Through its British colonial imprint, cricket has a rich history in Malaysia and remnants of the bat and ball sport can be traced back to the late 19th century. Relics of the British Empire are still evident across the country, notably through historical cricket clubs such as the Royal Selangor Club in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
International cricket has been played in the South-East Asian country on a few occasions including notably at the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and, most recently, during a triangular One-Day International series featuring India, Australia and the West Indies in 2006.Unfortunately, cricket has never quite captured the imagination of the diverse Malaysian populace despite teasing on several occasions. However, there is genuine hope that international matches could return in the near future.
Cricbuzz recently chatted with Mahinda Vallipuram, who has been a tireless contributor to the Malaysian Cricket Association (MCA) during the past decade and is now its current president.Vallipuram talked about the state of cricket in Malaysia and attempts by the MCA to pitch the country as a home base for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Cricket has a rich history in Malaysia. Why hasn't cricket ever taken off there?
In the 1960s, '70s and '80s cricket flourished. At one stage we beat Bangladesh. We found that teachers back then had an interest in cricket but when they retired there was a void in the schools. Ten-fifteen years ago we decided to work closely with the Education Department, so we can work with the teachers so they can do basic coaching for the kids. What we have done in the last 10-15 years is starting to bear fruit. Interschool is being played from under 12s. We have now more than 400 schools playing cricket, which churns into club cricket. It's not something that can be done overnight.
Malaysia has a vast Indian populace. Do they tend to still play cricket through the generations?
Many Indian kids in Malaysia are second, third or fourth generation so cricket is somewhat removed for them. In terms of a racial breakdown, you will find we have about 60-70 per cent of cricketers from Malay background, which is good because Malays are the majority in the country. They have taken the game well, which is good. The Indian mix has dropped which is not good, but a mix of races playing the game is positive. We have 15 state members across the countries, so we need to grow our local cricketing involvement. The mentality here is study first. We have shown that there is a pathway in cricket, where the children can proceed. We are working with the Education Department on how to identify sports schools where cricketers can live.
The last couple of years we have identified schools where we can put 15-20 kids from a particular state into a school. We can stream kids who are good at cricket into these schools. We hope through this we can retain kids and also show their parents that we want to take care of their children's education.
There is a new major sports stadium amid a 'sports city' being developed in Johor Bahru, located near the border of Singapore. Is there a chance major cricket matches could be played there in the future?
Cricket will definitely be one of the sports, where there will be a main oval and a second ground. It will have temporary seating and a very good pavilion. I suspect it will hold 15,000 people and upwards. We anticipate completion in 2018. We hope being close to Singapore that it could tap into the Singaporean market and work with Singapore cricket. There is the potential to host bilateral events.
Malaysia has hosted tri-series in 2006 (at its current main ground at Kinrara oval in Kuala Lumpur), the under 19s World Cup in 2008 and many ACC events. We have shown we can host international matches and I think we have a very stable environment. We have good hotels, transport and logistics. We would definitely like to go after T20 matches, certain tri-series and the possibility of bringing the Asian Cup to Malaysia. That discussion has taken place with the current ACC president (Shehreyar Khan) for Malaysia to either host the under 19s Asia Cup or the Asia Cup.
I understand there were discussions previously over the possibility of Pakistan being based in Malaysia. Can you provide some insight on this?
We offered Malaysia as a home base to Pakistan about four or five years ago. We had discussions with the Pakistan Cricket Board, and we were looked upon as one of the two countries other than the UAE. Subsequently, we did lose the bid (to UAE).
The government in Malaysia is very keen to support these types of things but at the time government sponsorship wasn't one of those things. Pakistan or anyone else looking for a neutral venue....Malaysia is good especially for time zones. If it is a day-night game in Malaysia, and we have lights at Kinrara Oval and the new ground will too, especially with a push for day-night Test matches, I think it will give us an opportunity to get prime time into the sub-continent. Australia is only 2-3 hours (eastern time) ahead and the UK is only six-seven hours difference.
So we are nicely placed for a day-nighter or even just a normal day game. Kinrara is an extremely good ground to play even after is has rained. The new oval will be built to the same standard.
Are there any other opportunities for Malaysia to host international cricket?
We met a number of countries at the ICC conference in Edinburgh in June and we have opened discussions again to market Malaysia as a venue. We have put forward to Afghanistan that Malaysia can be a neutral venue for them.
Malaysia has always been friendly to Afghanistan. Certainly, we have reached out to them and other full member countries like Sri Lanka and Australia for matches to be played in Malaysia. Afghanistan has taken it on board. They are aware that it is difficult to play matches, so I think they have received it well and we hope to work with them.
One of the criticisms of Tests being staged in Dubai is that matches are played in almost empty stadiums. If international cricket is based in Malaysia, do you believe there would be decent crowds?
We have good local support and that base is growing all the time. The sub-continent crowd out of Malaysia and Singapore is there to support it. With direct and cheap flights into Malaysia, even from Australia, it is economical for people to visit.
With flights, hotel and logistics at a competitive price, it is a package we could offer. The Kinrara pitch is Darwin clay and so would be the new oval. We are quite passionate how we deliver the grounds and how they are maintained, so I do think we have the quality of the grounds and pitches in Malaysia.
What is the state of the Malaysian national team and their goals for the future? The Malaysian Premier League has been going for a few years now. Has it been a success? Is there scope to lure some big names to provide it greater exposure?
It would be great for Malaysia to qualify for the T20 WC by 2020, and ODI World Cup by 2023. We have homegrown players coming through and have risen from 48 to 23 in the rankings in recent years. Our policy has moved from having foreign nationals to homegrown. We feel to be sustainable in a country like Malaysia.... we need to have born and bred players from Malaysia.
Our core players are Malaysian players bar two players. Going forward we may have 100 per cent of locals in the national team.
We have a Malaysian Premier League, which started five years ago. We have so far resisted getting the big names (like Michael Clarke in Hong Kong's T20 tournament) because they might not actually grow the game. If they score all the runs or take all the wickets, then you have an imbalance. We wanted something that allowed the local players to grow, and that has happened.
As we go on, Malaysian cricket will have a decision to make. Is it time to get the big names? And how will that work? Perhaps the full members can send some of their development players to Malaysia and they can prosper too.
MPL will need to change in the near future.
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