Coach for life

Mike Nathan, an 81-year-old cricket coach, speaks to Priya Kulasagaran about why he’s been carrying on his passion for the game for almost six decades.

On a bright and sunny Sunday morning, the grounds of the PJ Club in Petaling Jaya is full of the enthusiastic cheers and shouts of young children. While football may be the average Malaysian’s go-to sport, these youngsters are pouring their effort into another colonial handover — cricket.

Ranging from ages four to 12, the budding cricketers are perfecting their batting stances and swings under the watchful eye of coach Krishna Nathan Murugasu. As he helps the children get into their positions, the coach has an unmistakable air of an old school gentleman; speaking in clipped English, and giving his instructions in a firm but kind manner.

“Well, I was a school teacher too, for a very long time,” he says, with a grin. “Discipline is key for sports, and that’s what I try to do with these children every day. You can be the most talented player, but it’s of no use if you can’t be bothered with routine practice and hard work.”

Hard work and discipline is what Krishna Nathan, more popularly known as Mike Nathan, lives his own life by. Having coached the sport for almost six decades, he is one of the most recognisable names in the local cricket scene, and has introduced the sport to thousands of students in the numerous schools he was posted in during his working years. Now 81-years-old, Mike Nathan shows no signs of ceasing his commitment to the game.

“I don’t seem to want to stop!” he says with a laugh. “Although I may not be physically strong, the spirit is willing. My muscles may ache a little, but I still enjoy coaching and demonstrating various ways to play the game to budding cricketers. I want to share my passion with the younger generation, and I aim to continue doing so for as long as possible.”

Wicket history

While poet Rudyard Kipling may have derided cricketers as “flannelled fools”, there is no doubt the game has had a storied history in Malaysia. Although there are not many records of the early days of cricket here, the game was said to have been brought to the country by the British in the 1880s. The establishment of the Royal Selangor Club in 1884, by a group of British planters, was perhaps the defining moment of the sport’s growth locally.

Mike Nathan’s own passion for the game arose from a general interest in sports. “My interest in games began at a young age. I played football, hockey, rugby, and flew kites. I developed a passion for cricket while in upper primary school and never lost touch with the game for almost seven decades. Cricket is an enjoyable game that helps improve agility and reflexes,” he shares.

He stresses the importance of schools acting as platforms for young people to get into sport, bemoaning the tendency for parents and teachers to solely emphasise academic achievement. “Life isn’t just about test scores and examinations, children need to learn about values as well; sports can greatly help with that. You learn about teamwork, perseverance, and discipline. You can’t get these things from opening a textbook,” he says.

This belief was what drove him to coach students in cricket once he graduated as a teacher. Aside from serving as a coach in local schools such as SMK Sultan Abdul Samad, Mike Nathan also shared his love for the sport during his brief teaching stint at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien College in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei in the 1960s.

“There was a time in the 70s when they abolished the teaching of cricket in local schools,” he adds. “I think that was a big blow to growing local talent in the game. But thankfully it was short-lived, and they reinstated the sport. Without new blood, the game will just die-off.”

Mike Nathan is also an illustrious sportsman in his own right.  In his heyday, he also played for the Butterworth Indian Cricket Association. Besides cricket, Nathan was also a hockey player, having represented the Penang Sikh hockey team in the early 1960s. During a short teaching course (1965-1966) at University of Southampton in England, Nathan represented the university’s hockey team.

Aside from coaching, he has also contributed to an overlooked but important area of the sport — umpiring. Mike Nathan was one of the founding members of the Malaysian Association of Cricket Umpires in the early 1970s. He also served as liaison officer for umpires at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, and has umpired cricket matches at national and international levels, as well as conducted umpire courses.

More than these accolades however, he is most proud of his achievements in leading newer generations of cricketers. “Even if you don’t emerge champion, being involved in sports enables you to enjoy the game; it’s a healthy pursuit. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that some of my cricket players represented their schools, districts, states or country,” he says.

Batting for the future

With smooth tanned skin, from all the years of being out in the sun, and fit physique, one is hard-pressed to guess Mike Nathan’s real age. Although he’s experienced some effects of growing older — a cataract operation and a fractured collar bone — nothing seems to have affected the spring in his step.

“A simple diet, sufficient rest and regular exercise,” he says, referring to the principles of living well regardless of age. “I have most of my meals at home. My wife is particular about my diet and we eat in moderation. I keep active with cricket activities and tend to my garden every day. I’ve also cut down on smoking as it affects my stamina. I spend a lot of time reading magazines to refresh my coaching techniques and keep in touch with the latest sports developments.”

That said, for all its reputation as a “gentleman’s game”, cricket playing is no walk in the walk. Aside from being under the sun in an open field, an average game can last three hours. “Players need full concentration, endurance, stamina and most importantly, passion to make it,” adds Mike Nathan.

He advises retirees to keep fit and lead an active lifestyle. “Seniors shouldn’t idle away time. Even if you can’t exert yourself too much, try to spend time outdoors by going for walks. Better still, watch some sporting games,” he adds with a grin.

For now, Mike Nathan continues to teach aspiring cricketers at the PJ Club, where he has served as a coach for the past 45 years. Two of his own grandchildren attend training there, and his face lights up at the mention of them.

“It gives me joy to pass on my sporting knowledge and skills to my grandsons. With proper training and dedication, my grandsons can excel in the sport and hopefully represent the country. Once you have the right attitude, you can use it in sports, education and life,” he says.

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