fistedness at Madras in 1964, during the first Test of one of the drabbest cricket series ever played. It eclipsed even his own performances against Pakistan four years ago, when he had ended with figures of 32-24-23-0 at Kanpur and 34-24-24-1 at Delhi.

The start of the Test was entertaining enough. The home crowd was treated to some hearty stroke-play by wicketkeeper Budhi Kunderan, who finished with a career-best 192 after opening the innings. Vijay Manjrekar scored a hundred as well, and India piled up 457.

The English side was already suffering from the perennial problems associated with an Indian tour.  Micky Stewart was indisposed with upset stomach and high temperature. Before England started their innings, Jim Parks joined him on the sick list. By the end of the second day, the visitors crawled to 63 for two, Vasant Ranjane and Chandu Borde picking up the wickets.

By the time the team left for the ground on the morning of the third day, January 12, 1965, Fred Titmus and Barry Knight were also feeling unwell. Parks and Stewart had stayed in their beds at the hotel, with a car stationed to get the latter to the ground in desperate situation.

Run famine

So, when the pitch started to take turn, the Englishmen decided that they would stonewall their way to guard the sick and ailing. Only night-watchman Don Wilson showed some enterprise, perhaps because he did not fancy his chances of batting through the day. It was mainly due to his 42 that the first session produced 86 runs. But, when at 116 Wilson was dismissed, Ken Barrington joined Brian Bolus, launching – if such a word can be used in this context –  a partnership which would bring time to a standstill, freeze the scoreboard and cast a pall of eternal ennui around the stadium and the land.

The session after lunch saw the introduction of Nadkarni, rolling his arm over again and again, his deliveries slow and flat, and landing on an imaginary coin on the pitch with nagging accuracy and slight turn. The two men could do little but pat them back along the pitch. From the other end, Borde kept sending down his leg breaks, and even the action took place off his bowling was reduced to rudimentary.

The first run after lunch came in the 12th over, stirring some of the spectators awake with the by then unusual sight of two batsmen crossing over. By the end of the first hour, lethargy had seeped into the veins of all the batsmen, fielders, spectators and – most of all – the scorers. Only the two bowlers kept coming in, briskly running the few steps and sending them down. By now, the inertia of rest had settled down heavily on the batsmen. Occasional half volleys and long hops were meticulously watched and stroked with dignified poise back to the bowlers.

Nadkarni bowled to a slip a short leg, with four men saving single on the off-side and three on the on. He went into Tea with figures of 19-18-1-0. Twenty-seven had been scored in the second session. Four of them had been extras.

In the final one and half hours of the day, the scoring rate accelerated drastically. As many as 59 runs came at a rate that was rollicking in contrast. However, Nadkarni was brought back and cricket went back into lull, undisturbed slumber. Barrington finally scored a single off him after 21 overs and five balls had been bowled by the left-arm spinner without a run being scored. According to The Times, he “was immediately taken off as though being altogether expensive.”

It was a world record, breaking Horace Hazell’s record of 17 consecutive maidens. The other champion cricketing miser, Hugh Tayfield, had more consecutive dot balls to his credit; but his 137 scoreless deliveries against England in 1956-57 had been bowled in eight-ball overs.

As the huge yawn of a day drew to a close, Salim Durrani trapped Bolus leg before. The Yorkshireman had scored his 88 in just under seven hours. The partnership for the fourth wicket had amounted to 119, compiled in four and a half hours. England finished at 235 for four. Nadkarni’s figures read 29-26-3-0.

With four players suffering from the Indian stomach ailments, the press took a lenient view of the English approach. A youthful Henry Blofeld wrote in The Guardian the end must be said to justify the means.”

At first, Nadkarni was not aware of his achievement. “I came to know about it later. In the evening the official scorer came up to me and told me that I have set a new world record and have bowled the most economical spell. A few of my team-mates took a dig at me. At that time there was no media coverage and things like these went unnoticed.”

When the match resumed after the rest day, Nadlkarni was criminally expensive in contrast, conceding as many as two runs from three overs, ending the innings with 31-27-5-0. However, India’s cause was perhaps helped somewhat more by Borde, who managed 67.4-30-87-5. England’s 317 runs consumed 190.4 overs.

Aftermath of the standstill

The match petered to a draw even though England did start off with the intention of getting the 293 required to win in 268 minutes. Nadkarni’s figures in the second innings were 6-4-6-2. Captain Mike Smith charged down the track to unsettle his length and was stranded miles down the wicket for Kunderan to stump him with aeons to spare, but he was later declared to have been caught.

Nadkarni finished the series with figures of 212-120-278-9, achieving an economy rate of 1.31. He also topped the batting averages with a hundred and a fifty, scoring 294 runs at 98.00.

The five-match series ended in one of the most stagnating 0-0 stalemates in the history of the game.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)