99 not out ... that's Gordon


The eyebrows of Norman Gordon lifted mischievously Thursday when he was told that he, the world's oldest surviving Test cricketer, had just been introduced to Johann Rupert, South Africa's richest man.

"Hmmm, I should have asked him for a cheque, then," he laughed.

They were queueing up to shake Gordon's hand at the Houghton Golf Club Thursday.

A cocktail party had been organised for him by the club to mark his 99th birthday, which he celebrates today.

An honorary member at Houghton, Norman comes to the club every day at 2pm with his son Brian to wile away the afternoon.

He had been the second-oldest surviving Test player in the world until Eric Tindill, who played rugby and cricket for New Zealand, passed away on Sunday at the age of 99 years and 226 days. "It's not quite the way you want to set a record, is it?" said Gordon.

No Test cricketer has yet lived to 100, but Gordon, whose eyesight is not quite what it was, is sprightly and alive, has forthright opinions on the state of the modern game, but is an ardent fan and a guest of Joe Pamensky at the Long Room at the Wanderers when health allows.

The old Wanderers, where the Park Train Station now is, was where he represented Transvaal for all of his career and where he played one of his five Tests for South Africa.

His last match was in the legendary Timeless Test in March 1939. He was the last man with the ball in his hand as the umpires finally had to abandon the game after 10 days so England could catch a 8.05pm train to Cape Town to make their ship, the Athlone Castle, home.

He had bowled 92.2 eight-ball overs and, with the weather closing in and England chasing victory, there may have been an 11th day.

"There was even talk that the squad could go on and leave the two not-out batsmen and the four yet to bat behind to play on, or even that a plane could be chartered to replace the train," reported Wisden at the time.

Gordon would have been game.

"I was known as a guy who had incredible stamina," said Gordon.

"I could bowl all day long, 20 overs in a spell. This was Durban in summer and I had sweated so much that my pants were stuck to my legs and my shirt was drenched.

"That wicket was so hard and flat, it was like glass. We struggled to get purchase with our boots and we wore the really long spikes in those days."

Gordon was the most successful bowler on both sides in that series, but fate was not kind to him as the outbreak of World War II meant South Africa would not tour England the next year.

Having taken 20 wickets against England in five Tests, Wisden believes he would have been a handful on the English wickets.

A right-arm fast bowler, he could swing it prodigiously either way.

He made his debut for Transvaal in 1933/34, and as South Africa changed from matting to turf wickets he had to adapt.

"The season of 1938/39 was my best year, but Currie Cup cricket was really hard back then. We had eight provinces playing, although Transvaal and Natal were the dominant teams then.

"I played for Jeppe Old Boys all my life, but then club cricket was very strong. We had six or seven Springboks in our team at times and it was great playing with them.

"I made so many great friends from those days. We had a guy called Neil McAlpine, who was an underground manager at the ERPM (mine in Boksburg). He was always clowning around. Every second ball he would hit the batsman on the leg, turn around and shout 'Howzat!' to the umpire, and would get turned down.

"This happened again, then again and then he clean bowled the batsman. McAlpine turned to the umpire and said, 'Gosh, that was close'."

Born in Boksburg 99 years ago today, raised in Kensington, a product of Jeppe Boys High, Gordon and his son live in the Hillbrow flat he bought years ago. He intends becoming the first Test cricketer to live to 100.

"Ali Bacher said he would throw me a huge party when I turned 100, so I'm going to make sure I'm there for it," said Gordon.

"Ali, who for me never got enough recognition for his enormous ability as a player, said to me that he had scored one or two centuries in his time and that the best way to do it was in ones and twos.

"He told me not to go for the big shots, and that way I would reach 100."

Norman Gordon, 99 not out, and still carrying his bat.




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