Gor­don set for a ma­jor land­mark

The Jewish Chronicle - - Sport - BY DANIEL LIGHT­MAN ‘Wal­ter Hammond was by far the best I’ve bowled against’

No Test crick­eter has scored a cen­tury in years. Sev­eral – in­clud­ing such im­mor­tals of the game as Wil­fred Rhodes, 95, SF Barnes, 94, and Sir Don­ald Brad­man, 92 – suc­cumbed in the ner­vous nineties. So this com­ing Satur­day will mark a ma­jor land­mark: The South African medium-pace bowler of the 1930s, Nor­man Gor­don, will cel­e­brate his 100th birth­day.

Gor­don’s birth­day will be cel­e­brated at a re­cep­tion, spon­sored by South African Brew­eries, at the Wan­der­ers Cricket Sta­dium in Jo­han­nes­burg. The 150 at­ten­dees will in­clude for­mer Spring­bok fast bowlers Neil Ad­cock, Peter and Shaun Pol­lock, Mike Proc­ter, Fanie de Vil­liers and Makhaya Ntini.

“Nor­man has brought enor­mous credit to his school, to South African cricket, to our coun­try and to the Jewish com­mu­nity,” says for­mer South African cap­tain Ali Bacher, who has or­gan­ised the party.

“I have known Nor­man since the 1950s – I used to go to his sports shop ev­ery year, and my late mother would buy my cricket bats from him.

“He has never changed – a good per­son who al­ways says how for­tu­nate he has been to meet won­der­ful peo­ple. I re­spect him as a won­der­ful per­son.”

Gor­don was the first openly Jewish Test crick­eter. MJ Susskind, sec­ond in the South African Test bat­ting av­er­ages on the 1924 tour of Eng­land was Jewish, says Gor­don, “but didn’t pro­fess to be Jewish, didn’t ad­mit to it”.

When Gor­don made his Test de­but, the South African Jewish com­mu­nity “were very proud that a Jew was play­ing for their coun­try”. But not ev­ery­one shared their view. Gor­don re­calls that when he ran up to bowl the first ball on his Test de­but, he heard a heck­ler in the crowd shout: “Here comes the Rabbi.” “For­tu­nately I took five wick­ets in that in­nings”, Gor­don notes, “and that shut him up for the rest of the tour.”

Gor­don’s par­ents left Rus­sia for Jo­han­nes­burg, and changed their sur­name from Eisen­stat, be­fore he was born. At the Jeppe High School for Boys, Gor­don de­vel­oped a love of cricket – and met his wife, Mercy, to whom he was mar­ried for over 60 years un­til her death in 2001.

Af­ter mak­ing his de­but for Transvaal in 1933/34, he took the most wick­ets (39) in the Cur­rie Cup in 1937/38. The fol­low­ing year, Gor­don forced his way into the South African team – with con­sid­er­able suc­cess. In­deed, he ended up with more wick­ets – 20 – than any other bowler in a five-Test se­ries against Eng­land in which the docile wick­ets al­lowed the bats­men to dom­i­nate.

Gor­don’s first Test vic­tim was the Eng­land cap­tain, Wal­ter Hammond, whom he re­gards as be­ing “by far” the best bats­man he bowled against and who was a good friend. How­ever, in the fa­mous 10-day Time­less Test, he bowled 92.2 (eight-ball) overs for just one wicket.

Gor­don’s nick­name was Mo­bil “be­cause of the oil that he had on his hair”, says for­mer South African Cricket Union Pres­i­dent Joe Pa­men­sky. “Mo­bil used to put his hands through his hair, and if he had a bit of oil on it to set his hair, it helped him to get a bit of a shine on the ball which helped him to swing it.”

W h i l s t m a n y thought Gor­don’s bowl­ing would thrive in English con­di­tions, South Africa’s 1940 tour of Eng­land was can­celled be­cause of the War, and he was not picked for the 1947 tour. Why not? Many years later, Gor­don says, “a friend of mine told me that he had heard from one of the tour se­lec­tors that Alan Melville had told them not to se­lect me as there might be an­ti­semitism and un­pleas­ant­ness in Eng­land, and he thought it ex­pe­di­ent to let me out of the tour. I am sure that my friend wouldn’t have told me if it wasn’t true. There was quite a bit of feel­ing about Jews even af­ter the War in Eng­land.”

Gor­don ran a sports shop, Lug­gage­craft, and prac­tised as an ac­coun­tant part time un­til the age of 94.

Helef­t­a­lastingim­pres­sionon­former West In­dian bats­man Brian Lara, who said: “Nor­man’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the game still reigns and his knowl­edge of the changes in the game since the last Test he played brought a smile to my face.”

A keen golfer, he scored his sec­ond hole-in-one at the age of 87 and only gave up play­ing three years ago, when the Old Houghton golf course, where he used to play, closed.

For a man of his great age, Gor­don re­mains en­er­getic, en­gaged and in­ter­ested in the world. He and his son, Brian, live in the same flat in Hill­brow in which he has lived for more than 55 years. He at­tributes his rel­a­tive good health - “For­tu­nately health-wise I’m pretty good, ex­cept I can’t hear or see very well” – to the fact that he has never drunk or smoked and was al­ways on the move with some sort of sport – and to his friends.

“I have won­der­ful friends and it had made a con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ence to my life. They have never stopped giv­ing.”

Magic mo­ment: Nor­man Gor­don and Brian Lara

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