Rustom Cooper, born in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, on 15th December 1922, today became Middlesex’s oldest first-class cricketer, aged 97 years, 183 days old.
Prior to this, the record was held by James Gilman, who passed away in Shoreham, East Sussex, on 14th September 1976, aged 97 years, 182 days.
Cooper made a handful of appearances for Middlesex, between 1949 and 1951, making his first-class debut for the club against Cambridge University at Fenners in May 1949, when he made 36 of Middlesex’s first innings total of 402 for 4 declared.
In total he made surprisingly few appearances for the club, considering he finished his first-class career with a batting average of 52.39, although for Middlesex, in eight matches, his average of just 19.63 and a highest score of 54 belied the quality he had. A contributing factor in Cooper making only fleeting appearances at Lord’s in this era becomes clear, when you consider that he would have had to dislodge the likes of Jack Robertson, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich and Gubby Allen to secure a regular place in the side.
Throughout his time with Middlesex he also played club cricket for Hornsey, which is where he achieved legendary status, for both his weight of runs and for the flair in which accumulated them.
Our thanks go to Johnny Bruce and Hornsey Cricket Club for the following content, which has been copied from their website with the club’s blessing.
RUSSI COOPER – HORNSEY CRICKET CLUB, 1946 TO 1953
Between 1946 and 1953 Russi Cooper bestrode Hornsey cricket like a colossus. Even in our outstanding post-war side Cooper stood out for both his weight of runs and the elegance with which he batted. 5,968 runs at an average of 85.25 (excluding 1947, where figures are not available), his stats for the club are near Bradmanesque, and his shot selection abided by one of the Don’s batting axioms: keep the ball on the ground.
For all the mountains of runs, those who played alongside Cooper could never remember a single instance of him hitting a six.
It was another batting great, Denis Compton, who spotted Rustom Sorabji Cooper (born 22 December 1922) and brought him to the attention of Middlesex cricket.
Although Russi’s batting style wouldn’t have been suited to the IPL he was a young sensation in Indian domestic cricket, playing for both the Parsees and his native Mumbai, scoring a century in the 1945 Ranji Trophy against CK Nayudu’s Holkar.
Compton, stationed with the Army in India during the Second World War, played for the Holkar in that match and had in fact, witnessed another hundred by Russi the week before when he was playing for the Cricket Club of India. He was so impressed by Cooper’s performance that he informed Middlesex about his new discovery.
Indian players in county cricket were a rarity at the time, but Cooper was sufficiently encouraged to take up a place at the London School of Economics in 1946 and to pursue his cricketing career in Europe.
He arrived with a letter of recommendation addressed to Colonel PS Rait Kerr, secretary of the MCC, written by KS Duleepsinhji. He played some cricket for Indian Gymkhana and for a nomadic side called the Buccaneers, playing for Hornsey on a Sunday.
He turned out often for Middlesex 2nd XI (including one match at Tivoli Road, in fact). However, as is still the case, the serious cricket was played on a Saturday and Russi shifted his allegiance to Hornsey’s extremely strong Saturday side and its impressive fixture list. The rest, as they say, is history.
His debut season in 1946 harvested 571 runs at an average of 114.2, and went on to make 19 centuries for the club (18 of them not out!), with a top score of 135* against Richmond in 1950.
Cooper scored over 1,000 runs in a summer on three occasions for Hornsey, in 1948, 1952 and 1953. Arthur Cornick, who served as Honorary Secretary of Hornsey for over fifty years said he was at his best in a run chase. He would be 30* before anyone had noticed and would time a run chase to perfection. It was said that he would often won the game in the last over, with the winning runs bringing up his century. Derek Rata, another Hornsey great who had a couple of games for Middlesex Second XI was frequently Russi’s batting partner and recalls been asked by Russi how to hit the ball over the top (there is no record of Russi ever hitting a six for Hornsey). After lobbing him a few gentle half volleys and having been bit back at ferocious pace along the ground, they both gave up and decided to let sleeping dogs lie.
In 1950 he scored 945 runs at an average of 157.50. This included his epic month of June 1950, when he batted 8 times, 6 not out, for 624 runs at an average of 312.00.
The golden English sporting summer on 1953 was Cooper’s most prolific and sadly his last for the club. He scored 1,117 in his 19 innings that summer at an average of 139.62 – by some distance the highest average of any Hornsey 1,000 run season.
He would make sporadic appearances for Middlesex – a final first-class batting average of 52.39 confirms his talent – but happily spent his most productive success at Tivoli Road.
With such a rich vein of form in 1953 it’s little wonder that Cooper was considered very close to a call up to the touring Indian side that year for the tour of England. However, he had also qualified as a barrister and decided to return home at the end of the year with his English wife.
He made a visit, anonymously, to Tivoli Road in the late 1960s. In London on business, he spent the afternoon watching the 1st XI play, without being recognised, and then slipped away at the end of the match without anyone realising who he was.
His life and location took on an element of mystery until Hornsey’s archivist and historian Johnny Bruce tracked him down in 2008. Various attempts to find him via the Indian Cricket authorities were unsuccessful and, indeed, it was not even known whether Russi was dead or alive.
Then out of the blue, the Cricinfo website stated on his profile page that he was President of the Rotary Club of Singapore in 1984-85. An email was sent to the Rotary Club of Singapore and within 10 minutes a reply was received saying that the Russi Cooper from the Rotary Club was NOT the Russi Cooper from Hornsey CC.It did, however, also state that the Russi Cooper we were after lived in Mumbai, and here was his ‘phone number. We rang him, and Russi had his first contact with anyone from Hornsey for 55 years. He was delighted to receive a copy of the Hornsey Almanack which fully reflected his status as a Hornsey great and we enjoyed many conversations with him reminiscing about games and players past.
Around this time, Chetan Patel was about to holiday in India and was delighted to meet up with Russi at the Cricket Club of India a few days ahead of the great man’s 86th birthday in 2008. Chetan was glad to report back on of a fabulously fit and agile enthusiast for the game with many cherished memories of some glittering years at Hornsey, on and off the cricketing field.
His cricket career had stalled on his return to India due to a serious knee injury, but he was still an avid spectator and follower of the game.
A delightful player and person, Russi Cooper is one of the players that made Hornsey special and a crucial part of our club’s legacy.
For more archive information on Hornsey greats, visit HERE