Obituary: Norman Gordon
by Peter Martin

Player:N Gordon

DateLine: 2nd September 2014


THE oldest Test cricketer and the only one to reach the century mark in years, Norman Gordon, died in Hillbrow, Johannesburg on September 2, 2014. Born 6 August, 1911, he was 103 years old when he died.


He was the last player who took part in the infamous Timeless Test played between South Africa and England in March, 1938, and the last surviving pre-war Test player.


Known as “Mobil” because he used to slick down his hair with Vaseline whenever he played, Gordon, of Jewish extraction, made his first-class debut for Transvaal in 1933-34 and was selected for all five Tests against Wally Hammond’s touring England team in South Africa in 1938-39. He bowled tirelessly throughout a series in which the bat dominated the ball.


With the series not completely settled – the teams went into the fifth Test with England one-up – it was decided to play the final Test in Durban as a timeless game.


South Africa scored 530 in their first innings and dismissed England for 316. Being a timeless Test, South Africa, despite a huge lead, batted again, and this time made 481 all out, setting England the huge target of scoring 696 to win. They finished with 654 for five wickets before the match was called off as the tourists had to rush to Cape Town to catch their boat home.


This scribe had the privilege of interviewing Gordon on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the game in 1988 and the 60th in 1998, when Gordon stated that after rain fell at night the heavy roller used the next morning virtually remade the wicket. He also recalled how, after bowling 37 eight-ball overs in the England first innings and 55.2 in the second, his trousers would stick to his legs as he ran in, over after over. His figures were 0-82 and 1-174.


At the end of the series Gordon was the leading wicket-taker, with 20 wickets (average 40.35), while he scored but eight runs (average 2.00) and took one catch. England spinner Hedly Verity, with 19 wickets, was next.


The England captain Hammond thought that Gordon would do well in English conditions and would have been first-choice for the 1940 tour of England, but the outbreak of war stopped those plans. As he told this scribe, he was most disappointed that he never played in England. Gordon said that one of the South Africans, Eric Dalton, who lived in Durban and went home each night, would wake his wife up late at night screaming “How’s That!” while appealing for a catch while dreaming. Another player Ken Viljoen, had two haircuts during the game.


Gordon completed his career in 1949 and in 29 matches captured 126 wickets (22.24) and became a keen golfer. He was a member of the Houghton Golf Club and played until the age of 97 and went to work each day until well into his nineties.


Six months after the Test was broke out and England’s Verity and Ken Farnes (fast bowler), and South African medium-pacer, Chud Langton, would lose their lives during hostilities, Bill Edrich would be a pilot in the RAF and Pieter van der Bijl, the SA opening batsman (who scored 125 and 97 in the game), would spend time in a prisoner of war camp.


(Article: Copyright © 2014 Peter Martin)