ASHFAQ-UL-ISLAM: COACHING MYANMAR

Myanmar’s under-19s, December 2009

When did you first take charge of the Myanmar national side?
I took charge of the Myanmar under-19 team in October 2009. The closest project was the ACC Under -19 Challenge Cup and so we just concentrated on that alone. I took up the challenge of coaching Myanmar because I came from a Test-playing country and wanted to coach in a country where there are no facilities or cricket culture. I’ve taken it up in a positive way and it has started working.

Myanmar’s cricketers train indoors
Picture courtesy of MCF

What did you make of the cricket set-up in Myanmar on your arrival?
It was hard because Myanmar has very little cricketing facilities and their most popular game is football. Our team used to practice in a football field as well as in a school ground. The grounds are very sandy and uneven, therefore they’re not suitable for cricket. We have two concrete wickets in Bahaan ground but otherwise there is no other wicket. There is a lot of rain in Myanmar and since the grounds are not rolled it is difficult to hold ground or fielding practice. It is very risky for the players because they can get injured and I really don’t have many players to choose from.

What are the future plans at Myanmar Cricket?
MCF has new initiatives they are keen to implement which will help develop the game throughout the country. They have started their activities in different divisions. Myanmar has 14 divisions and the MCF have introduced the game in five of these divisions. It is still a newborn baby and we expect to hold a tournament soon and increase the number of teams in the near future.

There are some ACC projects like coaching and umpiring courses and MCF are keen to do that and have already started working on it. There are also some female cricketers and also 20 to 30 school teams but they’re completely new. We will try to recruit players from those schools and groom them over the years to play for Myanmar. There will definitely be more development activity like game education for everyone. A lot of fitness trainers and physios will also need to be brought in. We have a lot of plans but all of this will take some time to materialize. We also need to have some junior development programs.

What has been your main focus with these Under-19 boys?
With no cricket culture here, few have played cricket and not many have seen cricket other than in ACC tournaments. They also don’t have many competitors back home but we focussed on playing games against some Indians and Pakistanis who have a team. They have some good cricketers and are quite keen to support Myanmar cricket. They played against our team and over the past two months, the national team started winning against them.

Picture by Danny Bowes

The boys have started improving and I’ve worked closely with them to help develop the team. Their basic fitness was something that we worked on. After that I focused on skill development and finally the last three weeks before we came here we worked on their game sense. The training has paid off but we are a little upset because we aimed to reach the semi-finals of this tournament. Unfortunately we found out that there were other teams better than us. We have beaten Brunei here and maybe soon we will defeat China. Hopefully we will be more successful in the future tournaments. We need to progress through the rankings and in five years’ time we will be able to play ACC elite level cricket. It took Bhutan five years to get there and we would like to get there in the same time given at least the same amount of work if not more.

Picture by Danny Bowes

What will it take for Myanmar to compete against ACC elite level teams?
This ACC U-19 Challenge has been a great opportunity for them to play cricket with proper facilities because there is none of this back at home for them. There are no grounds, wickets or nets and this is the first time almost half the team is playing on a grassy outfield. The players can’t even dream of having these kinds of facilities back home. There is a new ground given by the government but it is yet to be developed by the ACC and MCF but it will take time. These kinds of games here will help the players learn more but without competition there is no alternative. You can measure their performance in training but they need these games to learn more. From playing in the middle they can teach themselves from competition so I hope they are learning right now. That is why we have planned to participate in any sort of ACC or ASEAN competitions.

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