A 16 year old is proof that the sport is making progress despite nation's focus on schooling.
Malayasian cricket's approach by the book
ABU DHABI // Muhammed Anwar, a 16-year-old left arm spinner, is an example of the Malaysian Cricket Association's (MCA) plan to improve the game in the country and develop young talent.
The wily bowler returned with excellent figures of 10-1-37-2 on his debut on Wednesday for the senior national team against Afghanistan, the top team from the Associate members of the International Cricket Council. Although Anwar's contribution went in vain, his team were not disgraced in the 36-run defeat in their Asian Cricket Council Elite Trophy opener at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.
Nine months ago, the MCA appointed Roy Dias as their director of coaching. The former Sri Lanka batsman coached the national team in 1998 and was then in charge of Nepal for 10 years.
The MCA also employs full-time officials for cricket development, and for the finance and administration. "Cricket has been played for a long time in the country, and the MCA has adopted a professional approach to take the game to the next level," Vijayalingam Vythilingam, the general manager for cricket development, said.
"We launched the Malaysian Premier League, a two-day format for the first time. The idea behind it is to teach the players to play longer [formats of the game]."
The new approach is bearing fruit by unearthing players such as Anwar. He began at the age of 10, was selected for the Under 12 team for his district and then picked for the Under 19 national team in the ACC Elite Trophy as well as the senior team this year.
His ambition now is to travel to England to further his education and improve his cricket.
"I couldn't have wished for a better start after selected for the national team, to take two wickets and bowl all 10 overs in my first game," Anwar said.
"I started off a pace bowler but changed to spin when I realised I didn't have the physical strength. Some of the coaches help me improve my skills as a bowler but it was the support from my family that really got me too this level."
Dias, who is on a two-year contract, said there was more young talent who were not available for tours because of their schooling.
"It is not easy to get them out of the school or university because we must understand their future is in academics. But I still think the MCA is on the right track to achieve their long-term objectives with a full-time cricket set-up."
Vythilingam says their biggest challenge is to generate funds. "What people don't realise is that Malaysia is now 30 in the ICC ranking and have moved from division six to division five in the World Cricket League," he said.
"We also won the Under 16 ACC Elite Cup for the first time, and that helps our cause to bring in more sponsorships from the sports council as well as from local business conglomerates."
The successes they have had recently have not gone unnoticed.
"The game is picking and the weekly television spot of 30 minutes is very valuable time as cricket hasn't had this exposure before," Vythilingam said.
"Hopefully the national team performing better brings in more people to the game."
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