May 23, 1967. The great Denis Compton hosts a grand party on his 50th birthday at the Hilton in London. Soon, he receives a phone call from his mother, who conveys her wishes, but reminds him that it is his 49th, and not 50th, birthday! The celebrations, though, continue uninterrupted.
Nick Compton had heard many a tale about his illustrious grandpa, but not this one. And when Rustom Sorabji Cooper shared this anecdote at the Brabourne Stadium on Wednesday, Nick was obviously in splits. Nick is delighted to be in India, a place where his late grandfather served in the British Army as a “PT instructor” during World War II.
Cooper, who also played for Parsees in the Pentangulars and became the first Indian to play county cricket when he represented Middlesex in the late 1940s, was equally pleased to meet his late friend’s grandson.
“They have similarities, looks-wise,” he says. “But I am yet to watch him bat,” adds the 89-year-old.
“I played both with and against Denis. The 1945 Ranji Trophy final between Bombay and Holkar was a memorable match. Denis was was posted at Mhow, near Indore, and was eligible to represent Holkar in the domestic championship. He scored 20 and 249 not out and I remember fielding for hours at the boundary. But Bombay won the game,” recalls Cooper.
Legend has it that a wealthy businessman had offered Compton a rupee for every run he would score in the game. Curiously enough, the man was nowhere to be seen later. Nick had heard that story, though. Cooper is modest enough not to mention that he had scored 52 and 104 during Mumbai’s 374-run win. Holkar were chasing a massive 867-run target!
“But he got 249, and Vijay Merchant made 278...,” he says. Compton’s unbeaten 249 is still the highest fourth-innings first-class score on Indian soil.
Cooper and Compton also played two matches for Middlesex in 1950. “I was studying at the London School of Economics, but turned up for Middlesex when Denis and John ‘Bill’ Edrich were on national duty,” informs Cooper, who also “studied law but never practised it”.
I came back to India in 1955 and suffered a slip disc. I never played again,” he says.