Special century: Test cricketer Gordon turns 100

Jewish South African cricketer Norman Gordon is due to become the first Test player to reach 100 years of age on Saturday in Johannesburg.

Gordon, Sara (photo credit: Richard Kaplan)
Gordon, Sara
(photo credit: Richard Kaplan)
Jewish South African cricketer Norman Gordon is due to become the first Test player to reach 100 years of age on Saturday in Johannesburg.
The closest any Test cricketer had ever previously come to 100 years old – out of over 2,600 Test cricketers over the last 134 years – was New Zealand double international (rugby and cricket) Eric Tindill, who died last August at the age of 99 years and 226 days.
Gordon has been nervously awaiting his birthday for months now and plans to celebrate it with his son Brian and fellow cricketers.
His wife of over 60 years, Mercy, passed away in 2001.
Gordon’s path was not an easy one: The last surviving cricketer to have played in Test matches before World War II had to face anti- Semitism in his homeland despite representing his country with distinction.
Gordon’s career was restricted to just five Test matches against the legendary Wally Hammond and his visiting English team in 1938-39. In those matches, he topped the bowling list with 20 wickets with his accurate and tireless fast-swing bowling.
In an interview with UK-based monthly The Wisden Cricketer earlier this year, Gordon explained that though there had been Jewish cricketers before him in South Africa, he was the first to publicly profess his faith.
“The South African Jewish community was very proud that a Jew was playing for their country,” he said.
When he ran in to bowl the first ball in his Test debut in Johannesburg in December, 1938, a heckler from the crowd shouted out: “Here comes the rabbi!” “Fortunately I took five wickets in that innings,” Gordon recalled to the magazine, “and that shut him up for the rest of the tour.”
After the war ended, Gordon, despite being 36, was a contender for the tour of England in 1947. But he was a surprise omission, and he believes that being Jewish was the reason.
According to Gordon, South African captain Alan Melville had told the selectors that it was better not to choose Gordon, as anti- Semitism was still prevalent in England.
“[Melville] felt it expedient to let me out of the tour,” Gordon said. “There was quite a bit of feeling about Jews even after the war in England.”
Gordon continued playing domestic cricket for Transvaal till 1949 and finished his career with 126 wickets from 29 first-class matches.
Gordon holds a world record unlikely to ever be broken: The most balls (738) bowled by a pace bowler in a Test match.
He achieved this mark at the famous “timeless Test” at Durban in March 1939, which was finally called off as a draw after 10 days, as the English tourists had to sail back home. It was a testament to his strength and stamina.
After retirement, Gordon opened a sports shop in Johannesburg, where Aron (Ali) Bacher, the former captain of South Africa and perhaps the most famous of all Jewish cricketers, was a regular customer.
Dr. Bacher has also been a leading cricket administrator and will be organizing functions in Johannesburg to mark Gordon’s very special century this weekend.