Sports has always been a major part of the curriculum of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) since its foundation in 1905.
Novelist Anthony Burgess alias John Burgess Wilson, the English teacher at the College during the mid Fifties, once commented that sports, and rugby in particular, had become an obsession at the institution.
Rugby was introduced after I left the college in 1954. During my time we had soccer, hockey, cricket, squash, fives, tennis, badminton, table tennis and athletics.
In any event, the MCKK Rugby XV had become so strong that for a number of years it remained unbeaten throughout the school circuit. Hence, in 1960, MCKK started the annual Malay College-Vajiravudh College Bangkok rugby match.
This year, I was invited to return home to cheer during the annual match on Aug 5. Though I happened to be in Kuala Lumpur I could not go down to Kuala Kangsar because of a prior engagement.
I was also asked to join the Malay College Old Boys Association (MCOBA) debaters against the school’s team. I had to decline.
According to a MCOBA news bulletin which was emailed to me, the alma mater’s All Blacks had defeated the formidable Vajiravuth’s Dancing Thais 13-7 to win the annual match for the second time in 29 years! The long years of humiliation were ended by a determined and courageous 1999 XV who played an attacking game the moment the match began.
The best defence has always been to attack.
Jubilant Old Collegians pledged gifts and money to the Malay All Blacks but it would seem more useful in the long term to use the money to hire a good rugby coach. We do not want to wait for 2029 for another win!
I captained the athletics and cricket teams of Ahmad House (which was Tun Razak’s and Tuanku Jaafar’s House).
I was also the college’s athletics captain. Incidentally, I also played soccer and hockey, both centre-half, for the house during inter-house matches. These were fought more viciously than the inter-school games, with the exception of the brutally competitive matches against our arch-enemy, Clifford School.
In the late Thirties, sports was dominated by the likes of Razak Hussein (Tun) and Tuanku Jaafar (later Yang di Pertuan Agong) among others. My contemporaries who were considered great sportsmen were Nik Mahmood Fakhiruddin Kamil (Lt-Jen), Sanad Said (former Executive Councillor of Selangor), Kassim Aris (of Radio Television Malaysia, Abdul Latiff Hussein (Tun Razak’s younger brother), Abdul Razak Hitam (an architect), Abdul Wahid Shamsuddin (a courtier at Istana Negara) and among the seniors – Ikmal Hisham Albakri (an architect, whose passion for life is matchless even at 68; a real bon vivant), the late Kassim Hussein (ambassador), Abdul Aziz Awang Mustapha (accountant), Kamarulbaharin Jamaluddin (economist); Mustapha Mahmud, a former ambassador who now lives in Kuantan, Wan Kamaruddin Wan Ibrahim (businessman), Raja Azlan Raja Ngah Ali – the first collegian to run at an Olympic Games (Melbourne) and a former prison officer in Brunei.
Among my juniors, I can recall Malek Salleh (advocate and solicitor, and a good tennis player), Abdul Rahim Aki (businessman and former trade commissioner).
My favourite sport was athletics: 100, 220, 440 and 880 yards and 120 yards hurdles.
A field sport I still like is cricket. I was good enough to be captain of my House (more for leadership than for my cricketing ability).
It was during an inter house match against Sulaiman House in 1954. The captain of that house, Kassim Aris, who was the college all rounder, proved I was more of a leader than a player.
I went in very confidently as the opening batsman, but it only took Kassim two overs to bowl me out for a duck. In all my cricket career I do not believe I scored a grand total of more than 60 runs! I enjoyed the game because it is a gentlemen’s sport.
A senior, Ismail Abdullah, a former Bank Negara advisor and CEO of the United Asian Bank (which was absorbed by the Commerce Bank in the Eighties), was a gentlemen’s sportsman. He was keen on cricket and at one time captained the college first eleven.
Always impeccably dressed, either in 100% cotton or flannel, boots, cap, gloves and sweater. He was a picture of a pukka brown sahib albeit standing only five foot, five and a half inches.
Ismail would take his own time to walk the short distance to bat, the length of a three-minute monotonous sermon on RTM. As he walked to bat, always with the upright posture of a sergeant major, he would be accompanied by polite applause from his team-mates.
He always took cricket very seriously – it was a matter of great honour and ego for him. On the pitch, inspired and brimming with confidence after having scrupulously surveyed the field, he was ready to bat.
As the bowler began to run in, the crowd stood still, and a pin drop would have been heard. Within seconds Ismail’s wicket would fall, his bails flying. Ismail was bowled for zero again. In the second inning, after scoring perhaps five runs, he would be out, caught behind off a first ball-loosener of a new bowler.
The story repeated itself; he was condemned never to be a big scorer, always quickly out either by lbw (leg before wicket), caught, stumped, bowled or run out.
Ismail will always be remembered fondly by his friends. He died in Adelaide nearly a decade ago.
He might not have been the great cricketer he wished he was, but he loved the game because it was the art of gentlemanly living which was his entire life.
I will always look back and treasure his memory: No matter whether he got a duck or scored runs, once the umpire said “out , he would routinely put his bat under his armpit and with his head up, shoulders back, he would walk off the field with dignity.
I find cricket good training. In England, even girls are playing cricket. The game teaches players to respect authority. When you are out, you are out and you should walk away like Ismail did with dignity.
One of the rewards for college cricketers, especially when playing against the Kinta European XI, the British Army and even against King Edward VII School Taiping, was good tiffin curry and English tea.
Since I was friendly with Ismail, his friends and I would always partake of the leftovers!
It’s a good laugh to talk about the past. I have and will continue to write about the kaleidoscope of images and pictures, and times that no longer exist and is hard for Malaysians to imagine.