Beyond Cricket: A Life in Many WorldsMartin Chandler |
Author: Gopinath, CD
Rating: 4 stars
This wasn’t a book that I expected to tax me unduly, but then there were a couple of puzzles thrown at me on the very first page. Its subject, CD Gopinath, is one of that very small band of cricketers who are generally known by their initials rather than a christian name. The best known of all is probably CB Fry, but there are a number of Indians, going right back to CK Nayudu and, of those currently plying their trade, MS Dhoni and KL Rahul.
Gopinath is not the most well known of Indian cricketers and, currently, is not quite the oldest*, but he does have the distinction of being the last survivor of the first Indian team to win a Test match, the fifth and final match of the series against England at his home ground at Madras in February of 1952.
Perhaps foolishly, as it led me down the two rabbit holes, I chose to look that match up on cricketarchive before I started the book. The C in CD Gopinath is stated there to represent the name Coimbatarao, rather than the name Chingleput that Venkatram Narayan uses to introduce Gopinath.
That one I could probably have sailed past, slightly curious but essentially untroubled, but the other introductory comment very strongly suggests, without being totally explicit on the point, that it was Gopinath who was instrumental in administering the coup de grace on England on that famous day when he caught Brian Statham on the boundary. But then it is crystal clear from cricketarchive that Statham was eighth out. When, a little later in the book, Gopinath himself deals with the episode he gives much the same account as Ramnarayan.
This issue concerned me rather more than the curious difference in names, and I will confess to being troubled by the thought that if the very first story in the book was embellished how much more would be and how much reliance I could place on it. It was therefore with a slightly heavy heart that I rifled through my library seeking out the books by another two men known primarily by their initials, LN Mathur and NS Phadke, that contain accounts of the 1951/52 series. Mathur is not as explicit as I would have liked, but his account of the denouement of the game strongly suggests that it is Ramnarayan and Gopinath who have got things right and that, unbeknown to cricketarchive, England skipper Donald Carr changed his batting order for the second innings. Phadke, sadly, sheds no light at all on the order in which the last three English wickets fell.
But Mathur’s words were a great relief to me as I was able to embark on the remaining 231 pages confident in the belief that I could rely on what I was reading. As to the style of the book that is unconventional. Written in five distinct parts the largest by far is Part II, which is written in Gopinath’s own words with, naturally, the assistance of Ramnarayan. He also contributes the fifth part, the story of an African safari holiday, and a brief epilogue. Part I is an introduction by Ramnaryan, long time journalist and former First Class cricketer himself, and Part III comes from family members and IV from friends of Gopinath. Bringing up the rear is an afterword from Gopinath’s daughter Kamini who, along with Ramnarayan, was responsible Beyond Cricket: A Life in Many Words finding its way into print.
As far as the Gopinath story itself is concerned he was a man who came from a comfortable background. He was a good all-round sportsman and a stylish batsman who was capped eight times. The most surprising aspect of his cricketing story arises out of his time in England in 1952. In what was not a good trip for any of the Indians specialist batsman Gopinath found himself generally down to bat at eight, and sometimes even nine, and was unpopular with captain Vijay Hazare. The problem was that Gopinath, who did not speak Hindi, could not understand what Hazare was saying to him and Hazare’s view was that he was not going to address Gopinath in English, and that he needed to learn Hindi. It was not therefore a relationship that was ever going to work.
The greater part of two decades after that tour Gopinath was one of the Indian selectors who found themselves deadlocked as to whether Ajit Wadekar or MAK Pataudi should lead India on what was to prove their historic trip to the Caribbean in 1971. Later, in 1979, he managed the Indian side that came to England for the second World Cup and a Test series afterwards. Unsurprisingly given his own experiences he did all he could to take regional jealousies and prejudices out of the selectorial and management processes.
Outside the game Gopinath made his career in the shipping industry and joined an English company, Gordon Woodroffe, which he was eventually to lead. As a lawyer I would have liked to have understood better the litigation that eventually followed when Gopinath felt unable to continue with his role, but I can also understand his wish not to dwell for too long on what must have an episode he derived no pleasure from.
As his book’s title states it will Gopinath’s book goes well beyond cricket in telling the story of his long life. He had other interests as well as his work being variously Sheriff of Madras, Norway’s Honorary Consul in Madras and a leading member of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, all of which roles are explained. In addition as is to be expected from a man who has spent so many years in happy retirement his leisure activities, his family and his friends all feature at some length.
The type of book that Beyond Cricket: A Life in Many Worlds represents is also worthy of comment. It is a large format book and a copiously illustrated record of Gopinath’s life which has been well designed and put together. It is well worth investing in and copies can be purchased via the publisher’s website.
*Gopinath is currently 93 having been born on 1 March 1930 and is therefore the sixth oldest living Test cricketer. In third place on that list, and 490 days Gopinath’s senior, is Datta Gaekwad, who made his Test debut after Gopinath, in England in 1952.