Captain Fantastic

Malaysia’s captain Suresh Navaratnam, 29, undeniably the best all-rounder Malaysia has ever produced, talks about his journey up from the grass-roots to playing alongside the world’s best cricketers – all within the space of ten years.

“Cricket has been good to me.”

How and when did you start playing cricket?
“I started playing cricket when I was 13, but first saw the game when I was 12. I followed my father to the Kajang High School ground to build the cricket storeroom. I even helped him and the other senior players to plant grass at the ground.”

How did you learn to play?
“My school had a coach, Mr. K.M. Satchi; I watched my father play and I learned a lot by just watching him. I remember he had strong shoulders and could come in and bowl fast off just a few steps. He was the state javelin champion and was very active in sports. He could also hit the cricket ball really hard. He played for the state team for a couple of years.”

What did cricket mean to you in those early years?
“Right from my school days, I am never the one who would plan things. I would just take things as they come. I know for a fact that I was hooked onto cricket from the time I started playing. I loved playing cricket, spending time with the senior players, my friends, going for school and club training and since my father was a sportsman, I played other games like hockey and football. But cricket was the game that was most fun to play because it was so hard to get right all the time.”

“I was selected to play for my state U16 & U20 side, Selangor, when I was 15. When I was 17 years old, I was picked to play for the state senior team in the Malaysian league and I remember feeling very nervous because I was playing, while guys who are more senior than me were in the reserves. In my first game I took 4 -20 against Johor State and I guess I’ve never looked back since then. At that time, I wanted to play for Selangor, that’s it. Didn’t even think of playing for Malaysia let alone captaining my country.”

When did you make your debut for Malaysia?
“Immediately the next year I made my debut against Singapore. I was just very happy to be in the side. I felt more nervous making my debut for the state team than the national team. I was selected for the 1994 ICC Mini World Cup in Kenya, that was my breakthrough. Up to then, I was more of a bowler who fielded well. When we came back from Kenya, I was an all-rounder!”

How does someone go from being a ‘bit of this, bit of that’ cricketer to becoming an official ‘all-rounder’?
“A player has to be worth their place in the side as a batsman or a bowler alone, but fielding is another big part of it too. Catches, run-saving – all these are vital match-shaping things and I wouldn’t say no to a player who was a brilliant fielder foremost.”

“As a young man, one of my strengths and what got me noticed was my fielding. We had a Sri Lankan coach, Mumtaz Yusof and we did a lot of fielding practice. I love to field. I aim to perform in all aspects. If one aspect isn’t going well, I really try to contribute with the others. I always feel that you should push yourself more when you're doing something that you don’t like. As for me, I always wanted to do well in all departments, whether it is fielding, bowling or batting. I guess that’s what you will call an all-rounder. That keeps me in the game the all the time. Since debut, I have never been dropped from the Malaysian side, being rested only twice in the past 11 years.”

What does cricket mean to you now?
“Well, it started off with me just wanting to hit the ball like my dad, nothing more! Now cricket I can say is a career for me. In 2000, I was the first Malaysian to be paid to play cricket. Malaysian Malays made me a semi-pro. At the time, I had to make some really important decisions in life in general and taking the offer was part of it. It was good for more than me, because it made the cricketers in Malaysia realize that they can still play cricket at the same time, while taking care of their future. It’s never easy to balance the need to live with the desire to play. I am currently pursuing my MBA which would not have been possible if I was not playing cricket. Cricket has been good to me.”

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