A new sun rising over cricket in Malawi

After ICC readmission in 2014 cricket in Malawi has gone from strength to strength, Isaac Lockett takes a fresh look at the country's development in speaking with Cricket Malawi Operations Manager Arjun Menon.

After being suspended from the ICC in 2011, many would be unaware of the goings-on in Malawi’s cricketing journey. With the suspension being lifted in 2014, the newly rebranded Cricket Malawi, under a new administration, is a body with a clear ambition to grow the game and see it develop.

During February 2020, Arjun Menon was appointed the operations manager of Cricket Malawi on a three-year contract. He took on the role after five years with the Singapore Cricket Association as Game Development Manager. One of the major obstacles he is to overcome in Malawi is the need to raise awareness of cricket within the country.

As is the case in a majority of nations at a similar stage of development, cricket is not one of the major sports in the country. Instead, the majority of sporting household names in Malawi arise from the country’s world-renowned netball team, swimming talents or football stars.

The major reasons that sports like this have been able to grow and succeed over a long period of time is because they were established within the sporting culture of the country and therefore now are viewed as natural. Therefore, cricket not only must find where it fits into the sporting culture of Malawi but embed itself organically within society to ensure that young children are naturally able to try out the sport.  

Cricket Malawi and their development partner The Cricket Academy
The Cricket Academy is Cricket Malawi’s development wing (Photo: Cricket Malawi)

Speaking to Emerging Cricket, Menon explained that in order for cricket to grow within Malawi there are different methods required compared to other countries across the globe.

In Malawi, physical education is not written into the base curriculum and therefore to get cricket established within the mainstream sporting discourse the sport is unable to solely rely on the integration into the sporting system. Alongside this, as there are no physical education departments in schools, there are not the teachers to establish contact with; a method that has been very successful in aiding the development of cricket in other areas of the world. However, as Menon went on to describe, there has been a success when working with schools so provides evidence that schools can be a useful asset to aid growth even without a sport-specific department.

The president of Cricket Malawi, Vivek Ganesan runs his own academy called ‘The Cricket Academy’, which operates alongside the governing body as its cricket development wing. ‘The Cricket Academy’ has reportedly introduced cricket to about 125 schools across the three regions in Malawi since 2014. This means that the academy has been able to introduce cricket to around 6,000 children

Ganesan must be given praise for what cricket’s governing body in Malawi has achieved since becoming president in 2014. Ganesan has been able to create an operational team which includes a majority of ‘indigenous Malawians’. The homegrown members of the board would be added to provide an in-depth understanding of the local culture and understand what developmental concepts would work in the country’s current ecosystem. Menon believes that the work that Ganesan and his passionate and enthusiastic group of volunteers laid solid foundations for which both himself and Andre Botha, the Head Coach for Malawi & Former Irish International, have then able to build upon.

Menon, Ganesan, Botha and the rest of the Cricket Malawi team will be working towards the goals set out by the governing body. Menon described that the majority of his time will be dedicated to the concerted efforts to grow grassroots cricket in the country and this is the main target for Cricket Malawi at the present time.

Cricket Malawi women
(Photo: Cricket Malawi)

The efforts to grow the game are already taking place with a number of different initiatives taking place. Currently, there is the planning of a grassroots programme which is aimed at having a similar effect as the ‘All-Stars’ programme being delivered by the ECB or the KFC Mini-Cricket initiative in South Africa. There will also be the engagement with volunteers and government school teachers with the aim of educating them about how to run sessions for children; for example, the volunteers may be taught how to run sessions about how to catch, hit or bowl a ball. But the thing that Menon was quick to stress was that above all fun must be the priority of any cricketing session. Whilst the technical side of the game will become important further down the cricketing journey, fun should always be at the root of any sporting activity no matter what level an individual is at. Alongside this, there is to be an appreciation scheme for volunteers for their work and the empowerment of volunteers to go on and lead their own hubs in the future.

Finally, there is to be the running of culturally relevant taster sessions to introduce Malawian children to the sport. Menon did not want to give away too much prior to the launch of the initiatives but promised that there was to be an exciting official launch in which more details would be provided. However, when developing cricket within a nation there cannot simply be attention to on-field activities. 

Instead, there needs to be an administrative focus parallel to the on-field efforts. The major off-field development has been the rebranding of the administrative board. Previously, the administrative board of cricket was known as the Malawi Cricket Union, however, has been recently branded to Cricket Malawi. When speaking about the change, Menon stated that in his opinion the previous name created a separation between the organisation and the people who it serves. Therefore, one of the first major changes Menon has made in Malawi is the rebranding of the governing body. The project to rebrand the Malawi Cricket Union to Cricket Malawi started in March and was completed in April. Unfortunately, the official launch has not been possible due to COVID 19 and Menon hopes this will be done in September. Now cricket in the country has become one which is societally focused and will soon official have the brand to reflect that. 

Cricket Malawi team
Arjun Menon back, second from left with the team celebrating receiving the 2019 award for ‘The best-executed sport development program’ from Malawi Sport (Photo: Cricket Malawi)

The work in Malawi is just beginning and there are a lot of questions that are required to be answered. With the question of how to create an efficient pathway to ensure that once children play cricket at school that there is the ability for them to play club cricket and advance onto adult cricket still unclear, the amount of work that onlookers are still to see in Malawi is unquestioned. With the outbreak of COVID-19, it has not been an easy start to the job for Menon. One of his first actions as operations manager in the country was to cancel all cricketing activities. But, the pause in on-field action allowed for Cricket Malawi members to sit down and plan for the future of cricket in the country.

In order for cricket to be a success in the nation, Cricket Malawi is going to need help from a variety of stakeholders including the media. Menon has made a concerted effort to involve the media in his early stint in the country, inviting as many journalists as possible from a variety of different mediums to learn about cricket and to become involved the sport. There is the plan for a media day to be organised in which the media representatives will try out some tape ball cricket to try to increase their knowledge of the sport.  

Cricket in Malawi has been re-invigorated thanks to the passionate and ambitious work of individuals such as Menon and president Ganesan. Along with their passion and the awarding of ‘The best-executed sport development program’ from Malawi Sport in 2019, the future of cricket in the country promises to be an exciting one and in time could provide evidence of the positive work that is possible in Africa.

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