Muthumudalige now a success story in Kuwait | Sunday Observer

Muthumudalige now a success story in Kuwait

2 October, 2022
The Kuwait team
The Kuwait team

Former Ananda College and Sri Lanka cricketer Muthumudalige Pushpakumara is transforming another oasis in the desert into an ocean where cricket crazy expatriates in Kuwait can ply their passion professionally.

One of the finest schoolboy cricketers of his generation, all-rounder Pushpakumara could not achieve his full potential as a player but appears to enjoy more success as a coach.

He has taken up the challenge of guiding the fortunes of a country where football is king among locals in the Middle East but cricket fever is rampant among the expatriates, the majority of whom are from India and Pakistan.

There are more than 70 cricket clubs in Kuwait who play T20 or T/10 tournaments every weekend on cement wickets while there is only one ground which has turf pitches where it is difficult to play with spikes.

Ever since his appointment in 2019 as the national head coach and Development Manager of Kuwait Cricket Club, Pushpakumara has brought some method and organization in the domestic structure. There are about 10 or 12 teams competing in the division T20 competition for quite some time.

He achieved a significant breakthrough by offering contracts to 20 national players. In addition they were given incentives for winning international matches by way of a bonus and other awards for becoming best batter or bowler.

An Associate Member of the ICC (International Cricket Council) since 2005, Kuwait has been hovering around the top 25 nations in the T20 rankings since 2017. However, when Pushpakumara took charge they had slipped 30th in the rankings.

Under Pushpakumara’s stewardship, Kuwait beat UAE in the ACC (Asian Cricket Council) qualifying tournament for the Asia Cup in September and also played a bilateral T20 series against Bahrain in Oman for the first time which they won 4-1. They missed out on qualification for the Asia Cup after losing to Hong Kong after having beaten Singapore but cemented their place among the top 25 T20 playing nations in the world.

Two former first class cricketers who represented Saracens play a key role in Kuwait. Mohammad Aslam Mohammad Nawfer is the captain of the Kuwait team while opener Ravija Sandaruwan is their star batter. Among his coaching staff is another Sri Lankan Shashika Shehan who is the fielding coach.

Pushpakumara’s tenure as a coach has been disrupted by the outbreak of the Covid pandemic but he is making preparations to keep them in groove for regional competitions next year against countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran apart from UAE and Oman. His hands are full overseeing the under-19 and women’s national teams as consultant coach.

He is relishing the prospect of grooming the raw talent available in Kuwait to nurture them into a professional unit though they have a long way to go. Having retired prematurely from the sport in 2012 because of a nagging shoulder injury which required surgery, Pushpakumara continued to be involved by taking up coaching Mercantile teams and Sri Lanka Lawyers at their World Cup. A qualified ICC Level III certified coach, he also served as the spin bowling coach of Jaffna Kings in LPL 2.

A left-hand bat and off spinner, Pushpakumara swept all awards including the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer award in 1999. A member of the Sri Lanka Under-19 which finished runner-up to India in the Youth World Cup held in Colombo in 2000, he was adjudged the Most Outstanding Sportsman of the Year at the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Colours Awards Ceremony the same year.

The former Ananda captain Pushpakumara’s best performance in his cricketing career was when he stroked a sparkling century (134) which included 14 boundaries and a six in a ‘Test’ against England when the under-19 Sri Lanka team toured England. Pushpakumara also impressed with the bat and ball in two warm-up matches against England in March 2001, scoring a half century and being among the wickets but his breakthrough to the senior national team was not smooth sailing.

He represented major teams like Basnahira North, BCCSL Academy XI, Colombo District CA, Colts CC, John Keells Group, Sri Lanka ‘A’, Sri Lanka Board President’s XI, Sri Lanka Board under-23, Sri Lanka Board XI, SL Cricket President’s XI, Sri Lanka Emerging Team, Sri Lanka under-19s, Tamil Union, Uva Province and Western Province but made his Sri Lanka debut after sitting out on tours of Pakistan as an 18-year-old in 2000 and also against South Africa.

Ironically when he made his debut during the series against India in the fifth and final Test at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi in December 2009, the match was abandoned because of dangerous pitch. Pushpakumara has no regrets though having represented Sri Lanka in three one-day internationals and T20 internationals as well before injury forced him to make a career choice to become a coach which is paying rich dividends as far as Kuwait is concerned.