Singapore Cricket Association (SCA) president Mahmood Gaznavi welcomed 2021 with mixed emotions. There was joy when the national team earned promotion to the 16-team global qualifiers for the T20 World Cup in 2022 after claiming the scalps of higher-ranked sides Scotland and Zimbabwe last year - a feat that saw them climb to No. 20 in the world rankings from 67, 12 years ago.
But there was also uncertainty and doubt, as gnawing at the back of Gaznavi's mind is the worry that the team will be hampered in their aim to qualify for a first World Cup if they continue without a dedicated training ground.
The yearly lease of Kallang Cricket Field, where the SCA had called home since 1995, was not renewed by Sport Singapore (SportSG) in December 2015 as it was earmarked for redevelopment. As a result, the team had to resort to travelling across the Causeway to train in Johor Baru because of the absence of a dedicated cricket facility here.
Gaznavi, who has been Singapore's cricket chief since 2015, told The Straits Times: "We can say (local) cricket is resilient. In spite of these setbacks we have worked hard and achieved results.
"But there is only so much of a journey we can make with this disadvantage. And we are at a point where, if this disadvantage continues, we will slip back and not advance."
A dedicated cricket ground would be vital for the SCA to improve the national team's standing and run development programmes autonomously, he said. A permanent venue would also give the team a home ground advantage against visiting teams, which can be decisive in cricket, he noted.
He said that in 2015 "an expectation was given to SCA" that it would get a new cricket ground around 2020, adding that there has been regular communication with national agency SportSG on the matter.
In the meantime, the national cricketers have been training at the Indian Association (IA) at Balestier Road after a five-year agreement was struck in mid-2018 to use its field. But the relationship has not been harmonious.
Gaznavi admitted the SCA-IA arrangement "hasn't always been a happy marriage" partly because the field is a shared facility - other sports such as football and hockey are played there - and also because SCA can use the ground only after 6.30pm. Gaznavi said: "There have been issues, and I can't say there have been no kinks that required ironing, but they were largely ironed out.
"Obviously IA has demands on the ground, and so has cricket. And those demands don't always end up being resolved because the demands can be mutually exclusive."
Gaznavi said SCA would ideally like to have indoor and outdoor facilities and a gym at its new home, but would prioritise what is needed based on resources afforded.
The association has no preference when it comes to location "as long as there is space", he said.
But SCA may have to bide its time for another two years. A SportSG spokesman said: "SportSG is working with relevant stakeholders in identifying and securing a permanent ground for the national team. In the meantime, SCA will continue to use the field at (IA) until 2023."
SportSG has provided support to improve the condition of the field for use by SCA, including the installation of floodlights, the spokesman added. "Any request for additional support will be subject to a review of SCA's detailed preparation plans and goals for the T20 World Cup qualifiers."
The spokesman also said that SportSG supports national sports associations' mutually agreed multi-year sports plans, which include detailed performance plans and targets, noting that SCA receives an annual grant for its programmes and initiatives, including field rental.
SCA received just under $1.4 million in government funding in the financial year ending March 2020, down from $1.94 million in 2019, and $1.56 million the year before.
The Straits Times
"We are at a point where, if this disadvantage continues, we will slip back and not advance."
- Singapore Cricket Association president Mahmood Gaznavi