PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is ranked 29th in the world out of 106 cricket playing nations and many people do not know about it! Cricket is not a popular sport in Malaysia but our national team is not short of passion or talent.
We are not as illustrious as the elite nations like India, Australia, England and Sri Lanka, but Malaysian cricket is slowly moving up in the world rankings.
Previously, Malaysia was ranked 36th in the world but over the last two years it has moved eight rungs up and is poised to move higher as the national side will have more assignments next year.
You might be asking, how did cricket start in Malaysia? Cricket was first introduced in Malaysia in the 1880s by the British. During that time, teams like Straits Settlement and Federated Malay States represented Malaya.
The Royal Selangor Club (RSC) is the first cricket club to be formed in Malaysia. Established in 1884, the club was founded by a group of British planters.
RSC has hosted many cricket matches in their ground and in one of the matches played in 1927, Malaysia which was known as Malaya at the time trounced Australia by 39 runs.
Another historic moment was recorded in 1932 when Lal Singh became the first Malaysian born test player to play at Lord’s Cricket Ground. He played for India in their debut test at Lord’s.
The growing popularity cricket at the time spurred the formation of Malayan Cricket Association in 1948 and once Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined, Malaysian Cricket Association was founded in 1963. Singapore left in 1965 after it’s independence in 1963.
The first team to represent Malaysia was in 1970, three years after they became an International Cricket Council (ICC) associate member. They played against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) led by Welsh cricketer Tony Lewis.
In that year also, the team also played against Singapore in the first Saudara Cup, which has since become a fixture in the Malaysian cricket scene.
Malaysia also became a member of the Asian Cricket Association (ACC) when it was established in 1983.
The team behind MCA
had the opportunity to meet the guys behind MCA at Kinrara Oval ground. Kinrara has been the main ground for the Malaysian cricket side since 2004 and is the first ground in South East Asia to have floodlights. Aptly, Kinrara Oval is regarded as the “Home of Malaysian Cricket”.
In 2006, Malaysia hosted a triangular one day international (ODI) cricket tournament called the DLF Cup at the Kinrara Oval.
“In 2006, we had cricket greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara who have graced the Kinrara Oval," said MCA’s General Manager Clarence Selvam.
Malaysia's coach Roy Dias has been coaching the national side for almost two years. Roy Dias is a household name in cricket as he represented Sri Lanka in the 60s and 70s.
Once he quit cricket, he set up a cricket school and once coached the Sri Lankan national team. He left for Nepal in 2000 and spent 10 years in the land famous for tall mountains.
In 2012, the 60-year-old Sri Lankan coach was invited by MCA to come to Malaysia and Dias decided to take over the national cricket side.
"I've always known the Malaysian cricketers, especially players like Suresh Navan (Navaratnam) and Rakesh (Madhavan).
"I was happy to come here because I knew the cricketers well and in fact, they wanted me to come here also - so it was a plus point for me," said Dias.
Malaysia’s vice-captain Mohd Shafiq Sharif was first called-up to the U-13 National squad for a tour to Australia and since then he hasn’t looked back.
“I'm living my dreams now. Enjoying every minute of it.
"It's interesting because in cricket, you can get a wicket and score runs in a single ball. You don't know whether the batsman is going to hit a six or the bowler is going to take a wicket," said the 23-year-old wicket-keeper.
Shafiq also said it's a gentleman's game and it teaches discipline.
"If you understand the game, you will fall in love with it. If you start playing cricket, keep going and don't give up. The future of Malaysian cricket is bright," he said.
Malaysia’s captain A.Suhan Kumar said at the start, it’s all about fun.
“Any game is all about fun. A kid gets attracted when he loves the game.
“Grassroots level competition is very important to promote the game as a fun factor and teenagers will take it up as a career,” said Suhan.
“As a captain, it's like a second job to me. For me, it's to lead in and out of the field especially the team is filled with juniors which is a good thing,” said the captain whose squad’s average age is 19 plus.
For Dias, 2014 will be the year of reckoning for the Malaysian side as they are participating in the ICC World Cricket League Division Five, the 2019 World Cup qualifiers, ACC Elite Cup and The Asian Games in Incheon.
“My first priority is the ICC Division five because we got relegated from four to five. Next year, I want to get promoted to division four and then target division three.
“That's the only way we can get better is to have international level games,” said Dias.
Future of Malaysian cricket
According to Dias, the future of Malaysian cricket is very good and MCA is doing a lot for the cricketers.
“The youth development is happening now. We have sent talent scouts and high performance coaches to other states to find talented cricketers and bring them to Kinrara Oval
Selvam said that MCA see lots more potential for the national team and they are increasing development efforts in cricket to enhance and develop the game further in the country.
“In another few years time, we should be playing at least the ICC Twenty20 World Cup which i think we stand a very good chance of doing."
If the ICC members carry on their efforts to increase the number of teams to 24 for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, we definitely should be there one day,” said a confident Clarence
To increase the publicity of the game, Clarence said that the media plays a key role in developing it.
“MCA has been trying itself to put the game of cricket out there, with the efforts of state affiliates and other key members.
“We are moving up to the ministries level both the Sports and Education. We are also making efforts from the grassroots level,” he said.
Malaysia’s Cricket captain, A. Suhan Kumar stated that the local cricket league needs to improve slightly.
“Local standard of cricket needs to be competitive and we lack that in our country.
“We need to push the edge in order to be noticed in the international scene," said the 26-year-old who became captain in 2009.
He said anywhere around the world, if the league is good, players will surely improve. Thus, he feels the need for a much competitive local league.
“If the local league is good, we will definitely play well in international level.
“Cricket is not a big game in Malaysia but I can definitely say that the pool of players and the fraternity have grown in the last 10-15 years,” said the player who used to feature for the likes of Adelaide University Cricket Club and Mulgrave Cricket Club in Australia.
Suhan who played in Australia for four years said the standard of cricket was good there and he came out from his shell during his stint with Adelaide and Mulgrave.
“I gained lots of exposure and I kept going back for more.I was there for four years.
“A lot of the youngsters should go out and play in overseas if they want to do well in their career,” said Suhan.