February 16, 2016
Former Sportswriter’s Ode to Mike Shepherdson
By Terence Netto
Captain Alex Delikan and Mike Shepherdson (7th From the Left)
One of the finest exponents of the art of striking both cricket and hockey balls in arenas he graced in the days when excellence at both disciplines was the hallmark of the true sporting blue died on Saturday (Feb 13) in his home in Kuala Lumpur.
Michael Francis Shepherdson, a double international at hockey and cricket, was 85 and had been ailing for some years.
If technique is skill under pressure, then ‘Mike’, as he was popularly known, was the embodiment of the truism that it is well schooled technique that underpins sporting pyrotechnics.
At the batting crease and at centre half in hockey, Mike’s supple exhibitions were an epitome of the bat and ball arts. For Mike in flow was a sight that evoked the writer Harold Pinter’s admiration for another cricketing great: “I saw Len Hutton in his prime…Another time, another time.”
There likely will not be another time that could produce a comparable exponent of the two bat and ball arts as Mike. Hockey’s poetry has been hollowed out by equipment and rule changes that have rendered the sport very nearly a martial exercise — a far cry from the esthetic exhibition it had been at its best in a now long ago past.
As for cricket, the accelerated pace of modern life affords little time and space for appreciation of its sometimes languid rhythms and reticences; hence the decline, in Malaysia at least, in the appeal of the sport.
Young Mike Shepherdson–RIP
But well before interest-diminishing changes obtruded, both sports allowed aficionados the delight of watching exhibitions where refined technique wedded to exquisite timing helped produce the masterly craftsman.
It came as no surprise that Mike Shepherdson’s technique, incubated in a more leisurely era, honed in cricket and translated to hockey, won him selection to a World XI that journalists covering the 1956 Melbourne Olympics hockey competition chose.
Wilfred Vias, Mike’s vice captain at Melbourne, once said that it was advice that Herman De Souza, founding President of the Malaysian Hockey Federation (in 1954), gave Mike that was crucial to equipping him with the smarts for the pivotal centre half position where his nifty footwork and cultured technique were allied to outstanding vision.
Vias would know how that advice helped because his position at fullback provided a vantage on Mike’s disbributive skills and reading of the game.
Mike’s claim to the centre half position’s in the national team was unchallenged at the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games and at the 1962 Jakarta Asiad when he was already in his early thirties, an age where the more demanding rigours of the sport would have warranted retirement.The national hockey team won a rare bronze medal at the Jakarta Asiad which was Mike’s swansong at that sport.
However, his cricketing career continued to flourish, his prowess with the bat making him a staple of national selections for inter port matches against Hong Kong and Singapore and against visiting teams that comprised players from Test playing countries, mainly England and West Indies.
Friends recall his innings against Hong Kong in the inter port series as having etched him indelibly among the game’s nobility in Malaysia.
He gained selection to the then Malayan teams as early as the mid-1950s when inclusion was not restricted to the local born.
Mike excelled for the power generation company that was his employer shortly after leaving school at St John’s Institution where he had already made a name for himself at hockey and cricket.
Gary Sobers bowled by Dr. Alex Delikan
Mike starred in teams captained by Dr Alex Delilkan, owner of an item of cricketing immortality from having bowled the great Garfield Sobers first ball at the Kuala Lumpur Padang in 1964.
Few would dissent from the assessment Delilkan offered on hearing of Mike’s death: “He was the greatest home grown and developed Malaysian talent at cricket and hockey.”
The operative words here are “home grown”. Mike’s talent was literally hatched in his backyard at the Malayan Railway quarters in Sentul where he was born in 1930, the eldest son of a large family of sporting sons and daughters.
His father, a railwayman, was good at all the sports – football, hockey and cricket – Mike would excel at as he grew to young manhood.
Not many know that Mike was also a good footballer, playing between the posts, and turned out a few times for Selangor before the risk of injury posed a hazard to his hockey and cricketing pursuits.
Being versatile may have had its downsides but mastery of technique continued to be the common thread to his accomplishments in the sports he concentrated on.
Robin Tessensohn, who captained Singapore in the annual Saudara Cup series, was an early beneficiary of advice Mike gave on facing pace bowling: “First movement back and across.”
The advice was given before local connoisseurs of batting technique observed famous Australian captain Ian Chappel use it to telling effect against West Indian pace bowling in the 1975-76 home series where the Aussies triumphed with unexpected ease against the fearsome speed of Andy Roberts and Michael Holding.
“It (the technique) never failed,” recalled Tesssensohn of the advice he received.
Mike’s subscription to technique was cross disciplinary. In his years of retirement, he bested his younger challengers at snooker at the Kilat Club in Bangsar where he spent his recreational time.
In 2011, the Olympic Council of Malaysia included him in its Hall of Fame. It was a well deserved accolade.
Indeed Mike was a sportsman of a rare kind. His death closes out an era when not a few high performers excelled at more than one discipline. Mike was a jack of several sports and master of a couple.