Singapore cricket loses dear friend

V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR

In a way, Datuk Dr Harjit Singh helped Singapore win SEA Games gold and silver in cricket in Kuala Lumpur in August 2017.

The Singapore Cricket Association (SCA) was without a ground for the national team to train after the Kallang Cricket Field was taken away by the authorities in 2016, and he came to the rescue.

Dr Harjit, the president of the Johor Cricket Council (JCC) who died due to heart complications at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur on Monday aged 70, offered the JCC Oval at Taman Mutiara Rini for the Singapore squad to train and play warm-up matches. Singapore went on to win the gold in the T20 and the silver in the 50-over tournament in the 2017 SEA Games.

"It was not an easy time for us as we had to travel up and down to Johor almost every week for two months," said Saad Khan Janjua, the SCA CEO. "But Dr Harjit made it easy for us.

"He was a wonderful person and very supportive. Although we were paying the JCC for the facilities, he made lunch arrangements for us and allowed us to use the indoor nets.

"Mutiara Rini was like a home ground for Singapore. We played 36 matches in all in preparation in Johor and this was crucial in Singapore winning the medals at the 2017 SEA Games.

"We can never forget what Dr Harjit did for us. He always stood with friends unconditionally."

Former Singapore national team head coach Sarika Prasad too has fond memories of Dr Harjit, who was the JCC president from 1987 and deputy president of the Malaysian Cricket Association from 1990 to 2003.

"I knew Dr Harjit since 1989 when I came with a team from Visakhapatnam in India to play a friendly game in Johor," said Sarika.

"Whenever I asked him for JCC facilities for Singapore teams to train and play matches, he readily agreed.

"Before the International Cricket Council World Division Three matches in Uganda in May 2017, the Singapore team had no ground to train. I spoke to Dr Harjit and he organised everything immediately.

"We prepared at the JCC Oval at reasonable charges. He was a nice, helpful man, always approachable."

Former SCA cricket development officer and coach Arjun Menon "really got to know Dr Harjit very well" during that period in 2017 when they interacted almost every week.

"Dr Harjit had a wealth of cricketing knowledge, especially about the development of the sport in Malaysia and Singapore, and as a Singaporean who worked in cricket and wanted to know more about the history of the game in my country, I would sit with him and have long conversations," said Arjun.

"He painted to me a bigger picture of what the game of cricket was to Singaporeans and Malaysians back in the old days and that reinforced my sense of belonging to the game. Cricket began to take a special meaning for me with its rich connection to my nation.

"It is easy for many to think that Singapore's cricketing history is very recent, but it is in discussions with stalwarts of the game like Dr Harjit that you truly appreciate that it is long and illustrious and made up of many heroes from the various races."

Dr Harjit understood how important it was to celebrate and preserve the cricketing traditions between Singapore and Malaysia and ensured that the long-standing bilateral matches for the Carl Schubert Trophy, the Stan Nagaiah Trophy, the Saudara Cup and the Joe Grimberg Trophy were held regularly.

He was the founder of the first cricket programme in primary schools in Johor - and Malaysia - in 1987 and was instrumental in setting up the first dedicated cricket ground in Malaysia at Taman Mutiara Rini in 1998 which for many years was the largest cricket ground in the country.

The JCC Oval hosted the Under-19 World Cup in 2008.

"He always looked after the Singapore players like they were his own family," said former Singapore captain Chetan Suryawanshi.

"When he did things, he did it in style. Cricket is not a popular sport in Malaysia. But he took it to a high level and earned it the same respect that Malaysians give soccer."

Condolences are pouring in from Malaysia and other parts of the world for Dr Harjit including a tweet from the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, whose family knew him well since the time he was the family doctor during the reign of the late Sultan Iskandar.

The man who revolutionised cricket in Johor is survived by his wife of 38 years Kaldip Kaur and sons Dr Rajinder Singh and Gurdip Singh, who both live in Australia.

"He always used to host cricket teams from Singapore since the early 1970s," said Stacey Muruthi, a former Singapore captain.

"He got his boys to play in the Singapore league so they could improve and worked hard to ensure that the cricketing ties with Singapore were always strong.

"Singapore cricket has lost a dear friend."

 santosh@sph.com.sg

"We can never forget what Dr Harjit did for us. He always stood with friends unconditionally."

- Singapore Cricket Association CEO Saad Khan Janjua

 
 
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