The biopic on former IPL (Indian Premier League) and Ranji Trophy player Pravin Tambe released this week titled Kaun Pravin Tambe? The special part about his story is that he made his IPL debut at the age of 41.
During this time, it would be interesting to know someone who made his debut at the age as advanced as 49 and that too at the international level. England’s James Southerton holds that record by making his test debut for England at that age. He remains the oldest test debutant in the history of test cricket.
Born on 16 November 1827 in Sussex, England, Southerton played as a batsman initially in the 1850s both for Sussex and Hampshire. During those days, it was allowed for one player to play for more than one county in one season. He later played for Surrey as well.
But in 1865, Southerton realized his great potential as a slow left-arm spin bowler. It was an era where there were mostly only fast or pace bowlers. This fact along with his ability to spin ball both ways and that too in an intelligent manner made him a headache for the batsmen.
Southerton picked up loads of wickets at the first-class level. In 1868 while playing for Surrey and Sussex he became the leading wicket-taker with 151 wickets. Two seasons later, he became the first bowler to pick up 200 wickets in a season. He was a leading bowler from 1871 to 1875.
It is also believed that the legendary WG Grace also found it difficult to face Southerton’s bowling.
The following year, Southerton made history when he grabbed a place in England’s side that toured Australia in 1876 under the captaincy of James Lillywhite. He was 49 years and 119 days old when he played the first test of the series on 15 March 1877.
This was no ordinary test. It was the first ever test match in the history of the game. Hence, Southerton had two records on his name. Apart from being the oldest test debutant, he also got a chance to play the first ever international game of cricket.
It was a two-match series that went into unlimited days; it wasn’t confined to five days. And in those days, one over contained just 4 balls, instead of 6.
Strangely, Southerton bowled in just two of the four innings in the series – in the first innings of the first match and the second innings of the second one. He picked up 3 for 61 on the first occasion and 4 for 46 in the second. It wasn’t that he was also selected for his batting abilities because he batted at number 11 in all four innings.
How someone who started off as a batsmen went onto bat at number 11 can also be an interesting story. He did score a couple of 50s at the first-class level.
This was the only test series Southerton played and understandably so considering his age. He last played at the county level cricket in 1879 before he announced retirement. Sadly, just 10 months after his retirement, he passed away on 16 June 1880 due to a pleurisy attack at the age of 52.
Of course, when Southerton made his test debut at 49, he wasn’t known as the oldest debutant because it was the very first match in the history of test cricket. But today, even after more than 145 years, he still retains that record.
And it looks like this is one record that won’t be broken.