Doctor of cricket
Published on Saturday 6th September The Malay Mail
By TONY MARIADASS
Talk about undying passion, dedication and sacrifice, Dr Harjit has it all. And the beneficiaries are cricket and hockey especially in Johor.
From father to son
Dr Harjit, 64, acquired his passion for the game from his father Meva Singh, who was an ex-Selangor and renowned Kilat Club cricketer.
The good doctor learnt to score at the age of five, earned his personal bat six and came under the watchful eye of the famous Mike Shepherdson at the Kilat nets.
As a student of English College Johor Baru, Dr Harjit made news by being among the very few picked to play in the Combined Schools for four consecutive years — 1965 to 1968. He was a star player in his teens, representing the Johor XI as a teenager in 1966.
The University of Ranchi medical graduate often made headlines during his college days in India, captaining his college XI, playing first division cricket in the Patna Senior Division League and representing the Dhanbad District.
When he returned to Malaysia in 1980, Dr Harjit was a national player until a knee injury put an end to his playing days, but not his love for the game. It’s amazing how Dr Harjit’s enthusiasm for cricket has continued unabated all these years, but then again, the man entered the game during its golden era in Malaysia — the 1960s.
Schools, the heartbeat of sports
Until today, Dr Harjit, whose trademark is his humility, credits his schoolteachers Terence Jayateleka, Gurdial Singh Jr and A. Kumaran for introducing him to cricket and instilling in him a dedication to the game.
If not for students like Dr Harjit and a few die hard sports teachers, cricket would have died a natural death in the 1966 boycott of extra-curricular activities by the National Union of Teachers to demand better working conditions and incentives.
The game suffered another blow in 1972 when the ministry of education dropped cricket and rugby from the schools sports calendar. Again, a few teachers and students kept the cricket flag flying in schools. The worst setback for cricket and sport in schools came in the mid-Eighties when the intake of trainee teachers was based strictly on academic qualifications and no consideration for sporting excellence.
The likes of Yazid Imran and R. Ravindran, who were both representing the country in cricket then, had just left school and were seriously considering joining The Teachers Training College. However, the duo from Johor was denied admission because their paper qualifications were not good enough.
Dr Harjit strongly believes that if Yazid and Ravindran had become teachers, cricket and sport would have benefited greatly from their knowledge and dedication. He says many more like Yazid and Ravindran suffered the same fate.
Meantime, the victim in all this was sport in schools, but not if Dr Harjit could help it.
“I had even given a talk on schools sports with the presence of our current deputy prime minister cum education minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the then sports minister, but little has changed,” recalled Dr Harjit.
“I still believe Tan Sri Muhyiddin as the education minister can still change the concept towards sports in schools.
“The only way to save the game is for it to be played at school and have more sports teachers for the various sports.”
Dr Harjit had set the ball rolling in Johor by introducing the Kancil Programme Catch’em Young in 1987. The aim of the programme was to popularise cricket in schools and elevate its standard in the country.
The programme batted off with 17 schools in Johor Baru but today, it has spread to close to 200 schools in the state, with the involvement of almost all the 11 districts.
Dr Harjit, deputy president of the Malaysian Cricket Association (MCA) from 1990 to 2003 and chairman of the development, then went national with the programme. In Johor, even schools in Felda schemes and kampung get a taste of cricket.
Johor cricket soars
Indeed, cricket has reached a new level in Johor, thanks to the tireless efforts of Dr Harjit, who has been president of the Johor Cricket Council (JCC) since taking over from D. Devendran in 1987.
Another milestone in Dr Harjit’s career as the healer of cricket was getting the Johor government to allot 14 acres for what is now the first cricket academy in Southeast Asia.
The academy, which offers first class cricket facilities, is a regional centre for the sport.
The Johor Cricket Academy got a new indoor hall and changing room when Dr Harjit, through the support of the Johor government and sports ministry, managed to host the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2008.
Recognition and accolades have come aplenty for Dr Harjit from all corners of the world and in all forms — MCA, ICC, national and state awards from the government, a tournament named after him, the honour of sitting in on the Asian Cricket Council, leadership awards and above all, the respect of the world cricket fraternity.
Even as praises grow, Dr Harjit remains what he has always been: down-to-earth.
The Johor Cricket Association under the leadership of Dr Harjit again had saved the Saudara Cup in 2009 — held since 1970 — from slipping into oblivion after Malaysian Cricket Association agreed to their request to allow them to host it.
This historic competition between Malaysia and Singapore was seriously threatened by the other Malaysia-Singapore encounters in the Asian Cricket Council tournaments. Again, Dr Harjit fought tooth and nail to keep it alive.
“It is a tireless job, but I love it because of my passion for it. I am indeed grateful to the Johor royal family — the late Sultan of Johor, the present Sultan and the Tunku Mahkota of Johor for the undivided support for the game.
“I also have to give special mention to the former Menteri Besar of Johor, Datuk Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman who assisted in getting the land for the academy.