Apr 112014

He took nine years to complete his university degree and 16 years to become New Zealand’s most prolific wicketkeeper. On both counts, former Black Cap Gareth Hopkins hung up his gloves a happy man this week.

The 37-year-old Auckland captain hoped to slip quietly away from first-class cricket to a new life in Tauranga with wife Bernadette and sons George, 4, and Henry, 3, but the cat galloped out of the bag.

Having turned up at the national one-day final in Mt Maunganui and chatted to former team-mates in the commentary box, he was suddenly being interviewed on television announcing the end of his career.

“That’s more my style [departing quietly] but I hadn’t caught up with Chris Martin for a while and went to see him and they cornered me,” Hopkins said. “Definitely no regrets. You can look back and pick certain innings apart but I’ll look back on some great memories and lifetime friends.”

His record-breaking achievement passed with little fanfare, during the December test against West Indies in Dunedin. Hopkins went past Ian Smith’s 22-year-old mark of 426 dismissals, and he finished with 435 catches and 26 stumpings for a grand total of 461. He was no slug with the bat either, scoring 7550 runs at 36.65, including 17 centuries, from his 158 matches.

Born in Lower Hutt and raised in Taupo, Hopkins never played for Wellington but donned the caps of Northern Districts, Canterbury, Otago, then Auckland for the final seven years.

He rose to the Auckland captaincy and rates his best cricketing memory as leading them into the main draw of the Twenty20 Champions League in South Africa after they’d been bundled out in qualifying a year earlier.

Current skipper Brendon McCullum left an indelible mark on his career. Not only did Hopkins shift provinces to avoid the country’s top gloveman, he had to await a McCullum absence to get his chance in black.

The birth of McCullum’s son Riley in 2004 handed Hopkins an ODI debut against England at Durham, then four years later his test debut came at Trent Bridge when McCullum tweaked his back at warmups. Peter Fulton had been named to open but with McCullum out, Hopkins was handed his first test cap just before the toss.

“We were both standing there; I was in and Pete was out and I looked at him and said “all right mate”. That was a special moment.

“I’d been touring with the guys for so long as 12th man, backup to Baz [McCullum] and you’ve got to be ready to go. Then when you’re told the night before or match morning that you’re not playing . . . I don’t know how many games I was 12th man in, about five years’ worth I think.”

There were three more tests for Hopkins, all in India in 2010 when McCullum moved up to open, scoring a double-century in Hyderabad.

Hopkins’ eyes were opened to the megastar status of Sachin Tendulkar who travelled separately to the India team on private jets at night to avoid airport crushes.

“You’re bigger than Bollywood and you’re on par with the movie stars. It’s madness. For a cricketer brought up the way we have [been], it’s crazy.

“I was walking up the hotel stairs because the lift was full [in Ahmedabad] and I got stuck halfway up, there were four or five guys lifting a first class airline seat. I said ‘what’s going on’ and they said ‘Sachin doesn’t like his chair so he wants one of these to watch TV’. They were taking it straight to his room.”

Hopkins played four tests, 25 ODIs and 10 Twenty20s. He was awestruck keeping wicket to “the big three” of Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and Tendulkar. Shane Bond was bowling quick and Hopkins struggled to get gloves on some unplayable edges, and he marvelled at Daniel Vettori’s control and variation in the Indian heat.

Now life starts all over again. Last Tuesday Hopkins attended a Massey University graduation ceremony, having completed his business degree in finance and economics in just under a decade.

“My wife made me go and do the parade and sit through the ceremony,” he said with a laugh.

“When you’re on tour a few of the guys are playing poker, watching DVDs or going on excursions and I’d lock myself in my room and knock out an assignment.”

Having moved to Tauranga last year for wife Bernadette’s new job, Hopkins has a degree and a new CV and is out door-knocking.

Coaching or the commentary box doesn’t appeal yet, and he hopes to earn a job on merit. “I’ve got a lot to look forward to with a young family – they sacrificed a hell of a lot. The first year my eldest son was born I was away more than I was home. Now it’s focus on them, which is quite exciting.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

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