'Twas a season of Firsts

about-1'Twas a season of Firsts

The year was 1975, Kuala Lumpur the first Federal Territory in the country and Cricket "lovely cricket" became the first among all sports to be officially accepted in its fold. The then young and energetic YAM Tunku Imran and Ronald Quay were the Association's first President and first Secretary.

Not much was expected in the form of performance of the fledgling Association's team, as it took part in the inter-state league against the established powerhouses of Cricket such as Selangor, Penang, Perak and Negeri. However by dint of good team work and excellent fielding, FTCA managed to top the North Zone against the more fancied Perak, Penang, and a strong RAAF side. Selangor for its part, cantered through their matches in the South Zone with crushing wins against Negeri, Johore and Malacca, thus heading their group with effortless ease.

And so it was, that FT met Selangor on a Friday, at the Kilat Ground in Bangsar, for the First finals in its very First year of existence. Favourites, Selangor were led by the wily left arm spinner, Dr. Jagdev Singh. He had in his ranks the combative batsman Peter Henley and fiery David Mayne, who was known to generate great pace with the ball and be equally explosive with the bat. Singapore's opening bat, Jeffery Jeremiah made up the trio of expats in the experienced Selangor side. Gurucharan Singh, Zainon Mat, Winston De Souza (wicket keeper), Mohd Sidek and Pathmanathan – national players all, together with K. Navaratnam (father of Suresh Navaratnam) and T. S. Dhillon (brother of Gurucharan) made up the rest of a very formidable and experienced team.

about-2Captaining FT for the first of many times was the newly appointed Malaysian Captain Hector Durairatnam, who in the previous year had captained Selangor. Mike Shepherdson (without doubt Malaysia's best batsman for many years) and Alwi Zahaman were unavailable for the finals (much to the delight of Selangor supporters). Such was the depth of players available in those days however, that FT could still put up a very competitive side. Opening bat Ranjit Singh, the Nair Brothers – Lean, lanky and extremely agile Balakrishnan, staid and steady Muralee, and the young, exciting all rounder Banerji, - Krishnasamy and Marimuthu had all played for Malaysia, leading up to the match. Tall and gangling Dennis Shepherdson and the powerfully built Bala Kandiah were expected to share the new ball with Marimuthu. Strangely, as it now seems, two keepers Palanivelu and Ted Bicknell made up the eleven. Bicknell (who played for the skipper's team, TPCA) was understandably, given the nod to keep wickets.

The President, Tunku Imran – stylish opening bat and wicket keeper (another one), who only couple of years earlier was picked for the Malaysian side to tour HK and the Secretary Ronald Quay, who was capable of bowling fast medium leg cutters and laid claim to being the fastest Chinese bowler in Malaysia (strongly challenged for this honour by his great friend and rival YY Chin) were two who sadly missed the cut for the final eleven. RQ never forgave his good friend and first chairman of selectors, the late Dato Abdul Aziz Ismail, for his omission from the team.

about-3It was gloomy, with dark threatening clouds in the sky, the morning the two captains walked out to toss. Selangor had no hesitation in electing to bat on winning the toss. The decision seemed to be a good one as first David Mayne with a well compiled 41 and later Guru with a belligerent (as is his wont) 23 seemed to have the measure of FT's bowling. Still, FT could feel they had done well to restrict the might of Selangor to 213, thanks mainly to some fantastic fielding (Bala Kandiah's sharp reflexes accounting for three smart catches at gully and the prehensile Bala Nair grasping half chances, close to the wicket snatching another two). Bowling off spin, with a guile that belied his age, Banerji snaffled four wickets for 65 in 25 overs, while Hector, with his innocuous looking, slow medium stuff, chipped in with 2 for 24 in 13 overs.

When FT batted, disaster struck from the very start and we were bundled out for a mere 91, presenting Selangor with a healthy first innings lead of 122 runs. David Mayne as usual bowled with good pace and was rewarded with figures of 3 for 39. However,it was the spin duo of Jagdev and Guru, that did the most damage taking five wickets among themselves with returns of 3 for 21 and 2 for 5 respectively. Despite Selangor's bowling, we realized that it was the batsmen who let themselves down. Banerji – 18, Ranjit – 18, Bala Kandiah – 17 and Krishnasamy – 17 all got a start but did not go on to make a big score, therein lay the problem. Marimuthu, who seemed likely to pull us through to a respectable score, was stunned to find himself run out going for the third run, to a direct hit from of all people, Pathmanathan with only one stump showing. "Ninety-nine times out of hundred he would not have hit the stumps "Mari was heard to remark as he reluctantly trudged his way back to the pavilion.

What followed next, in Selangor's second innings, was nothing short of amazing. Selangor were scuttled for a paltry 36 runs in the space of 28.3 overs. Starting at the TNB HQ, building end, Dennis picked up 3 wickets for very little and felt good enough to pick up a few more but to his utter consternation, he was stopped soon after and Bala Kandiah introduced into the attack. Bala rewarded the skipper by promptly taking two wickets to dismiss the dangerous Guru and Peter Henly. Peter's dismissal particularly remains in one's memory and could be termed the turning point of the match. Peter miss hit a full toss from Bala but such was the ferocity that it went sailing towards the boundary ropes. Marimuthu, fielding near the square leg umpire, called for it, took off, and brought off a spectacular catch. This really galvanized the whole FT team and they went about their business with even more purpose. Dennis was brought back into the attack and continued where he left off, grabbing three more wickets and ending with the fabulous return of 6 for 13, surely Dennis's finest hour.

about-4However, thanks to Selangor's big first innings lead there was the matter of 158 runs to get, on a seaming wicket and with the memory of having scored only 91 in the first innings. The fight was on; it was still anybody's game. We were now in the third day and rain clouds were gathering. If there wasn't an outright result, Selangor would be champions by virtue of their first innings lead. Having fought back so splendidly, we were in no mood to be deprived of victory. At this point, we not only had to pass the score, we had to beat the rain in doing so. Ranjit was told to play the anchor role, with Bala Kandiah, his opening partner on this occasion, to be the aggressor. Bala blasted a quick 24 and set the tone for an all-out attack on the Selangor bowling. Hector promoted himself to no. 3, with one eye on the rain clouds, and "blustered" 33 in a very short time. Bala Nair kept up the momentum with a brisk 22 before getting out and leaving his younger brother Banerji to hit the winning four. Ranjit (the Machine) Singh "composed" a fluent 63 remaining not out and was the mainstay of the innings and indeed played his part to perfection.

As if that wasn't drama enough, the heavens opened soon after the match and the ground was inundated, delaying the prize presentation – FT's first win of the trophy in it's first year of existence. "Cut Hook and Pull" Dennis won the man of the match trophy – his first ever, presented by our first President – YAM Tunku Imran.

Twas a year of firsts.

Hector Durairatnam

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