The bowler took slow, measured steps, then with a furious tweak of his wrists he whizzed the ball through the non-matted Marina turf. The batsman opened up for the pull shot, but the top edge soared up towards deep square leg. Dismissed, he trudged back to the pavilion. The dressing room was wrapped in a cloak of gloom...
Malaysia, finalists of the U-17 League Championship, had just lost their best batsman, Niroshan de Silva. Unwrapping his gear, he reluctantly settled into his chair, eyes heavy with regret. A hundred “I let myself and the team down” lines might have ringed numerous times in his mind. The coach, Suresh Navaratnam, commiserated with him and cracked a few jokes, but De Silva was still inconsolable.
For him, every failure is a blockade to achieving his ambition of emulating the country’s talismanic Arul Suppiah, who plies his trade for Somerset in the English county and holds the best bowling figures in T20s. “Cricket is still a peripheral sport in the country, but after Suppiah made a name in the county, youngsters are keen to play cricket,” said Navaratnam.
But like most associate countries, they lack infrastructure and exposure. “Unlike in India or Sri Lanka, there is little infrastructure and only recently has the government acknowledged cricket as an A-list sport. You can’t overtly blame them because it’s still an amateur sport,” said Navaratnam.
The interest, understandably, is on limited-over cricket. “T20 cricket is relatively big in the country. Now that we get Indian sports channels, there is more access to events like the IPL, which has a decent following in the country. Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard are household names there. I think T20 will be the future of Malaysian cricket,” he said.
The youngsters, he reckons, have quickly absorbed the dynamics of the T20 format. “The grounds there are quite small and we lose at least 7-8 balls in a match. We have a few very promising batsmen and some good finger spinners. If they are properly groomed, I think they would one day play international cricket. But they still have a long way to go,” he said.
It’s here that trips to India and Sri Lanka help. “Even at this level (U-17) the disparity is huge but the boys are learning and learning fast. I never expected them to reach the finals of the tournament. Hopefully, they will keep improving,” he said. Indian cricket has another link with Malaysia – Lal Singh, who featured in India’s inaugural Test in 1932 was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur.