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Stylish batsman and former Malaysian captain Suhan Alagaratnam took some time out of his busy schedule to reflect on his decade in international cricket. Suhan is one of Malaysia’s highest ever run scorers with over 3000 runs and being only 28, he could well go onto reach the top.
Q. How and when did you first get into cricket?
A. Playing on the road in my home town Banting, Selangor with friends (especially Joshua Mahadevan) who introduced the game to me in his housing compound. Most of those who played on that street went on to represent the country in age group at least. I’m very proud of our cricket from a small town.
Q. Do you base your batting style on any player or is it your own style?
A. Love big Jacques Kallis. He was my favourite, always calm and cool and kept his head still when hitting the ball. Especially Test cricket, a gem to watch with brilliant technique.
Q. Who are your favourite cricketers?
A. Modern day cricketers are all wonderful to watch because they improvise so well. If you ask me to pick then I would go with Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid, Shane Warne and our own gem Suresh Navaratnam.
Q. Favourite moment as a Malaysian player?
A. To debut for Malaysia vs Singapore in 2005. Honoured to lead my country from December 2008 to December 2013 in all formats. 2010 Air Niugini Supa Series champions in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Personal milestone – best batsman of the 2008 ACC Trophy Elite.
Q. What’s your best ever innings for Malaysia?
A. Love all the 3 tons that I’ve made, especially the one against Singapore in Division 3 last year (considering the form I was in and the lack of support and preparation I was battling with). But the 80* vs Guernsey would be right up there from 2009 Division 6 at the Indian Association Ground, Singapore where I paced it nicely to win with 5 balls to spare.
Q. You have been part of the national team for the last 10 years, how has Malaysian cricket changed between now and then?
A. Definitely it has improved as statistics will show you our progress but it was always a process to achieve this from a decade ago I reckon. Crucially in the last 3 to 4 years we’ve had almost the same group of players which is important in building a team to win tournaments. For example, Faiz probably averaged around 12ish batting at 3 for us from 2010 to 2013 but it’s a process giving him the support and believing in him to deliver the goods, a.k.a mature. Everyone has played a role I would say. There were no heroes for me, it was always a team effort.
Q. Toughest bowler you have played against?
A. Afghan quick Hamid Hassan was always a threat in the Asian cricket scene (skiddy, pace and deadly yorkers) but Ashley Noffke from Western Australia would definitely be right up there with his pace and bounce (Malaysia vs WA at Kinrara in 2010).
Q. There are a lot of talented youngsters in Malaysia, which players do you think will do well for Malaysia in the future?
A. There’s actually many of them and will be too much to list down but if you ask me to pick it will be Kuala Lumpur fast bowler Hafiz Khair (16 years). Strong boy and could definitely bowl gas with the right guidance and attitude. “Talent is always halfway, the rest is all hard work” – I live by this.
Q. What is your favourite format of cricket?
A. Test cricket no doubt or the 2 day game, although we don’t play as much of it in Malaysia as we should. It’s the essence of cricket I believe and if you can do well in this form of the game, then you should be able to adapt to the other formats pretty easily. As a batsman this format has taught me so much (in particular playing as an overseas player for 4 seasons in Australia).
Q. You captained the national team for a number of years, how was that experience?
A. Very honoured as mentioned before but more importantly trying to win games for my country and leading by example on and off the field. It was challenging at times going through 4 different coaches and managing senior players at 23 was quite the experience.
Q. You struggled for runs in 2014 but in the final match of the year (Division 3 play-off vs Singapore), you managed to score a hundred. How important was that innings for your career?
A. I always believe that if I prepared myself as best as possible there was always a chance I’ll get starts but will then need to put my head down and build an innings. That’s what happened I reckon. It’s good to be back among the runs for Malaysia as runs were flowing in the domestic scene, not sure why there was a slight dip of form in the national team setup.
Q. How did you get out of that bad run of form, was it just a case of needing some luck or did you try anything different?
A. I reckon it was a combination of concentration and preparation. Having to sit out for a couple of games in between did not make it any better. However, I thought spending a bit more time with my friends and the ground staff (Kinrara groundsman) in the nets was rewarding as I mostly train alone at night. Preparing myself mentally and physically as best as possible was probably it. I reckon the touch was still there but I definitely needed more support as my 550 odd runs at an average of 23 for 2014 could have been slightly better which maybe could have reversed a few results.
Q. Malaysia disappointed at the recent ACC Twenty20 Cup, why do you think that was?
A. We definitely did not play to our potential, maybe glimpses sometimes, and we were beaten by better sides which executed their game plans well. The intensity of preparation was under par I suppose, we were not ready with a plan going into matches.
Q. Despite the team’s performance, you managed to have a great tournament with the bat. Do you feel you are getting back to your best?
A. As mentioned, I was always hitting it in the middle but just lacked preparation (matches, practice etc). Cause it’s how much you put in, that much you will get out of it. Getting back among the runs was pleasing but for me it was always the team result that mattered. If we had won, it would always have been Malaysia that won not any individuals.
Q. You have been very successful as an opener in T20s, is that something you would like to do in the 50 over format or do you prefer to bat in the middle order?
A. To be honest, I have only opened in the last 8 T20s as previously I had always batted at 4 in all formats and averaged 45+ before I resigned as captain. But again it is always team first for me, therefore I wasn’t particular about where I batted in the order. I would only be batting at that position because the team believes I could deliver runs in that position.
Q. Could you briefly explain what it was like to play alongside two of Malaysia’s all-time greats Suresh Navaratnam and Rakesh Madhavan?
A. Hands down they would probably be among the best if not the best cricketers to ever play for Malaysia. The stats will definitely back that up. But more importantly the example they set – work ethic, commitment, hard work, passion for the game and the team which sets them in a different league. There are very few of these characters going around nowadays sadly. It was very disappointing to see the management and the association sitting both of them out for their last game for the country. Never would happen in any part of the world – an utter disgrace.
Q. With the next international match to take place in July, what will you be doing up until then?
A. Working I guess to build a career and earn a living. Actually I’m used to this a lot as I train by myself and will play in the domestic league and Singapore League. So there is a lot of domestic cricket to be played and hopefully MCA will organise a couple of international tournaments or tours to make sure we are playing a good standard of cricket to be ready for Division 3 – 18 months from now.
Q. What are your aims for the future? Is there anything you particularly want to achieve in the rest of your cricket career?
A. As long as I’m fit, I would like to play as long as I can for Malaysia and with my coaching credentials (Cricket Australia Level 2), I would like to contribute back to the game at some point. Would still love to go back to Australia for a couple more seasons if possible.
Q. Finally, who do you think will win the World Cup?
A. The host countries will probably have the best chance because of the conditions. Having watched a couple of matches over in Australia, other teams will have to do really well to come up on top. Australia or New Zealand to win.
Thank you to Suhan for a very interesting Q&A. Fascinating insights into the successes and challenges of his cricket career so far.