Sports facilities squeeze

Cricketers training out of Singapore

Right: Singapore's Saad Khan Janjua bowls in a match against Bahrain. Singapore were crowned WCL Division 6 champions after winning by 68 runs in the 2009 final at Kallang. Far right: ActiveSG Football Academy participants training at the Kallang Cri
Singapore taking on Malaysia (in blue) for the Stan Nagaiah Trophy. The Republic beat their Causeway rivals 2-0 at the Johor Cricket Academy Oval last month to secure the annual series. PHOTO COURTESY OF MALAYSIAN CRICKET ASSOCIATION
Right: Singapore's Saad Khan Janjua bowls in a match against Bahrain. Singapore were crowned WCL Division 6 champions after winning by 68 runs in the 2009 final at Kallang. Far right: ActiveSG Football Academy participants training at the Kallang Cri
Singapore’s Saad Khan Janjua bowls in a match against Bahrain. Singapore were crowned WCL Division 6 champions after winning by 68 runs in the 2009 final at Kallang. ST FILE PHOTO
Right: Singapore's Saad Khan Janjua bowls in a match against Bahrain. Singapore were crowned WCL Division 6 champions after winning by 68 runs in the 2009 final at Kallang. Far right: ActiveSG Football Academy participants training at the Kallang Cri
ActiveSG Football Academy participants training at the Kallang Cricket Field in October. PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE

Senior national side and U-19s train in Johor ahead of key tournaments, as Kallang field being used by ActiveSG

Since September, the "home ground" of the Singapore cricket team has been overseas, the Johor Cricket Academy (JCA) Oval at Mutiara Rini to be specific.

Despite having to endure unfamiliar pitch conditions and the fact that few supporters were willing to travel across the Causeway to watch them, they still managed to beat Malaysia and claim the Stan Nagaiah Trophy and the Saudara Cup last month.

The trip to Johor Bahru entails a 70km round trip by coach. The latest team to have to make the journey were the national Under-19 team, who were preparing for the ongoing Asia Cup in Sri Lanka.

Said national captain Chetan Suryawanshi, who is also the manager of the U-19s: "Leaving for JB at six in the morning and returning home at nine in the night was difficult for them. They were struggling because of the lack of facilities at home. I hope something will be done quickly about this."

The situation is hardly ideal given the national team have to prepare for next year's World Cricket League (WCL) Division 3 matches - to be played in Uganda from May 23-30 - and the Aug 19-31 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur without proper training facilities at home.

This, after the Kallang Cricket Field (KCF), which they called their home since 1995, was taken from them in December last year to be redeveloped for community sporting activities.

NO GROUNDS FOR CELEBRATION

It is disappointing that, after climbing up the ladder in world cricket... we do not have proper facilities to train and play matches.

CHETAN SURYAWANSHI , Singapore cricket captain, on the national teams being left without a ground they can call home.

WE HAVE TO PLAY BALL

We expressed our sentiment clearly that the situation was not ideal, but we understood that it was not our entitlement.

MAHMOOD GAZNAVI , Singapore Cricket Association president, acknowledges that SportSG had every right to take back the Kallang Cricket Field.

PART OF A MASTER PLAN

The site was also reviewed as part of a larger Sports Facilities Master Plan which saw it being earmarked for football and other sports.

LIM HONG KHIANG , chief of sports facilities at SportSG, explaining why the Kallang Cricket Field, which is owned by SportSG, was not leased to the SCA this year.

Sport Singapore (SportSG), which owns the KCF, had leased it to the Singapore Cricket Association (SCA) on a yearly basis.

The two other first-class standard turf pitches in Singapore - at the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC) and the Singapore Indian Association (IA) - were not available to host the Stan Nagaiah Trophy and the Saudara Cup.

Prior to September, the national team had to make do without training sessions. Players had to rely on league games in the SCA Division 1 to maintain match sharpness.

Homeground advantage is particularly crucial in cricket as teams can prepare the pitch according to their strengths, will know whether to bat or bowl first, be aware of the weather patterns, and field a starting XI who will fit in with the conditions.

Added Suryawanshi, 31: "It is disappointing that, after climbing up the ladder in world cricket and with big tournaments coming up, we do not have proper facilities to train and play matches."

Singapore are ranked 24th out of 105 national teams who figure in the International Cricket Council rankings, having climbed 15 places in eight years. They play in the WCL Division 3, three tiers below the elite Test level.

SCA president Mahmood Gaznavi said the association was surprised when the KCF was taken away by SportSG.

"We expressed our sentiment clearly that the situation was not ideal, but we understood that it was not our entitlement and we will have to work closely with SportSG," he said.

"We don't know under what constraints it was working under, but definitely its intention was not to hurt cricket, because every other sport in the vicinity appeared to be affected."

Lim Hong Khiang, chief of sports facilities at SportSG, told The Sunday Times that the SCA's temporary occupation licence for the KCF expired on Dec 31 last year.

"The site was also reviewed as part of a larger Sports Facilities Master Plan which saw it being earmarked for football and other sports," he said.

"The ActiveSG Football Academy has commenced programming at the Kallang Field, with other community sport activities to follow."

According to Gaznavi, 54, the SCA asked SportSG to provide an alternative ground, but SportSG said it may do so only in 2020-21.

"For the short term, they offered the ground at Farrer Park, but that was not suitable for the national team," he said.

"It is a public area and not fenced up, and the permits required to make it safe were not in place."

SportSG then offered to help link the SCA to ground owners who have turf wickets, like the IA, but such a tie-up can be expensive and the grounds are often not available for the national team.

Clubs like IA and SCC have their own match and training commitments. SCC, for instance, has seven teams.

Lim said: "SportSG has been engaging the SCA to offer assistance while we explore the prospect for a more permanent facility.

"This process requires careful planning and consequently time as it is dependent on space availability and suitability.

"We have also considered SCA's high performance plan and promotion of the sport to the community, among other factors."

Until a solution is found, the national team members have no choice but to train and play warm-up matches in Johor.

"It is a pity," said former national captain Stacey Muruthi, 64.

"Our U-19 boys are among the top eight in Asia and next year, we have a good chance of winning gold at the SEA Games.

"To play good cricket, we need a good ground, especially turf wickets. It is a must to get a ground for the national team.

"Good facilities are required for our boys to continue to play good cricket."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'Cricketers training out of Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe