By Eric Motha
Firoz Nilam commenced his meteoric rise to fame in 1961 on being selected for training at the Ceylon Table Tennis Association coaching camp conducted by V. Sivaraman All India Mens Singles Champion of many years reckoning
The thirteen year old student from Royal College, buoyant from the training stint, made his debut at the Colombo YMCA Championships one of the premiere ranked tournaments and performed creditably to reach the semi-finals in both the Junior & Juvenile Singles but lost to Suresh Melvani & Lal Sharma respectively. The TTASL recognised his innate talents and picked Firoz as a member of the Junior National team that participated in the reputed All India Championships conducted in Bombay. In his initial exposure in foreign climes, young Firoz entered the record books partnering Barney Reid to annex the All India Junior Doubles title outclassing the counterparts in their own domain. It was the first time Ceylon had won a title beyond its shores and the Royal/Thomian combination thereby carved a niche for themselves. The Junior team also emerged runners-up to Bombay State proving their mettle beyond doubt.
In the lap of victory, Nilam finished runner-up to Barney Reid in the Open Boys Singles and teamed up with him to win the Open Boys Doubles at the National TT Championships in 1961. In a repeat performance in 1962 Firoz lost in the Boys Singles Finals but made amends to clinch the Boys doubles crown partnering R. Thanwardas at the Nationals. In 1963 Firoz was runner-up to Buddy Reid in the Men’s Singles at the Stadium SC Open TT Championships and in the same berth losing to Nimo Ramchand who was in peak form at the Sports festival. .
In 1965 & ‘66 though Firoz entered the Mens finals on a record six occasions the mantle of victory eluded him in the Open Championships conducted by the YMCA, YETTC, Mercantile TTA & KCYMA.
Firoz, whilst a student at Royal crowned himself in an aura of glory annexing the National Men’s Singles title in 1966 displaying consistency and cohesion in defeating Buddy Reid and teaming up well with Barney Reid to annex the Doubles. He had to be content with a ‘double’ when he lost the Mixed Doubles with Srini Lucas. In the Government Services Open Championships that followed Firoz Nilam (Top Seed) and Buddy Reid (No.2) figured in an epic final where according to media coverage, spectators were treated to TT of a superlative order with sheer artistry and brilliance to the fore.
Firoz Nilam retained the Men’s Singles title at the 1967 National Championships proving his superiority over erstwhile opponent Buddy Reid in a pulsating final with a fine exhibition of vintage TT by the contenders. He combined well with Nandini Daniel to win the Mixed Doubles but lost the Men’s Doubles with Annesley Gomez to the Reid brothers Buddy & Barney in a thrilling final going the full distance.
In the YETTC Open Tournament Firoz exhibiting fine form won the coveted triple crown defeating Barney Reid in the Men’s Singles and teaming up with Annesley Gomez and Nandini Daniel in the Men’s Doubles & Mixed Doubles respectively.
In the Banks SC Open Championship held in Nuwara Eliya in ’66 Firoz won recognition as the most outstanding player winning the Singles against Buddy Reid and treating the spectators in the hills to vintage TT. Firoz anchored a pivotal role in assisting YMCA and YETTC emerge winners in the Inter-Club competitions in 1966 &’67 respectively. Firoz maintained his winning form since 1961 annexing several titles in the Mens Singles/Doubles & Mixed Doubles..
In the international arena following a year’s lay off due to Examinations Firoz was selected to the National team in 1965 for participating at the Peking Invitation International tourney in China. In the run up to the semi finals where he lost to Tran Se Cambodia’s No.2 in a thrilling 5-setter Firoz played remarkably to vanquish stiff opposition from top ranked players representing Malaysia, Pakistan and Japan. Firoz entered the last 16 in the Asian Championships (1967) but was edged out by the World’s No.5 from Japan. Due to his focus on Examination in November 1966 Firoz opted to join the National side for the 1st GANEFO Championships held in Cambodia in preference to the Asian Games in Bangkok.
In the mid 60’s Firoz captained the Schools team in the Quadrangular tournament and maintained an unbeaten slate winning all his matches sans conceding a single set to his opponents. He was instrumental in Royal winning the Inter Schools Championships in successive years (‘66 & ‘67). During his student days at Royal Firoz played cricket for the 1st and 2nd X! teams besides proving his acumen in athletics sprinting with finesse in the 100 & 200 yards and the relays.
Firoz left for England in February 1968 and stamped his class as the champion for Bedfordshire-Hertfordshire and represented Surrey (Middlesex) in competitive TT. In the 70’s Firoz was ranked England’s No.5 it is being noted that the first 4 were all professionals and the country 7th in the world standings.
In his star-studded career Firoz Nilam after his triumphant debut at the age of 13 always maintained his reputation as a player who embellished the increasingly popular game by his accomplishments both at home and abroad. In retrospect, Firoz Nilam, domiciled in the USA, could look back with pride on his track record having carved a niche for himself in the annals of Table Tennis in Sri Lanka.
Board of Control for TT in Sri Lanka