Major (Rtd) Hardeep Singh (right) receiving the outstanding sports personality award from Royal Malaysian Air Force chief General Tan Sri Affendi Buang at the Armed Forces Sports Council 2018 Awards Night at the Defence Ministry’s officers mess in Kuala Lumpur recently. PIC BY MOHD KHAIRUL HELMY MOHD DIN

HIS services as an air defence radar man during the height of the communist insurgency may have gone unnoticed, but his battles in the sports arena earned Major (Rtd) Hardeep Singh top marks as the armed forces’ outstanding sports personality.

Hardeep was given due recognition at the Armed Forces Sports Council 2018 Awards Night at the Defence Ministry’s officers mess recently.

Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief General Tan Sri Affendi Buang did the honours for Hardeep, 55, who retired on March 16 after 33 years.

Hardeep has been a significant figure in developing cricket in the armed forces and Malaysia cricket since 2004, earning the country a 27th ranking in the world at present.

Malaysia is also ranked 35th in the world for the T20 (or Twenty20) play format.

Cricket aside, Hardeep was a credible runner for the RMAF and armed forces’ 1,500m and 5,000m (1986-1995) and 21km half-marathon (1986-2003).

He also played rugby for the RMAF Black Hawks team (1988-1990), Penang (1993-1995), Sabah (1995-1999) and Pahang (1999-2001).

“As a soldier, more so as an officer, fitness is a priority.

“And sports keeps both mind and body in top shape, which also helps me to maintain my performance at work,” said Hardeep, who is now a consultant with Sat Kartar Agency.

Married to Jagdeep Kaur, the father of three plunged into the cricketing world during the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.

“I was then a sergeant and was chosen as a liaison officer for the Pakistan cricket team, led by the legendary Imran Khan (who is now Pakistan’s prime minister).

“Soon, I took up cricket seriously as a player and also became the RMAF Cricket Association secretary in 2004 until last year,” said Hardeep, who rose through the ranks from 1986 to become Warrant Officer 1.

Major (Rtd) Hardeep Singh during his heyday as a cricket player. PIC COURTESY OF MAJOR (RTD) HARDEEP SINGH

In 2002, he was commissioned as a lieutenant, became captain two years later and promoted to major in 2008.

Hardeep’s 14-year leadership enabled the armed forces to be promoted to the Malaysian Cricket Premier League’s Division One.

It also helped the RMAF win the tri-services title (against the army and Royal Malaysian Navy) for 14 consecutive years since 2005.

Hardeep said cricket became popular during a period when the RMAF had a set of serious cricketers, under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd) Gerard Singam.

“Also, we often had playing opportunities with the air force teams from Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

“From there, we managed to build a credible armed forces team that won the 2005 Malaysian Cricket League title for the very first time,” said Hardeep, who was then team manager.

There was no stopping from then on as Hardeep groomed the team to greater heights.

The same year, the armed forces won the Malay Rulers’ Shield, which is the oldest tournament in the country.

They repeated their success in 2008 and 2011; and were runners-up in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018.

As the team manager, Hardeep led the RMAF team to win the International Defence Cricket Challenge in Canberra, Australia in 2009.

They finished in second place in 2012 and 2015.

In 2017, Hardeep managed the armed forces team to beat their British counterparts in the 50-over friendly here while the visitors won the Twenty20 match.

But the culmination of Hardeep’s efforts was in earning Malaysia a gold, silver and bronze at the 29th Kuala Lumpur Sea Games in 2017.

“The military was proud to contribute seven men and six women players to the national teams.

“Also, for the first time, Corporal Mohd Zaidan Taha from the RMAF officiated as an international-class umpire at the Sea Games,” he said.

Last year, Hardeep served as the deputy tournament director for the Kuala Lumpur International Air Force Cricket Challenge, involving teams from Malaysia, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

He said that cricket’s popularity led to three armed forces players being selected to undergo first-class intensive training in Sri Lanka, and another two in Perth and Melbourne in Australia in recent years.

“These players will form the nucleus of the future armed forces’ teams, and woo more to indulge in this wonderful sport,” said Hardeep.

To date, a total of 15 soldiers have become qualified officials with the Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers Malaysia.

“The RMAF cricketers have gone a step further to train the young under the ‘adoption programme’ for schoolchildren of SK Jalan Bellamy and SK Pengkalan Udara Subang.”