Norman Gordon, survivor of the last timeless Test of 1939, turns 101 today. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the oldest surviving Test cricketer ever.
In the last Test that Norman Gordon played, at Durban in March 1939, England was set a mammoth target of 696 to win – with unlimited time in their hands. And the Englishmen went about the task forsaking natural instincts, like a labour of eternity.
Paul Gibb started off with 120, hitting just two boundaries, Wally Hammond got 140 in six hours with seven fours. In contrast, Bill Edrich almost galloped to his 219 in a little less than eight hours.
When heavy rain halted the game at tea of the tenth day, the visitors were well on course, having consumed 218 eight-ball overs for 654 for five. Gordon, in his fifth Test, had bowled 55 overs of sustained pace, capturing Eddie Paynter’s wicket and giving away 174 runs. Huge amounts of Vaseline he used to sling down his unruly hair had not really raised eyebrows for altering the condition of the ball in those olden days, but had earned him the nickname ‘Mobil’.
At the end of the day, the South African Board of Control and the two captains went into conference before issuing a statement that the game had to be abandoned because the England team had to catch the 8.05 p.m. train that night from Durban if they were to reach Cape Town in time to board the Athlone Castle.
The Second World War ensured that Gordon never played another Test. And this protracted Test match taught administrators never to arrange another timeless encounter.
Yet, the timelessness seems to have entered the soul of this fast bowler.
The Englishmen might have been in a hurry to get on their boat to sail home, but 73 years down the line, Gordon shows no inclination to board the boat of Charon and sail across the rivers of Styx and Acheron.
Having turned 101, he lives on – the oldest ever surviving Test cricketer. His Test career, amounting to just 20 wickets, may not have been very impressive, but he was known for his fitness, athleticism and the ability to bowl long spells. And in the same vein, he goes on and on in the ultimate game of life.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)