It is probably the greatest irony in Indian cricket that the batsman with the nation's highest first class score never played an official Test match. That remained Bhausaheb Babasaheb Nimbalkar’s greatest regret till he died today – and why not?
A batsman who scores 443 not out should automatically be good enough to play for the country, but Nimbalkar’s appearance for India was restricted to one unofficial `Test’ against the first Commonwealth team at Bombay in 1949-50 when batting at No 9 he made 3 and 12 not out. Sixty four years after his monumental feat, this remains one of the most unsolved mysteries of Indian cricket.
Nimbalkar’s name is associated so closely with his record score that it almost overlooks the fact that he was a prolific scorer in domestic cricket. A look at his first class figures will illustrate this: 4577 runs at an average of 52.01 with 12 hundreds.
He was an outstanding batsman in the Ranji Trophy finishing with an aggregate of 4106 runs at an average of 57.03 with 12 hundreds. Besides playing for Maharashtra, he also represented Holkar, Baroda and Railways in a first class career that stretched for 25 years.
Born in Kolhapur in 1919, Nimbalkar made his first class debut in 1939 but his unique feat (he is still the only Indian to hit a quadruple hundred in first class cricket) came nearly ten years later. The feat – and the drama associated with it – came about at Poona on a cool December day in 1948. Kathiawar were all out for 238 and Maharashtra commenced their reply on the first day of three-day Ranji Trophy game.
Nimbalkar who came in at the fall of the first wicket at 81, settled down comfortably. At close of play Maharashtra were 132 for one. On the second day he and KV Bhandarkar proceeded to add 455 runs for the second wicket in about 300 minutes. After Bhandarkar was out for 205 late on the second day Nimbalkar found another able ally in SD Deodhar who went on to get 93.
By stumps on the second day when Maharashtra were 537 for two Nimbalkar had got to his triple hundred. He and Deodhar shared a third wicket partnership of 242. On the third day Nimbalkar duly crossed 400 and now Don Bradman’s 452 not out – then the highest score in first class cricket – was suddenly within sight.
At tea Maharashtra were 826 for four. Nimbalkar had reached 443 and surely it was now a matter of minutes before Bradman’s record went overboard and an Indian held the most famous batting record in the world. In the heyday of Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare, this would be a heady feeling.
But that was not to be. At the interval the Kathiawar captain the Thakur Sahib of Rajkot decided that he had had enough. He announced that his side would concede the match if Maharashtra continued batting but would play on if they declared.
Conceding a match was not unusual in those days. No amount of pleading by the Maharashtra team members could make him change his mind. Raja Gokhale, Maharashtra 's captain, and the match officials requested the Thakur Sahib to continue for two overs to allow Nimbalkar to break The Don's record but he remained adamant.
Nimbalkar understandably was very bitter but there was little he could do. Years later he gave vent to his feelings in an interview when he said "they kept saying that you have already scored so many runs, why do you want to get more. Their skipper felt that the name of the Kathiawar team would figure in the record books for the wrong reasons. 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 ten 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."
For the record Nimbalkar batted eight hours and 14 minutes and had hit 46 fours and a six. Having missed a chance to break a famous record in a most unfortunate manner it was small consolation for Nimbalkar that he received a letter from Bradman sympathizing with him. Bradman’s record stayed till 1958-59 when Hanif Mohammed scored 499 for Karachi against Bahawalphur. In 1994 Brian Lara took over at the top after scoring 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham.
BB Nimbalkar, holder of famous cricket record, dies