Building on the recent interview with Arjun Menon which provided an insight into the development of cricket in Malawi, Emerging Cricket now speaks with Vivek Ganesan, the governing body’s president, who sheds further light on the game in the south-eastern African nation.
After previously forming part of a combined ‘East and Central Africa’ team, Malawi became an ICC member in its own right in 2003, but was suspended in 2011. Vivek “Vick” Ganesan was appointed president in 2014, which also coincided with the country having its membership of the global body reinstated.
Vick has overseen a tremendous amount of change during his tenure as president. But prior to focusing on the current situation, it is important to look further back to understand the sport’s journey, with the aid of Vick’s experience.
East and Central Africa cricket team
From 1966, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda were united through the East African team which was an Associate Member of the ICC, appearing at the 1975 and 1979 World Cups. Kenya broke away in 1981 and joined the ICC as an Associate Member, but the combined side continued until 1989, when East Africa was then expanded to include some Central African countries. The new ‘East and Central Africa’ side now represented Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia.
The team’s first game was against Denmark during 1990, taking place in The Netherlands. The combined team went on to play at four ICC Trophies, however, Uganda left the collective with the country being granted its own Associate Member status during 1998, and Tanzania the same in 2001. Finally, the body was disbanded in 2003 when Zambia also became an Associate while Malawi was granted the now-superseded status of Affiliate Member of the ICC.
When Vick was asked about what the disbandment of the team meant for cricket in Malawi, he replied by explaining that there were both positives and negatives. Whilst being open about the issue stating that he did not ‘know enough about the structures at the time to be able to give you an accurate explanation’, he explained that Malawi failed to build upon whatever building blocks the East and Central African team left.
‘Since the disbandment, countries like Uganda & Tanzania have all performed well and have managed to implement sound development and pathway structures that have integrated local communities into the cricket culture in their respective countries. Malawi dropped the ball in this regard, (even though) we achieved cricket independence at the same time as Uganda and Tanzania.’
Malawi becoming an ICC Affiliate Member in its own right led to the creation of the Malawi Cricket Union in 2003, but this body was unable to capitalise on cricket’s potential.
The fall of the Union and the rise of the Academy
Prior to becoming president of Cricket Malawi, Vick started with no aims to become involved with cricket administration, instead started with a passion and an aim to ‘help make cricket more organic in Malawi’. He wished to turn sport away from its elitist background in the country, instead create an environment where cricket is a sport that ‘anyone can play regardless of gender, race, religion or class.’
In order to take a step towards achieving his hope of breaking down barriers, Vick along with a couple of friends set up ‘The Cricket Academy’ (TCA) in 2010 with ten local children and one small kit bag of cricket equipment. Completely self-funded, TCA developed basic structures whilst being able to attract more local children. By the end of 2013, the Academy had grown from coaching an initial 10 children to running programmes within 20 public schools in Blantyre between 2010-2013.
The message was clear from the start, TCA wanted to create an environment where the players, coaches and support staff lead by example and inspired young Malawians. As described during the conversation regarding the current sporting eco-system in Malawi, ‘there aren’t many good examples to follow or role models to look up to’, so there was the hope that creating an educational platform intertwining cricket and learning whilst giving children role models to look up too would lead to success.
Whilst the TCA was being set up and establishing itself within the Blantyre area, the Malawi Cricket Union (MCU) was on the verge of being suspended by the ICC. Vick was unaware of the situation that the then governing body of cricket within the country found itself in, however, when he initially started becoming involved with the MCU in 2010/2011 he was unimpressed.
‘I was not very impressed with the integrity or intentions of the board & administrators at the time, with the exception of one or two people, and MCU was run to benefit a select elite few. There were no pathway structures for Malawians or the want to get more ethnic Malawians involved in any impactful way,’ Vickreflected.
The Union became suspended as a member of the ICC during 2011 meaning that the country was unable to qualify for ICC funding or take part in any ICC related tournaments.
Taking over a ‘clean slate’
During 2014, Vick became president of the MCU where he quickly became aware of the situation surrounding Malawi’s cricket. He told Emerging Cricket that when he took the role in 2014, the associations financial state was shaky at best.
‘A financial audit of the association had not been done in four years and we were handed eight new cricket balls as assets and a few thousand dollars in the bank.’
It would not be an overstatement to suggest that when Vick first took over that cricket in Malawi was frozen in time, with no international cricket and extremely limited resources and no pathway systems.
Vick and the other members of the MCU realised that there was one positive to the current situation, and this was that they had a clean slate from which to work. Instead of having to ‘fix a broken system’, the MCU now had the opportunity ‘start with a clean slate.’ Due to the work that Vick and a number of committed volunteers had put into TCA, the academy was a successful one. As a result, one of the first actions of the board when he joined in 2014 was to make TCA the development partner of the MCU.
Attention then turned to getting Malawi back into the ICC. According to Vick, the first step was to get the ‘books in order, audited and put in place effective governance structures.’
‘Getting reliable people with the right skills and intentions in the right positions (was the first port of call). It was a challenge convincing these individuals to volunteer their time. As the program has evolved and improved so has the quality of our administration and the calibre of people getting involved and driving us.’
The second step was to actually understand the ICC’s processes, with KPIs set by the ICC and prioritising the areas that needed attention, like entry-level grassroots cricket.
‘We all have had to, and continue to, learn, adapt, evolve, make sacrifices and stretch every bit of our resources to get to where we are today and we have only just scratched the surface. That said, the little we have managed to achieve so far has had a big impact. I was more relieved than happy when we were reinstated, we were given a second chance. We are all very determined to make every moment count’.
Along the way, the MCU has formed a number of partnerships with individuals and institutions around the world, including former Irish international Andre Botha and South African legend Jonty Rhodes, Perth Cricket Academy and Lord’s Taverners Australia.
‘(These partnerships) have given our players, coaches & support staff a glimpse of the level of commitment and hard work it requires to compete at an elite level. The more we can strengthen these partnerships and forge new one the more our coaches, players & support staff will be inspired and will inspire others’.
The current climate and the new dawn
As previously reported by Emerging Cricket, the Malawi Cricket Union brand has now been replaced by Cricket Malawi, which has a much more outward-looking perspective. But the mission stays the same; to grow cricket and break down barriers to ensure that it is a sport for all.
The exciting rebranding process aims to create a cricketing organisation that belongs to Malawians. There was the feeling that the branding of the MCU had connotations of exclusivity and lacked any cultural relevance to Malawi. Therefore, when looking into how to create a brand for the Malawian population, there were a number of key points taken into consideration, including ensuring that the logo encaptured the flag of the country and a name which showed that it was a team and association for the people. The rebranding built upon the idea of having a clean slate with the association now being able to leave any connotations about its predecessors behind.
‘There was huge backlash when we started and there is still a lot of opposition to how we have opened the sport up, more Malawians are playing cricket now than ever before and continuing this will only broaden our foundation and increase our talents pool as a sport,’ Vick adds.
Netball and football are the major sports in Malawi and in order for cricket to grow, there is the understanding that cricket needs to stand up on its own rather than directly compete against these sports.
‘We want our sport to grow in participation, succeed on the global stage, deliver economic impact and be recognised for outstanding operational and governance practice.
The plan is to grow the game’s existing resources, we have no intention of being a drain on them’.
‘We now have a very dedicated team including directors, players, coaches, staff and volunteers who all contribute to our exciting programmes.
‘The more kids that have access to all of the more organic the sport becomes’.
‘Action speaks louder than words and we want to lead by example’.
Cricket Malawi has a clear message and direction, all the country needs now is the time and space to grow into its own.
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