On 14th December, 2022, one of India’s oldest-living First Class cricketers and certainly the oldest of Mumbai city – Rusi Cooper – celebrated his 100th birthday. Rusi Cooper becomes the second Mumbai Ranji Trophy player in two years to reach a century in life, after the passing away of Vasant Raiji in January 2020. He is now the only living Indian to have played in the Pentangulars – the pre-Independence league to host teams formed on community lines. He played for the Parsi team (1941-42 to 1944- 45), for Bombay (1943-44 to 1944-45) and for Middlesex (1949-1951).
Cooper featured in 22 First-Class matches-with his crowning glory coming in the 1944-45 Ranji Trophy final, in which he scored a century for Bombay against Holkar. From 1940-55, he played with and against the best cricketers of that time.
At the age of twenty-three, Cooper went on to pursue his education at the London School of Economics. Here, he played for Middlesex County with the likes of Dennis Compton, JJ Warr and Bill Edrich. An alumnus of Elphinstone School and St Xavier’s High School, Cooper, on his first visit to The Oval and Lord’s in 1948, saw Don Bradman getting 146 and 98 in tour games against Surrey and MCC, respectively. He also witnessed greats like Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Duleepsinhji and Wally Hammond in action.
After completing his course in the LSE, he was invited by the Lincoln’s Bar for Bar At Law. He returned to India in 1954 but couldn’t play competitive cricket as his employers refused leave to play cricket. However, he did represent the Cricket Club of India in local tournaments and was a prolific scorer.
Coopr was also a Trustee of the Bombay Port Trust for several years. Till he reached his 90s, he was a practicing maritime lawyer. Currently, he lives in South Mumbai but through the pandemic he stayed in Pune, with his only child, 66-year-old daughter Dinaz and son-in-law, Hoshang Zaveri.
In an earlier interview with Parsi Times, Rusi Cooper had shared about his early days, “My father was very interested in sports and wanted me to play. Back then, we lived in Bilimora, Gujarat, where my father was in charge of the textile mill. There were arrangements to play tennis, badminton, cricket and table tennis in the estate of the mill. All these facilities were available and I took advantage of them. He always encouraged me and backed me to play cricket. I took up cricket since I was nine years old and decided that it was my go-to sport.”
During his playing days, this swashbuckling batsman was greatly influenced by Vijay Merchant and Hazare’s approach to their game. He was a wizard with the bat, choosing to play his shots along the ground than opting for the huge big hits outside the park.
Speaking about his special connection with cricket, Cooper said, “It has always been an all-time favourite game of mine. I watch Test Matches as that is my favourite format and I am happy to have gotten the opportunity to play that long during my era. I was very good friends with Madhav Apte, who also played for India. We would meet and discuss a lot of things. I also shared a great friendship with Vasant Raiji who recently passed away at 100. Both of them were members of CCI and we would meet there in the evenings as they had also retired by then.”
Cooper has indeed been fortunate to have had the privilege of watching the greatest cricketer of all time – Don Bradman – play three good innings, including a century, in 1948. He also watched him play his final innings during his farewell tour to England in the year 1948. “I was very keen to watch him play at the Oval in London, so I also stood in line outside the stadium from 6:00 am, in order to make sure that I got in. I was indeed fortunate enough to watch him play even on previous occasions. He loved to dominate the bowlers but when he got out in the second ball it was disappointing for all his fans.”
Rusi Cooper’s dedication and game ethics have been exemplary. The personification of a gentleman, since cricket is a gentleman’s game, Cooper remains classic – calm, composed and jovial while sharing his extraordinary journey. Though he has achieved great milestones in his career, his humility and being so down to earth despite his monumental achievements set the perfect precedent for future generations of cricketers. The entire Parsi and cricketing community continues to be very proud of his achievements. We wish him the very best of health and happiness as he scores the ton of a lifetime!
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