Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cyprian Fernandes: Kwaheri Bwana Cricket

Kwaheri Bwana Cricket

VETERAN former Nation journalist CYPRIAN FERNANDES pays tribute to another veteran journalist, sports administrator and businessman.

KENYA and everyone else who knew in the world said kwaheri to Bwana Cricket on Friday. You may know him as Jasmer Singh Grewal who died on Wednesday after a short illness. He was 85.
The first time I met was sometime in 1960 at an Asians versus Europeans match at the Nairobi Sports Club ground which I think was near the old Kenyatta Hospital. The club was also famous for hosting international tennis matches.
I had just joined the Nation and covering the match as a trial was my first assignment. As I went around introducing myself to a small group of people which included journalists, scorers, officials, I stretched my hand in greeting Jasmer (many months later he told me his friends called him Melee). He did not say anything but appeared to be hiding a growl. He was there to cover the match for the opposition, the East African Standard. It was not long before the growl had changed to a friendly smile and he was answering the million questions I had about cricket and the match in particular. In a way, Melee was my first journalistic cricket teacher.
But I was never to forget that growl because I would here quite often as he stood his ground against a foe in a debate or a discussion. It was usually about sports and mostly about sport politics. Melee always stood his ground and very rarely gave an inch. After all, he was an early Sikh fundamentalist and the Sikhs are recorded in history as a warrior race. During his life he fought many, many battles for the good of cricketers and the game itself, hockey and hockey players and especially about Sikhs and Sikhism and Sikhs in Sport. Melee had two temples: the Sikh Gurdwara and the Sikh Union Club in Forest Road. His friends would tease him that he was at the clubhouse eight days a week and never missed an occasion, a match or club meeting.
He played top grade for most of his “young life” along with some hockey. He was, in fact, a serial sportsman, but there was always time for the family, for work and the hundreds of friends, and of course journalism. Talking about work, he was a civil servant and left that in 1968 to set up South Africa-based Drum Publications in Nairobi. By the time he had left in 1992, he had taken the 12,000 to 120,000, the best-selling magazine of its kind in Africa.
I think it was in 1963 that MJK Smith, the England cricket captain, brought an MCC side to Nairobi. As we set watching, he turned to me and said: “We can do this, you know?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Become a Test cricket country,” he said rather firmly, with a little of that growl.
“What with four Sikhs, two Goans, two Patels and one Muslim?” I asked cheekily. After all, it was 1963 and the murmurs of an Asian exodus had already begun.
“There will always be Asians in Kenya. And can you imagine how much stronger the team is going to be if it has properly trained Kenyans?”
I agreed with him that if Africans took up the sport that would bring a new dimension to the game in Kenya. After all the West Indies had already shown what wonderful cricket black players could play.
“When will you start?”
“Soon,” he said. “But don’t tell anyone I said so.”
Not many people saw that vision but Jasmer did.
I doubt if there was a happier person in the world when Kenya began playing in some of cricket’s greatest arenas, lauded as exciting potential Test players and once beat the mighty West Indies in India in 1996 with Melee as the team manager.
However, it was 2003 in South Africa, when Kenya stunned the cricket world when it became the first and the only ever associate nation to reach the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup beating test nations Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka the 1996 World Cup Champions in the process.
There were hundreds of awards but two stick out: life membership of the esteemed MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) and International Cricket Council’s Lifetime Recognition Award for services to cricket as a player and as an outstanding and visionary administrator.
However, I think he reserved his greatest pride when so many Kenyan cricket players became household names in Kenya and were easily recognised by cricket fans all over the world.
Players like Thomas Odoyo who took 141 wickets and scored 2,366 runs.
Steve Tikolo who scored 3369 runs and took  93 wickets
Kennedy Otieno who scored more than 2000 runs.
Collins (2044 runs and 35 wickets) and David Obuya 1,355 runs.

He told the Daily Nation in 2011: “ 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.”

On September 25, 2016, Kenyans said goodbye to Bwana Cricket.
In the end, he surely died of a broken heart after cricket in Kenya began to deteriorate and dismantle the wonderful future it once promised. I, for one, don’t think it is all over and done for cricket. One day, Kenya will again be stand shoulder to shoulder with the best teams in the world. It may take a bit of time but it will surely happen, just as surely as night follows day.
Former Nation Sports Editor Norman Da Costa writes: My first encounter with Jasmer Singh came in 1963 when, in my final year at the Dr. Ribeiro’s Goan School, my name was forwarded to the Kenya Cricket Association to train with MCC coach Willie Watson for a possible spot for the Kenya schools team. I didn’t make it. But I won’t forget Jasmer because that day at the Sikh Union in 1963 was the start of a long and sometimes rocky friendship that lasted until 1976 when I migrated to Toronto.
Secretly, I admired what he had accomplished. He was the field hockey writer for the East African Standard at a time when only a select few of our people were given that opportunity to write for that newspaper. He then got himself on the Voice of Kenya as a fill in for a sports talk show on Sunday mornings when the regular host Eric Cohen was on vacation. I appeared on Jasmer’s show on numerous occasions and what struck me about him was he never had any notes in front of him. Amazing. He was that brilliant. Then came his job as a managing director of Drum magazine for whom I did write several times. A sharp dresser and brilliant orator I wasn’t surprised when he achieved his biggest dream in 1975. He was made manager of East Africa for cricket’s World Cup in England that year. Few will forget the politics that nearly derailed East Africa’s participation. But Jasmer, a superb cricketer, turned sports reporter and one of the very best politicians when the need arose, cleared all the hurdles and was deservedly crowned with honour for all of his hard word.
Melee, as his close friends called him and he insisted that I did as well, rest in peace. We may have had our differences in field hockey involving Goans and Sikhs I respected you and will dearly miss a man who climbed the highest mountain. Rest in peace Melee. I will miss you. We always had a few jugs of beer and I will raise one in for my friend.

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