Former Ranji Trophy cricketer Bhausaheb Nimbalkar passed away on December 11 at the age of 92 – a day before what would have been his 93rd birthday. His career spanned a long period between 1939 and 1965, but he could never make it to the Indian team, as his best years coincided with the Second World War, during which Test cricket was not played.
Nimbalkar played for as many as five teams – Baroda, Maharashtra, Holkar, Madhya Bharat and Railways. Born in Kolhapur, Nimbalkar was also a handy fast-medium bowler as well as a wicketkeeper in addition to being a right-handed batsman. He scored 12 hundreds in an 80-match career, but he is undoubtedly best known for his marathon innings of 443 not out for Maharashtra against Kathiawar at Pune in the 1948-49 Ranji Trophy.
At that time, the world record for the highest individual first class score was held by the great Don Bradman. Bradman had made 452 not out for New South Wales against Queensland at Sydney in 1929-30 (New South Wales won the game by 685 runs). In the game against Kathiawar, Nimbalkar came in at 81/1 after Kathiawar were bowled out for 238. And once he settled in, he played on and on for the entire second day and most of the third day when the unsporting Kathiawar captain, the Thakore Saheb of Rajkot purposely conceded the match with Nimbalkar an agonising 9 runs short of claiming the world record. THe score by then had swelled to a gigantic 826/4, while Nimbalkar was stranded on 443 not out, having batted for 494 minutes with 49 fours and a six.
This record is till date the highest ever individual score in the Ranji Trophy and in any first-class match played in India. Not just that, Nimbalkar also put on 455 with Kamal Bhandarkar (205) for the second wicket – which stood as an Indian first-class record for 43 years. He was however deprived of a much-deserved world record by the mean tactics of the opposition skipper. Bradman himself sent a personal note to Nimbalkar saying that he considered the latter’s innings to be better than his own even though he had not claimed the record.
Just like today, Maharashtra always paled in comparison to their mighty neighbours Mumbai (then Bombay). However in the 1948-49 season, Maharashtra entered the semi-final before losing to eventual winners Bombay. Nimbalkar played three games out of four that season, and averaged 170.66. His unbeaten 443 his today the fourth highest score in first-class cricket, only behind Bradman’s 452*, Hanif Mohammed’s 499 and of course, Brian Lara’s epic 501*. But who knows, if the Thakore Saheb had showed a bit of generosity, Nimbalkar would may have been the world record-holder today. His score his the highest by any player who has not played Test cricket.
Nimbalkar played 80 first-class matches, scoring 4841 runs in 118 innings at an average of 47.93. Plus, he took 58 wickets, 37 catches and effected 10 stumpings. He did not get the world record that day in Pune, and he also did not ever get a chance to represent his country – however that does not take away anything from him, for he has achieved his bit of immortality in the cricket world, and he was given the Lifetime Achievement award by the BCCI in 2002.
He was a shining example of Indian cricket’s many unsung but extremely talented cricketers, and thankfully he has left a legacy for budding cricketers to follow, especially in today’s age where scant respect is given to Ranji Trophy matches.
May his soul rest in peace.