Malaysian Cricket Poised on the Cusp
By Ravi Chaturvedi
The history of cricket in Malaysia and the Royal Selangor Club (RSC) are intimately connected. In the mid-19th century, British planters founded the club with a full-sized ground (locally called a padang) for their entertainment, which in course of time became the seat of cricket in then Malaya.
At the end of the colonial era "the Padang" became a symbol of independence and was named Independence Square in 1987. Records reveal that cricket found its roots on Malaysian soil between 1884 and 1886. The British Resident at Selangor played a pivotal role by laying a turf wicket at the RSC.
The first recorded match was between Selangor and Malacca in 1887 and in quick succession followed the Perak-Selangor (1887) and the Selangor-Singapore series in 1891. Cricket statistics quite naturally followed and record that the first century was by Lake Club's C. Glassford (101) against the Rest and the first double century (212 not out) was scored by Dr Lucy in a friendly fixture.
Oswald Stoner, secretary to the British Resident in Selangor (1925), donated the Stoner Shield for club level competition in the region. The trophy was lost during the Second World War and when cricket resumed after the war, the replica of the shield also met the same fate.
Six teams participated in the inaugural tournament, won by the Tamilian's Physical Cultural Association. Later winners included YMCA, Selangor Indian Association and the Royal Selangor Club. Many of the stalwarts of those days had played a good level of cricket in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), so the standard of the game was quite high.
It resulted in a spurt of cricket in the Peninsula and more clubs, Police, Malayan Railways, Postal and Kilat entered the fray. Kilat Club was essentially a Malaysian team and won the shield six years in succession from 1962 to 1968 and even the Golden Jubilee competition of the trophy in 1975 and at one point, also fielded Lal Singh (who played for India in their debut Test at Lord's against England in 1932).
The sprouting and spreading of cricket led to the founding of the Malayan Cricket Association in 1948. With more regional cricket association like Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joining it, the Malaysian Cricket Association was founded in 1963, although Singapore broke away in 1965 after its independence.
Today, cricket is widely played in Malaysia and came to be so under the guidance of the past and present Presidents, HRH Tunku Imran and P. Krishnasamy, who were able to get sponsorship for every level of competition — Under-12, Under-15, Under-19, Under-21 and inter-state tournaments.
The MCA's organisational abilities came in for praise from the ICC as they successfully staged the inaugural Super 8s in 1996, followed by the Pepsi-ACC Trophy, the ICC Trophy and the Commonwealth Games. Today, the MCA has set its eyes on Test status by 2020.
The MCA's efforts paid off when Malaysia received the ICC 2010 regional awards for the best junior initiative and best photo awards, which were claimed by the KLCA and Labuan CA respectively.
A major step has been to prevail upon universities, schools and clubs to take up cricket seriously. Another area is women's cricket which is in its infancy. The MCA is at work to prepare a women's team for future ACC tournaments and the 2014 Asian Games. The armed forces have introduced women's cricket as an annual inter-services tournament since 2006. The MCA has augmented efforts in this direction by organising an annual national U-15 girls' competition since 2009.
During the Fifties and Sixties, connoisseurs of cricket in the country enjoyed a veritable feast with teams from Australia, England, India, Pakistan, Ceylon (the first team to visit Malaya), Commonwealth and E.W. Swanton's international side touring. Stalwarts like Benaud, Hall, Kanhai, Sobers, Ramadhin, Pataudi, Chandrasekhar, Vishwanath, Baig, Borde, Cowdrey, Graveny, Boycott, Gower, and D'Oliviera have all played in Malaysia. A memorable moment was Sobers being bowled for a first ball duck (the first of his illustrious career) with the wrecker Dr Alex Delilkan.
The story of Malaysian cricket would be incomplete without mentioning the deeds of Lal Singh, who was a Malaysian of Indian descent, who caught the eyes of critics with his athleticism and hard-hitting on India's 1932 tour of Old Blighty. He was instrumental in Frank Wooley's run out which Edward Docker in his book History of Indian Cricket eulogised thus, "Woolley turned a ball past square leg umpire, looking for two in it. But not with Lal Singh at mid-on. The Sikh was an extraordinary mover, who glided over the ground like a snake, and his pick up and return to keeper Navle just beat Woolley home"'
His heroics with bat were equally praiseworthy. A last-ditch defiant stand of 74 runs in 40 minutes between Amar Singh (51) and Lal Singh (29) added a lustre to the setting sun of Indian innings. On his return to India, he played for Southern Punjab in the Ranji Trophy.
The BCCI invited him for the Golden Jubilee Test at Bombay in 1980. It turned out that he was the oldest Indian Test player to attend the celebrations. Accompanied by his friends, he went to England to watch the 1983 World Cup. After India's historic victory at Lord's, his friends lost sight of him. A frantic search by worried friends found Singh sipping champagne with the triumphant Indian team in the dressing room. He served the Royal Selangor Club as a curator till his end.
With the concerted efforts of the ACC and the ICC, turf wickets have been laid all over Malaysia. But some of the best venues are located in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The Kinrara Oval, a certified ODI ground by the ICC, is the seat of Kinrara Cricket Academy where upcoming Malaysian cricketers hone their skills.
The floodlit facilities at Kinrara Oval were a contribution from the BCCI when they organised the DLF Cup in 2006. The triangular series between Australia, India and West Indies saw the greats of recent times such as Lara, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ponting in action. It was also the main venue for the ICC's U-19 World Cup which was held in 2008. The final was between India and South Africa with India's captain Virat Kohli lifting the trophy after they won on the Duckworth-Lewis Method.
Penang is another historical cricket venue in Malaysia where cricket has been played from British times. The Penang Sports Club was established in the early 1900s. The pitch was laid with local clay and the ground has lush green local grass. It hosted the U-19 World Cup matches in 2008. Jim Swanton, renowned commentator-cum-chronicler who took multinationals teams to different parts of the world, wrote of Penang, 'With shady trees and the Penang Hill as the backdrop, the Penang Sports Club resembles an English village green as one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world.'
Cricket in Johor was played in the early 20th century, but the first recorded cricketing event is the visit of the Australian team led by C.G. Macartney in 1927. In his book, My Cricketing Days , Macartney writes, "The hospitality extended to us was nothing short of marvellous. The tiffin with HRH the Sultan of Johor was a splendid introduction to Malayan hospitality. HRH gave us a real curry tiffin, so foreign to our palates, and so hot that all guests took away with them the warmest recollections of the entertainment."
The MCA has still to strengthen its three areas — coaching, umpiring and scoring. With help from the ICC and the ACC, clinics are being organised for these three sectors, but demand still exceeds supply. The annual Saudara Cup between Malaysia and Singapore from 1970 has provided not only rivalry between the two nations but also a stage for the players.
Despite mushrooming of various formats of instant cricket, the two innings, three-day competition stands as a testimony to the importance of traditional cricket. In a closely contested game, Malaysia turned the tables on Singapore by two wickets last year. But the road ahead is rough and steep. The challenge is that the local cricket must project a new identity, one that captivates the eyes, moves the heart, stirs the soul and inspires the mind. That will be the new identity and flavour of the Malaysian cricket