To win the Singapore Cricket Association's (SCA) Division One league is a tall order.
To claim its Division One, Two and Three titles in the same season is a phenomenal feat. Singapore Indian Association's (IA) Eagles, Hawks and Falcons teams did just that in the 2014-2015 campaign, a first for a cricketing outfit in Singapore since the SCA league took shape 50 years ago.
To cap it, their players garnered eight of the nine individual honours in the three divisions at the SCA Awards Night on June 14.
To observers of Singapore cricket, this has come as a surprise, for IA's top teams had been virtually fighting for survival since they last won the Division One title in 2005. On a couple of occasions, the Eagles were even involved in relegation playoffs to just remain in Division One.
"The results were telling. There was a lack of discipline, attempts at strategies were amateurish, players' availability was always in doubt and overall there was a lack of focus," admitted IA's vice-president V.P. Jothi. "IA's cricket was in free fall and to right the trend, the management decided that a concerted effort should be put into the association's core sport which enjoyed its glory days in the '60s and '70s."
Football is now played only socially at IA's ground on Balestier Road. And field hockey has become extinct there after the sport switched to artificial turf. To keep its cricket flag flying high, Jothi and former Singapore national team player C. Nantha Kumar embarked on an ambitious plan to woo young, quality players, instil order, determination and teamwork and drive the players to play competitively and aggressively.
"It worked brilliantly," pointed out captain of the Falcons George Dantas, who has been an IA player since 1999. "The players no longer treated the league as a fun event. They realised that they had the support of the IA management and would be rewarded if they performed well."
The management's cause was aided to a big extent by the dissolution of the Lanka Lions team, unprecedented six-time consecutive winners of Division One in the preceding years.
Jothi and Co were able to poach the likes of seasoned campaigners Chetan Suryawanshi and Chaminda Ruwan and young upstart Karthick Subramanian. Moreover, they roped in raw talents like Surendran Chandramohan, who had begun to make a mark in Division Four with his big hitting for Jelutong Cricket Club, and beefed up the squads with promising members of its academy.
"Young players were motivated to join IA because it is a big club," said Subramanian, who bagged SCA's best batsman and all-rounder awards for Division Two by scoring 662 runs (average 94.57) in 12 matches and taking 25 wickets (average 12.1). "They knew that if they performed consistently well they could rise up the ranks and get noticed by the national team selectors."
Merit and motivation were key to IA's success. The management could pick from only a pool of 35 players, all employed and students, since the SCA's nine divisions involve around 110 teams who vie among themselves for all the good ones.
Making the available players concentrate and perform to high standards on a regular basis required net practice, warm-up games, a proper kit and the booster that they could play in the top division on performance alone regardless of age or stature.
"The Eagles clicked because the players, including three from the Malaysian national team, jelled quickly, showed splendid teamwork and performed well when they had to," said captain Suryawanshi. "We lost one match against Ceylon Sports Club (CSC). But the rest of the campaign was a cruise as we won the Division One title by a margin of 29 points from second-placed CSC."
Similarly, the Hawks won Division Two by a margin of 33 points.
The Falcons encountered a tougher test in Division Three, finally emerging winners by eight points over second-placed Thanjai CC. "The teams did very well because members of the management were present at all our matches, home and away, to guide us," said Chandramohan, who was the outstanding batsman and all-rounder in Division Three with a century and three fifties to his name.
"Usually a cricketer has to spend about $1,000 a year from his pocket to play in the league. IA charges us only $360 a year, while a student-player needs to pay only $145. Nets are free, we get to practise in the night, and we get proper attire. Such facilities are not offered by any other club."
IA's return to prominence and its efforts to streamline its cricketing operations have been lauded by the cricketing fraternity too. "IA's dominance of the league is by reason of their resolve to build strong teams and spread their talent across the top divisions.
Their reserve players are as good as the ones they replace," said SCA's deputy president Mahmood Gaznavi. Added president of the Lanka Lions Sanjaya de Silva: "IA deserve to be winners because they put in a lot of effort.Their will to excel has raised the standards and is good for the future of Singapore cricket."
The association's achievement on the field is cause for celebration, but its management does not plan to rest on its laurels. "We plan to sustain our winning run," said Jothi. "We are constantly looking to refine our formula and get the best talent as otherwise it becomes a weekend tamasha. We are not treating it as a one-time achievement. But we know that even winning two titles in a season from now on would be an achievement."
The Eagles, unless they falter badly in their last match, are already assured of the title in the new season, while the Hawks have won three of their four matches to date. Only the Falcons have had a relatively poor start: losing three of their six matches. email@example.com
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