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June 27, 2013

James Southerton: An immortal inspiration

Zeeshan Mahmud


The 1876-77 squad which played the first Test against Australia at Melbourne in March 1877 pictured shortly before they left England.  Back: Harry Jupp, Tom Emmett, Alfred Hogben (a sponsor of the trip), Allan Hill, Tom Armitage. Front: Ted Pooley, James Southerton, James Lillywhite jnr, Alfred Shaw, George Ulyett, Andrew Greenwood. On ground: Harry Charlwood, John Selby.
James Southerton (sitting, second from left) was the oldest player to make his Test debut © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Players/Officials: James Southerton
Teams: England

As a man with five blown discs, permanently disabled suffering mid-life crisis, I was enthused today with a sudden flash of inspiration penned by Providence himself. All too often, at the pursuit of excellence, or the prodigy, one seeks for the youngest player on debut to do so-and-so record.

However,

The Sage rejects extremes
                           rejects excess,
                                          rejects excellence.
[Verse 29, Tao Te Ching]

... however, being an ardent fan of Lao-Tzu, my eyes were opened when I stumbled upon a stray stat as I googled "Oldest player on debut" for that flickering hope that one day my name shall creep up in Wisden if I keep persevering even at this late age. Lo and behold! The thunder struck as I saw the witticism of Divine when in the very first Test itself, other than Bannerman's 'curiosity' we also have James Southerton's unique - and yet to be broken - record of being the oldest person to debut in Tests. Yes, a rush of adrenaline shivered up my spine that may be if one truly wants one can pursue his or her goal after all.

Since we have to visually reconstruct the match from solely from stats, anecdotes and reports, it seems that he was with muttonchop sideburns the late 19th century became the "greatest slow bowler of the 1870s". Just like the Sage prides himself on the lowly and weak, Southerton pioneered slow-left arm deliveries in his arsenal to unsettle batsmen.

James Southerton, born in Petworth, Sussex on November 16, 1827 grew to be a hairdresser for his day-job. Personally he was known for his gentlemanly disposition. In the June 17 obituary Colonist reports how he "delivered in the Surrey matches alone no less than 3699 balls (without a single wide)" and to have "obtained 80 wickets." That too at a very late age!

How often we lament that our body is failing and our life is over, yet it seems just for kicks, a greater Intelligence must have tucked this statistic in to serve as a model to inspire for the coming generations. Unfortunately James Southerton also became the first Test cricketer to pass away and he is unaware that just by transmitting the sheer Melbourne numbers of 49 years and 119 days seismographically, he would propel a hapless self like me to stretch imagination and dream big.

Like a true Taoist immortal, who would continue to inspire me, much would be forever clouded in mystery about Southerton. Perhaps, the oft-quoted adage "it's never too late" has more than merits to it and serves as a firm testament for the rest to never give up on their goals and dreams.

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