‘Babu’ Nadkarni (not to be confused with former Test spinner Bapu Nadkarni) is a name familiar to most cricketers and cricket clubs in Mumbai. Without him, some of them wouldn’t get their bats and other equipment which felt right.
Quite simply, Nadkarni, who owned Nadkarni Sports at Dhobi Talao was one of the biggest behind the scenes men in Mumbai cricket. He passed away last week at 73. According to his son Dharmesh, he was in and out of hospital for several months. Former India batsman and coach, Sandeep Patil called him the “darling and king of Mumbai cricket.” Sachin Tendulkar felt he was a “real well wisher” and Vinod Kambli said he was “brilliant”.
Nadkarni was not soft spoken by any stretch of imagination. Patil remembered coming to the shop as an impressionable young cricketer and overhearing Nadkarni telling his worker, “get that bat which I have kept for Sunil (meaning Gavaskar) and give it to Sandeep.” Tendulkar had similar recollections and realised in later years that Nadkarni was “pulling a fast one”.
Tendulkar was deeply saddened by Nadkarni’s death, his mind immediately going back to the last time he met him. His interactions with Nadkarni heightened when Kambli and him were sponsored by SunGrace Mafatlal. Nadkarni Sports was a familiar destination. “He would always give us a lot of time when we went to pick up bats, gloves and leg guards etc. He would select the bat himself and made sure we were satisfied. Of course, ultimately I would make the final choice, but we would always ask for his opinion. He would be there at the shop… always and guided us well,” said Tendulkar.
Patil said all his bats were procured from Nadkarni even when he played for India and endorsed Symonds. “All my bats came from Babu. I never used an imported bat except when I started playing Times Shield in which I used a Gray Nicolls borrowed from the late Subhash Ambiye. “In my college days, we looked up to Babu as if he was a selector.
We were told that if you are in good books with Babu then he could put in a good word for you to the selectors.” Kambli’s first bat — a Symonds — was bought by his father Ganpat from Nadkarni. “I kept that bat with me as a souvenir, but when I started playing for India, I decided to present it to Babu as a gesture of my gratitude,” said Kambli.
On Sundays, Nadkarni used to be seen at his Cross Maidan club — M B Union which won the Kanga League ‘A’ division title in 1984. Mumbai Cricket Association vice-president Prof Ratnakar Shetty remembered Nadkarni as, “outspoken, but very good at heart. He helped many cricketers along the way. His contribution should never be forgotten.” Indeed!