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BB Nimbalkar: The man who was denied the opportunity to surpass Don Bradman’s then world record of 452

BB Nimbalkar – the man who was denied the opportunity to surpass Don Bradman's then world record of 452BB Nimbalkar… caricature by Austin Coutinho.

BB Nimbalkar passed away yesterday – December 11, 2012 – a day before his 93rd birthday. A prolific scorer in domestic cricket, Nimbalkar’s eventful 443 not out scored for Maharashtra in 1948 remains the highest individual First-Class score by an Indian batsman. Arunabha Sengupta pays tribute to the man and his immortal innings.

Bhausaheb Babasaheb Nimbalkar passed away on Tuesday, having lived a day short of 93 years. As many as 26 of those seasons were spent in the sun, in cricketing whites, as a prolific batsman in domestic cricket, a pillar of run making in the national competition. A tally of 4841 runs in First-Class cricket at an average of 47.93, including 3687 runs at 56.72 in the Ranji Trophy, is phenomenal by any standard.

He was an useful medium-pacer as well, and could double up as a wicket-keeper when required. In spite of his reputation as a run-machine, Nimbalkar was never called up to play for India in Test matches. He did, however, play one unofficial ‘Test’ against the Commonwealth side of 1948-49.

“It was sheer injustice that I did not get to play Test cricket. I played an unofficial `Test’ and they should have given me a second chance. I might have done something. It was not in my luck,” he remarked years later.”I don’t know why the selectors side-lined me all the time. What really hurt me was that some of the less talented players got a chance to represent the country.”

However, Nimbalkar found a place in the history books by notching up the highest ever score made in First-Class cricket by a non-Test cricketer.

In fact, the 443 runs that he got during that winter of 1948 has for years been his claim to fame, overshadowing his huge collection of runs in First-Class cricket.

BB Nimbalkar. Photo courtesy:
BB Nimbalkar’s 443 not out is still a record for the highest individual First Class score by an Indian batsman.

Nimbalkar stranded nine short of the world record held by Bradman

The Ranji Trophy match between Maharashtra and Kathiawar in December 1948 has gone down in the record books for reasons other – and more dubious – than just Nimbalkar’s colossal effort. Kathiawar forfeited the match citing boredom – a rarity in competitive sports.

With the rules rewarding a drawn match to the side leading on the First-innings, the era saw a surfeit of tall scores. However, 826 for four in response to 238 all out might have stretched the definition of a ‘contest’ to the limits.

At the Poona Club Ground,  Kathiawar were bowled out for 238 on the first day of the four-day match, and by the close of play Maharashtra were well placed at 132 for one. The first wicket had gone down at 81 and Nimbalkar had joined Kamal Bhandarkar at the wicket.

It was nearly the end of the second day when the second wicket went down, Bhandarkar ultimately falling for 205 after six hours at the crease.  The pair had added 455 in just about five hours.

Sharad Deodhar, the new man at the wicket and son of the legendary DB Deodhar, dug in as well, and by the end of the day the home side was 587 for two, with Nimbalkar looking unstoppable with 301 already against his name.

The relentless run-scoring continued unchecked on the third day as Nimbalkar and Deodhar put on 242 for the third wicket.

There was a spot of bother when Deodhar fell for 92 and Mohan Lal followed soon, and the two quick wickets reduced – if such a term may be used in this context – Maharashtra to 801 for four.

But, Nimbalkar carried on.  He passed 400 and soon advanced well within striking distance of the world record score in First-Class cricket – Don Bradman‘s 452 scored for New South Wales against Queensland at Sydney in 1929-30.

By the Tea interval, Maharashtra stood at 826 for four, with Nimbalkar on 443. A session and a day were still left in the match, and apart from the prospect of an innings victory for the home team, there were several records to play for. Nimbalkar required 10 more to eclipse The Don, and Maharashtra was close to the record score of 912 posted in the championships four years earlier by Holkar.

His Highness the Thakore Sahib of Rajkot, the captain of Kathiawar, had scored a career-best 77 earlier in the match – an aberration in a saga of mediocrity, and one of the only two fifties he would manage in his career. He had bowled two overs and had been thrashed around for 16. As the players took tea – standing in the ground as was the ritual of the day – this scion of the royalty turned churlish. He had spent too much time on a leather hunt. Calling the Maharashtra captain Raja Gokhale, the Thakore Sahib gave an ultimatum – either declare or he and his side would go home.

It came as an unexpected jolt, and the hasty negotiations that followed were futile. Gokhale and the match officials did ask Kathiawar to continue for two overs to allow Nimbalkar to break The Don’s record. His Highness refused, the Kathiawar players trooped off to pack their bags and then headed to the station.
“They kept saying that you have already scored so many runs, why do you want to get more,” Nimbalkar recalled later. “Their skipper felt that the name of the Kathiawar team would figure in the record books for the wrong reasons. I was left stranded in the middle of the ground. I didn’t like the approach of the Kathiawar team. How could they be so unsporting? Once I came to know that I was just 10 runs short of a world record, I was desperate to achieve it because it would have put Sir Don’s name behind me. But this didn’t happen.”

Nimbalkar came to know of his being on the brink of the feat only at Tea.” Had I known, I would have gone for the runs. My captain sent me a message that I should stay at the wicket, so I did just as I was asked.”

Nimbalkar had batted for eight hours and 14 minutes and had hit 46 fours and a six.

There is a theory that the prospect of Sir Donald losing his record was difficult to accept for the devoted followers of the game. “They felt it would be discourteous to a man installed as a semi-divine. Clearly, this was the feeling of the majority of the Kathiawar players, who simply packed up during the Tea break and left for the railway station, leaving the match unfinished and poor Nimbalkar high and dry on 443,” wrote Mike Coward. “Sir Donald spoke on the wireless and told Kathiawar not to concede the match and to let me continue; to give me a chance to do it. But the Kathiawar players didn’t come back from the tea break. They went to catch their train,” Nimbalkar recalled.

However, the great Australian did provide some balm for the distraught Nimbalkar. “I still remember he ranked my innings above his own, such was the greatness of The Don. Even though he had the world record and I had only the record in India, he still rated my innings as better.”

The Don’s record was ultimately overhauled ten years later by Hanif Mohammad who did not succumb to the Bhawalpur bowling or sentiments and totted up 499 before being run out. And in 1994, Brian Lara famously rewrote the record books by scoring 501 for Warwickshire against Durham.

However, Nimbalkar’s 443 remains the highest First-Class score recorded by an Indian, and the fourth highest innings ever in top grade cricket.

(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)

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