THE game of cricket, which began in England, gradually spread across the globe, starting first in countries that were part of the British Empire.
As a result of globalisation, however, the sport, which was once confined to certain regions, is now expanding beyond borders and connecting with new fans.
Interest and popularity in cricket continues to grow rapidly thanks also to the media. Today, it is arguably only second to football in terms of popularity and spectator support.
There are more than 100 countries where cricket is played now.
While the game continues to win fans with the introduction of the ODI and T20 formats as well as the current ICC Cricket World Cup in England, which will reach its climax on July 14, the same cannot be said of cricket in Malaysia.
Considering the dearth of talent in schools, a lack of finances for the sport, poor media coverage in local newspapers, and competition from other games, what is the future of cricket in this country?
The Malaysian Cricket Association is doing its best and a few clubs in the country are training the youths, while several former national and state players are doing the same at town and district levels.
In the midst of this dire situation, however, the local cricket scene has witnessed a breath of fresh air in the form of the Malayalee Kudumbam Cricket team (MKC).
This team is made up of former state and district cricket players from Kerala in India, who are all working as contract officers in various fields in the local private sector – a new breed of professionals who have been in Malaysia over the past two years or so and share a common passion for cricket.
This love was boosted by the winning of the ICC T20 by India in 1983, the introduction of the world’s most prestigious T20 competition – the Indian Premier League – since 2008, and the participation of the Kerala State team in the Ranji Trophy, an inter-state cricket competition in India.
Sreejith Nair, who helms the team, said the sport had a natural unifying element as “cricket is very dear to every Indian national”.
“Cricket was taken up by the Malayalee community here in Malaysia as an effective group activity for its members to come together and foster a bond with one another.
“Every week, without fail, the team members would meet up to play, while the families joined together to socialise,” he said, adding that the team played both tennis ball cricket (played on a lighter note) and stitch ball cricket (a more serious affair).
The women also occasionally take part in these cricket matches.
With cricket in their blood, these Malaya-lees could not remain idle for long without getting involved in tournaments again.
Led by Sreejith, they took part in the local Tennis Ball Cricket tournament in 2017, where they emerged as an outstanding team, winning 21 of the 25 matches they competed in.
It was only natural for them to form a leather ball cricket team, which they did in early 2018 and called themselves the Malayalee Kudumbam Cricket.
“Kudumbam means family,” Sreejith explained.
“Basically, the team is made up of a group of expatriates from Kerala residing in and around Kuala Lumpur, who have come together since 2006 with the aim of fostering friendship, community service and upholding the cultural heritage of our homeland. Apart from cricket, we also get together for cultural events, yoga, badminton and trekking.”
The team, made up of a multi-talented set of all-rounders between the age of 20 and 50-something, comprise Sreejith, Nitheesh TS, Mohamed Shahir, Gautham Gopakumar, Manjith P, Abey Cherian, Namsheer Sreeraj Subramaniam, Saju Sujith Subramaniam, Subbaraman AV, Santhosh Nair, Anoj Joseph, Shaheer KP, Bimal Mohan, Jairam Ramesh, Dean John, Mansoor Koneth, Prabhakar Menon and Ravi Nair.
These MKC members come from all over Kerala, from Trivandrum to Kasargode.
What is especially unique about MKC is that it is made up of players of various faiths who are united by their love for cricket.
MKC is now registered as a team with Malaysian Cricket Association and participates in its tournaments, such as the Master Blaster Tournament earlier this year.
Within a short period of time, MKC became a well-known name in the Malaysian cricket fraternity, and there seems to be much hope that they will do very well in local tournaments and matches, and help promote cricket in the country.
The club is not only injecting new life into the Malaysian cricket scene but also has a role to play in helping to rejuvenate cricket locally through these ways:
l The MKC players can serve as good role models to local players on how cricket is now played in the flamboyant and aggressive style of the ODI and T20 formats.
l The players can help coach youngsters in schools and clubs during the weekends and when they are not playing cricket. This can include holding cricket clinics around the country in association with Malaysian Cricket Association, Malaysian Malay Cricket Association and Malaysian Schools Sports Council.
l The Malaysian Cricket Association, state cricket bodies and others can select some of the MKC players to join their sides in friendly matches, sparking new life into their teams. This is being done in many countries where there are cricket-playing migrants. (At present, they cannot represent Malaysia in ICC-organised matches.)
l When Malaysia hosts ICC Tournaments, the MKC players, in view of their experience, can help the organisers in various ways.
If Malaysian cricket is to develop and increase in popularity here, these suggestions require a more broad and far-sighted view by its officials.
Sports like football, basketball and hockey have allowed teams in inter-state and national tournaments to field foreign players. This will lead to more interest in cricket matches, which in turn will attract more schools to cricket and more clubs to establish teams like we had in the 1950s.
For all these suggestions to succeed, the local media have a prominent role to play.
At present, there is no news of cricket in local newspapers unlike in the past. In the past, even school matches were reported in newspapers.
In this respect, cricket lovers need to express their gratitude to Astro for having a 24-hour cricket channel for a small price.
May I suggest that other media authorities recruit cricket editors – full-time or part-time – to give coverage to the game in their respective publications.
The ICC Cricket World Cup is currently on and I am sure the media will give it due coverage. Let it not end there, but continue throughout the year.
Once again, MKC must be lauded for breathing new life into the cricket scene in this country.
It is hoped that expatriates of other nationalities who work in Malaysia also emulate the MKC and form cricket teams to play and further develop interest in the game.
My desire and dream, like other cricket enthusiasts in this country, is to see cricket grow and flourish in this land as it once did in the past.
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