Hazare’s men got the better of England on Feb. 10, 1952
In many ways, the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai is Indian cricket’s spiritual home. It was here that after 20 years and 24 Tests, Vijay Hazare captained India to its first-ever Test win, beating Donald Carr’s England on February 10, 1952.
Coimbatarao Doraikannu Gopinath, the only surviving member of that Indian team, has vivid memories of the victory. “Probably for the first time, we said we can beat teams stronger than us. There was a new way of thinking,” Gopinath says.
The 90-year-old recollects the events of that Test in minute detail. “We batted first and made some 400-odd (457/9 decl.). I was No. 8. By the time I went in to bat, we were 340 or something (320). The captain very clearly told me ‘I am planning to declare soon. Go there and score as fast as you can.’
“When I got out, I had made only 35 runs. But I was delighted because my favourite shots were the cover-drive and square-cut, and every time I hit a four playing those strokes, my home crowd erupted. Polly Umrigar and I had a partnership of 93… In forcing the pace, I got out. But I was okay with it because I was following my captain’s instructions.
“Umrigar’s innings just went on and on, and I said to myself: “Why did I play like that!” (Laughs.) I could’ve taken my time and scored a few more runs. But didn’t matter in the end because we won the match and that’s what we all cherish now.”
Fifteen minutes before the tea interval on the fourth day, Gopinath, the youngest member of the team, caught Brian Statham off Vinoo Mankad to usher in the victory. The ball used in that Test finds a place in Gopinath’s Coonoor residence.
“I got all my teammates to sign it,” he reminisces. “But it has been a long time you know (smiles), the signatures have worn off.”
According to Gopinath, the victory celebrations were ‘unbelievably’ subdued by today’s standards. “We won the match, went back to the dressing room and everybody said ‘well done’. After that, we all went back home!” he says.
“In those days, teams did not stay together. Each one was put up at somebody’s home, this applied to both Indian and English players. We only met an hour-and-a half before the game at the ground. So, there was no question of strategy or celebration.”
Nearly seven decades down the line, the win continues to evoke memories, both emotional and sweet for Gopinath.