Norman Gordon
source: Jewish News (Times of Israel)


According to the revered Hebrew Bible, Gideon, besides being the son of Joash, was the leader of the Israelites, who he led to a decisive victory in a battle against the Midianite Army. This was despite his opponents enjoying vast numerical superiority in the battle ground.

That he was chosen from the Tribe of Manasseh, by god himself, to free the people of Israel tied Gideon to a place of eternal prominence.

In religious texts, it’s said he was greeted by the Angel of God as a ‘mighty man of valour.’

Some might refrain from partaking in religious sentiments, while many others may not be keen on seeing how venerable values we read in religious texts touch human life.

But if you are Jew, and particularly from South Africa, then there’s no reason why you wouldn’t agree to the fact that god does choose some to lead others to achieve something special, so much so that their tales are recounted and remembered by posterity.

What made Gideon a distinguished figure in the firmament of Jewish icons or figures of reverence was his mental toughness and strong character.

Exactly the values that none other than Norman Gordon of South Africa contested with on the cricket field in an era long before there was an AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Allan Donald, or Faf du Plessis, and even before the legendary Graeme Pollock became a household name.

In a testing era for the world, forget the tiny cricketing sphere, one that witnessed an alarming rise of right wing nationalism, the sounds of which were being heard at blaring decibels in Germany, Norman Gordon, arrived in Test cricket, miles afar in South Africa albeit months before the start of the Second World War.

His was a career of intrigue amid a time where insolance toward the other human being was soon to become the dangerous trend of the world.

Insolance, in particular, shown to the Jews, a race widely-regarded as being among the world’s most culturally-rich and progressive.

Unbeknownst to how far he’d go in Test cricket, since what stood in front of the sport were the sharply dividing lines of the World War II that was about to strike, Norman Gordon persevered and progressed despite starring in a terribly short career.

The second-ever Jew to represent South African cricket, one who followed the likes of Fred Susskind, Norman Gordon was a brilliant medium-pacer, known for his athleticism and redoubtable enthusiasm for the sport.

Despite playing no more than 5 Test matches, Norman Gordon played fearlessly, never eschewing effort or passion even when pitted against some of the most notable and distinguished opponents such as- Norman Yardley, Ken Farnes, Hedley Verity and Sir Len Hutton.

The latter, in his appreciation of a pivotal South African force in perpetual motion on the cricketing turf noted, “In 1938, when he ran in to bowl the first ball in his Test debut in Johannesburg, a spectator yelled, “Here comes the rabbi!” Undeterred, Gordon played so well that it “shut [the heckler] up for the rest of the tour!”

The legendary Englishman made no qualms about directing rich praise about one of Transvaal’s greatest exports to South African cricket in going as far as exclaiming that Gordon would have found himself a higher stature in the sport had his career not been untimely cut short by the Second World War.

Recognised as a man of great zeal and boundless enthusiasm to excel for South Africa, it didn’t take long for Norman Gordon to prove why he was rated highly.

He took his career-best Test match figures in the very first Test of the series he debuted in, ending with a 7 for 162 from the game, which included a 5-for in the 1st innings. A 5 for 157, to be precise.

Proving that he was no flash-in-the-pan for South Africa, in the very next Test, he’d take another five-for in the game during England’s first inning. In his debut series, circa 1938, he’d be a part of every one of the five Test that South Africa contested against the English at home.

While to review a career that has no more than 20 wickets from 5 games would be like scrolling past at pretty ordinary returns, the fact that this was a perpetually wicket-hungry cricketer who produced 126 wickets from merely 29 First-Class games offers some light into the life of a cricketer who even excelled at the domestic level.

He offered his services to Transvaal for whom be played unabashedly, bowling his heart out from 1933 to 34.

A talent proud of his Jewish heritage at a time where being one would surely have directed unwarranted attention to a race that’s been chastised for generations together, Normon Gordon’s cricketing exploits would pave way for a new generation of Jews to find their place under the sun in South African cricket.

Think Sid Kiel, Dennis Gamsy and Lawrence Seeff.

Graeme Pollock rated him highly. Brian Lara specifically posed for a picture with the great man in the South African’s latter years, months before his demise in August 2011.

For the greats knew this was no ordinary man, but someone who was identified as one of the early paragons of longevity and physical fitness.

So how’s that?

In the summers of 1939 South Africa, during yet another tour featuring the English, Norman Gordon made his own a record so utterly incredible that it is hailed even today, which is over eight decades since it was created.

Those were the days where a match featured an eight-ball over.

And yet, in the 5th Test at Durban, which is hailed for being a crazy 10-day contest, Norman Gordon bowled no fewer than 92.2 overs in the game, the most-ever by a Proteas to this day.

While he picked just a solitary wicket from that contest, the fact that he kept runs utterly under check, going no over than 2 runs per over, bracketed him in a different league altogether.

Someone who epitomised speed and durability in the sport long before the very team that afforded Norman a chance birthed a legend in Steyn, South Africa owes a lot to this incredible competitor as does world cricket, truth be told.

A stiff competitor on the 22 yards, one noted, Norman Gordon was one of the politest and nicest voices over the broadcasts and radios shows.

And that’s exactly how a cricketer ought to be, isn’t it? A fierce competitor on the crease, whilst a thorough gent off it.


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