The doyen of Kenyan cricket, Jasmer Singh, has said that Kenyan cricket should be restructured with more emphasise on competitive tournaments between Nairobi, Mombasa and other centres. He also said that there should be a comprehensive development programme as it used to be.
Singh said: “ I feel very disheartened the way our cricket has gone down in the past seven years, from the period when we finished third in the 2003 World Cup jointly hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
“Compared to 1996 when we beat West Indies during the World Cup co-hosted by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and 2003, I consider our game has fallen from grace to grass.”
The octogenarian has been involved in Kenyan cricket for 60 years. He managed the East African Cricket Conference side to the inaugural International Cricket Conference World Cup, England 1975.
The East African Cricket Conference squad comprised players from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. The bulk of the players in the World Cup team came from Kenya, The country also provided the team captain in Harilal Shah.
As fate would have it, Singh also managed the Kenyan squad when the country made their World Cup debut in 1996. By then the ICC had substituted the word Conference with Council.
Associate member in its own right
He said that they made a comprehensive tour of South Africa in 1995 as part of their preparations for the event, playing against various provincial sides.
Prior to the tour, Kenya had taken part in the ICC trophy the previous year in Nairobi where they qualified for the World Cup by reaching the event’s finals. They lost to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the final.
“Besides managing national teams for two World Cups, I also did the same in three ICC trophy tournaments – in 1982, 1986 and 1997,” Singh said, adding that he was instrumental in moving Kenya out of the East African Conference in 1981, thereby making it an associate member of ICC in its own right.
Singh recounted his entry in the cricket world: “I was capped at the age of 19 by the Asian Cricket Association, who were playing a three-day game against Europeans at the Parklands Sports Club.”
He was in the Kenyan Asian squad that toured then-apartheid South Africa in 1956 as a batsman where they played a non-white side which comprised coloureds and Asian players.
The South Africans reciprocated the visit two years later.
“Before Kenya got her independence, Asians and Europeans had three-day fixtures played over the New Year period that ran from 1933 to 1963,” Sing recalled. “But the biggest game for Asians was played between Nairobi and Mombasa around August.
“As for the Europeans, they had a similar event played between Officials and Settlers. Officials were basically civil servants.”
He said the Asians Cricket Association and Kenya Kongonis founded the Kenya Cricket Association in 1958. But while Kongonis, the oldest cricket club in the country (it was founded in 1927) is still active, the Asians Cricket Association died a natural death.
“I was KCA chairman for seven terms and vice-chairman for eight. I was also an executive of Kenya Hockey Union for eight years and was a selector for both 1960 and 1964 Olympic teams,” the former sports administrator said. “I occasionally represented the country at both the ICC and Africa Cricket Association.”
Speaking of his accolades as a sportsman, Singh said: “I was awarded the Life Time Service Award by the ICC in 2004, which was presented to me in Nairobi by council’s president, Ehsan Mani.
“However, my happiest moment was when I was elected a member of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) within a year [of my career] in 1976 while there were more than 10,000 applicants in the waiting list.
“I became MCC honorary member in 1997.”
Singh’s only regret, he added, was that during his days as a player there was no ICC Trophy, no World Cup and no incentives given to players.
Commenting on whom he regarded as his favourite players, he said: “Jawal Shah, who turned up for Nairobi Gymkhana, was most outstanding batsman while the best all-rounder was Zulfikar Ali of Sir Ali Muslim Club.
“But in the recent period, outstanding players are Maurice Odumbe, Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo.”
Singh had a parting shot, obviously aimed at the stakeholders of the sport: “In my opinion, there is a lot of talent, particularly in the indigenous Kenyans, that need to be tapped.”