Jasmer Singh (1930-2016)

Volume 13, Issue 2  | 
Published 30/11/2016

Jasmer Singh, the Father of Kenyan cricket, passed away on Wednesday 21 September, 2016 at the Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi. He was born in 1930 in Nairobi’s Park Road where with a dustbin for a wicket, a piece of wood for a bat and a tennis ball, the kids would try and emulate heroes such as Don Bradman and Gary Sobers.

From playing cricket for his school at the age of fourteen and first class club cricket, Jasmer went on to take part in the highly popular Asian v European matches. His first international tour was in 1956 when he went with the Kenya Asian team to play against non-white teams in South Africa and quite unexpectedly launched his career in journalism! There he met Jim Bailey, the publisher of Drum who appointed Jasmer as the managing director of Drum Publications (EA) Ltd. The Nation group handled the distribution – from an initial circulation of 8000 copies the sales topped over 100,000 in 1992 when Bailey retired and sold the venture. It was an exciting period and Jasmer enjoyed being a ‘journalist’.

In 1958, it was in South Africa again, playing against Gujarat and Sunder Cricket Club that Jasmer represented Kenya in the national team and considers the tour one of the high points of his playing career.

Jasmer was an active cricket player between 1944 and 1976.  From then onwards he devoted all his time, energy and passion to developing the sport and anchoring cricket on the Kenya sporting map.

The Kenya Cricket Association (KCA) was formed in 1953 and he held the positions of Secretary and Chairman; and represented Kenya in both the E A and International Cricket Councils (ICC). In 1981 he was instrumental in the breakaway of Kenya from the EA Cricket Conference and her independent participation in the 1982 ICC Trophy.

In 1976 he was elected to the MCC and in 1995 became an honorary Life Member, one of 150 such persons globally and the only one in East Africa. Jasmer   officiated in both hockey and soccer bodies and managed the cricket national teams in World Cup and other tournaments. He was the Kenya team manager in 1996 when they beat the supposedly ‘invincible’ West Indies. The ICC awarded him the ‘Lifetime Service Award’ in 2004. A founder member of the Ministry of Works Sports Club, Trustee of the Nairobi Gymkhana Club and the Simba (Sikh) Union Club, Hon. Life Member of the Royal Nairobi Golf Club and receiver of a meritorious award from the Supreme Sikh Council of Kenya; Jasmer had many feathers in his cap.

Jasmer has been a Radio and Television commentator on Cricket and Hockey and a writer on Cricket for the Standard (Kenya), the Guardian (UK), the International Cricketer (UK) and Wisden Cricketers Almanack (UK). He edited the Kenya Cricket Association Brochures for every major cricket tour for 20 years.

In The In-Between World of Kenya’s Media, South Asian Journalism, 1900-1992 he wrote: ‘Whilst being an MD at Drum Publications, I served a two-year chairmanship of the EA Newspapers and Periodicals Association. Having no basic training in journalism but being a part time print and electronic media journalist for over 50 years, including 24 years as a publisher, has been a great and most satisfactory achievement.’

Norman da Costa describes him as ‘a sharp dresser and brilliant orator’ and reminds us that, ‘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’.

With such a wide ranging and illustrious involvement in the game, Jasmer was well-placed to comment on the state of cricket in Kenya today. He always asserted that the most vibrant and dynamic years in Kenya cricket were in the sixties to the nineties of the 20th century; and remembered the keen competition between clubs, the high standard of play and performance and the enthusiastic crowd participation.

‘Since the 2003 World Cup in South Africa when we reached the semi-finals, we have steadily gone downhill,’ he affirmed to me in an interview. ‘The major positive change has been the emergence of African players. They have a natural talent, but they lack a proper development programme.’

When I asked him to highlight his best moment he said he was still waiting for it. ‘I am waiting for Kenya to recognise my contribution to sport. If I lived in the UK I would have been knighted or awarded a CBE,’ he stated ruefully. Sadly that moment never came. But perhaps, posthumously someday a Kenyan leader will recognize the contribution, passion and commitment of this great Kenyan sportsman.

Jasmer lived in Nairobi with his wife Gurdev Kaur and his son, Gurminder Singh (Pappu). His two daughters, Tej and Harjit, reside in the UK.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 December 2016 23:06
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