ICON: Datuk Prof. Emeritus Dr. Alex. E. Delilkan
By Tony Mariadass
Datuk Prof. Emeritus Dr. Alex. E. Delilkan is a name that will live forever in Malaysian cricket and the medical profession.
Cricketers remember him as the greatest all-rounder ever exceling in every department of the game he took part in, while in the field of medicine a, professor emeritus of anaesthesiology and critical care, Alex, is a mentor in critical care teaching and medical ethics.
At 81, Alex is still lecturing pre-medical graduates at five universities – University Technology Mara (UiTM), International Medical University, Taylor’s College, Mahsa University and University Malaya.
Alex has a standard answer for all when asked of his age: “I was born on 12th Feb 1934. Making me a ripe 81. I am 81 years YOUNG! Age is a number, how old you are is not relevant, it is how much you are functional and what legacy you leave. Today I am still fully functional, still teaching and guiding the young medical minds.”
This year is his 50th year since he joined Universiti Malaya in 1967. He retired at 55 in 1989 but was rehired the very next day and served them for another 12 years before he decided he wanted to leave them.
Alex a national cricketer from 1955 to 1972 and the national captain from 1959 to 1972, first played for his school – St Joseph Institution, Singapore – at the age of 11 and continued until he joined University Malaya in the Republic eight years later in 1954 as a pre-medical student. He quit playing in 1974.
He made his debut in 1955 playing for Malaya’s South team against the North at the Selangor Club.
Probably Dr V. V. Nathan, then senior vice-president of Malaysian Cricket Association best described Alex’s prowess when he said: “As a gully and slip-fielder, Alex had no peers. As a batsman, he was fearless and exciting. As a bowler, his feats, particularly against touring teams were consistently spectacular. As a captain, he was ruthless and consequently, controversial.”
Alex whenever he speaks with revelations, frankness, wit and humour.
“People do not like me, because I speak the truth and with holds barred,” said Alex whose passion for cricket is unmatched.
The fourth in a family of four boys and two girls, he was born into a family with a ‘cricket-mania’ atmosphere.
“My father (hailed from Sri Lanka) as a cricket lover and carried his interest of the game to an extreme. My three older brothers were infused, as I was, by the intense cricket fanaticism that pervaded very nook and corner in our home.
“As far as I can remember my memory is filled with cricket talking, listening to cricket on the radio and watching games. My father even had his own team called – Colonial Cricket Club – playing in the Singapore Division One league.
“With this type of family background – it is understandable that cricket still flows in my blood.”
Alex said he and his brothers (Leo Clifford, Joseph Rienzie and Joseph Ignatius) started ‘playing’ cricket at the backyard at home.
“On a fair-sized concrete, fat area, we used a marble as the ‘ball’, a piece of wood as the ‘bat’, with slabs of sponge tied to our legs as ‘pads’ and the dustbin as the ‘wicket’,” said Alex laughing.
“The ‘ball’ used to travel at lighting speed, and this, perhaps, helped us develop quick reflexes – as we moved fast to avoid injuries.
“When it rained, we played indoors (in the bedroom) using table-tennis balls for the ‘ball’.
“As we grew up, my father bought us a complete cricket set and the four of us could be seen in the evenings, during weekdays, indulging in fiercely-fought ‘games’. The weekends, were solely devoted to watching our heroes’ in action.”
Alex was so opposed with the sport that he would lock himself in his room alone, padded, gloved and capped, with bat in hand, before a mirror practicing all the strokes he had seen before.
“I used to assume the identity of various ’state cricketers’ and I have a game between two sides keeping a very persona score-book to record the various brilliant performances and dismal failures,” said Alex who also used to play hockey, football and badminton.
On Malaysian sports, Alex said that everyone has to accept that Malaysian society is polarised.
"Back then, we never thought of us being different as we all considered ourselves as one, playing for the love of sports and nation. Sports was 1 Malaya then.
But today, polarisation starts in the schools!"
Asked can this situation can be overcomed, he simply replied: "Go back to the schools. Emphasise sports in schools. Change the system and sports is the unifying factor. Be serious about it. But let me tell you, it is culture you have to change and that is going to take time. 50 years maybe! That is the truth, believe it or not.
“And the club system must exists. If we think we can correct the present ills by just focusing on schools sports alone, you are grossly mistaken, Schools athletes can become national athletes overnight. They have to go through a system too. “But even before the schools, parents play a great role. They have to encourage their children to take up the sports culture.
Sports cannot be forced down on anyone and hope to see them become champions. Sports must naturally. Besides talent, the individual must love sports.
“Athletes will also face many obstacles where teachers or lecturers will play a stumbling block to the advancement of their sports career. They have to overcome all these.
“Basically sports culture starts from the home to schools, schools to club competition, from club competition to State level and then to national level.
“When we start specialising at the pinnacle when things are not right at the grassroots level, we are only heading for disaster."
Alex also touched on meritocracy.
“Selectors and coaches must be former national athletes and not the president who does not have a clue of the game or which side to hold a racquet. Yes politicians, people who have clout are necessary for the image of the association and financial standings. But they should refrain from being involved in the actually management of the sports.
“I also do not believe that we should hire foreign coaches. Out coaches knows best, especially when it comes to people management and local situations.
“And I do not like to call them coaches. Coaches are for schools. At the highest level, they should be managers, who manage the athletes, give advice, motivate them and bring the best out of them. If we need foreign assistance, it should be for specific areas which we need to strengthen. The overall running of Malaysian teams should be by local ex-national athletes of the respective sports” said Alex was inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) Hall of Fame in 2009.
Alex views may hit a few nerves, but when the truth is spoken, more often than not it hurts.
At least we still have the likes of Alex, so rich in experience, who speaks his mind only because he is passionate of Malaysian sports and wants to see changes.