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Oldest Test cricketer months away from 100

The eyes have been reduced to narrow slits with age,but the graying eyeballs glitter mischievously,like crazy gemstones. His moustache twitches as he says: “I can’t see much through them now,but they still help me recall visions of my life,all 99 years of it.”

Written by Aditya Iyer | Johannesburg | Published: January 16, 2011 3:07:19 am

The eyes have been reduced to narrow slits with age,but the graying eyeballs glitter mischievously,like crazy gemstones. His moustache twitches as he says: “I can’t see much through them now,but they still help me recall visions of my life,all 99 years of it.”

Almost 72 years after playing in last Timeless Test,the ticking clocks have refused to weather down Norman Gordon. A few months short of his 100th birthday,the world’s oldest living Test cricketer is still sharp as a razor blade. “Ali Bacher has asked me not to play any rash strokes now. The best way to bring up a century is in singles,” the South African says,explaining the shots with a wave of his brittle hands.

But those very hands used to swing a golf club until three years back,until a 40 per cent loss in his sight ensured that Gordon’s teeing-off days ended at the ripe old age of 96. He cannot play golf any more,but that doesn’t stop the 99-year old from spending his afternoons,each and everyday,in the comfort of the Houghton Golf Course Clubhouse in uptown Johannesburg.

Sitting upright on his favourite chair (wearing a feeble sweater only at his son’s insistence) Gordon keeps himself active by meeting and greeting many a visitor — ranging from friends,to Houghton members to cricketers — on a daily basis. A few weeks back,one of those happened to be Brian Lara.

Lara,who was on his way back to Trinidad from Harare,made an unscheduled stop to meet Gordon — a cricketer he had heard plenty about. “The young man came and sat next to me and asked,‘Do you know who I am?’ I looked at him for a few seconds and said politely,‘I know a great cricketer when I see one,Brian. You are one of the greatest of them all.’ Even my failing vision cannot cheat me of that,” he says wryly.

Lara left behind a message on a piece of paper that reads: ‘I finally met the real master.’ It is something that Gordon treasures immensely,just like the memories from the last Test match he played in March,1939 before World War II broke out — the 10-day game against England in Durban that had to be abandoned so that the visitors could catch the 8:05pm train to Cape Town in time to make their ship back home.

For the medium pacer who could swing the ball both ways,the legendary match was the last of his five Tests — a career curtailed by the war.

“I bowled 92.2 eight-ball overs in that match. That is 120 overs in the current format. I was a very fit and agile young fellow,so the ball was always thrown in my direction. I never complained because all I wanted to do was run in and bowl fast. I was half way through my run-up when the umpires decided to call the match off in time for Len Hutton and his boys to make it back home. There was a small meeting afterwards that decided that all Test matches will be played with a day-limit,” Gordon recalls.

Although he picked up just one wicket in the Timeless Test,Gordon was the most successful bowler amongst both the English and the South Africans on that tour with 20 wickets in five Test matches. “The war ended my career. Otherwise,this Rabbi could have done a lot more.”

Born to a Jewish family in Boksburg in the outskirts of Johannesbrug on August 6,1911,all Gordon wanted to was play cricket. While no Test cricketer has ever lived to see the age of 100,his predecessor — New Zealand’s Eric Tindill came closest at 99 years and 226 days. But Gordon has already started charting out plans for his 100th. “I celebrated my 99th sitting on this very chair,but I guess Bacher & Co have plans for a big bash at the Wanderers for the three-figure mark. All I have to do is raise my bat to acknowledge the century.”

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