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Curtains for Malaysia's Kinrara Oval

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As Malaysia's cricketers went down to defeat at the hands of Tony Ura and Papua New Guinea at Kathmandu, word came of a far costlier off-field defeat back in Kuala Lumpur, leaving the team uncertain of what they will be coming home to after the ongoing trilateral series. After years wrangling between the Malaysia Cricket Association and their landlords, property developers Perumahan Kinrara Berhad, Kuala Lumpur's storied Kinrara Oval, which also serves as an administrative and residential facility for the MCA, has shut its gates for what seems almost certain to be the final time.

MCA assets at the ground are set to go to auction today (April 1) to cover arrears in assessment fees to the local land office reportedly exceeding RM1.8 million. The writing has been on the wall for the venue at least since the ruling of the Shah Alam High Court on March 17 authorising PKB, who had kept up the payments in lieu of MCA, to auction furnishings, equipment and other assets at the ground to pay toward the outstanding sum. It is the latest ruling to go against the MCA in their long-running battle to save their flagship facility, one of just a handful of ODI-standard grounds in South East Asia, from being repurposed for commercial development. Of these the most significant was the rejection of the MCA's contention that, as the MCA is a non-profit sporting organisation, that the tariff in question ought to have been set at the rate for recreational rather than commercial property.

Three years ago, a grass-roots campaign to save Kinrara prompted the Malaysian government to intervene and grant the ground a stay of execution, but it seems as though time has run out for the facility as a sporting venue. On what he called "sad day for cricket in Malaysia" MCA president Mohammed Iqbal Ali Kassim Ali said in a statement: "our concerns turn to the national players, who will now need to be housed elsewhere and the 42 full-time staff, who are understandably concerned."

MCA's flagship facility, widely recognised as one of the finest grounds in the Associate world, also served regional development hub, and both an administrative and residential headquarters for Malyasia's cricketers. One of the few Associate grounds to have hosted full-member ODIs, Kinrara was the site of Sachin Tendulkar's 141* against the West Indies in a trilateral series with Australia in 2006, and of Michael Hussey's maiden ODI ton in the same series, and where Virat Kohli's India lifted the Under 19 World Cup in 2018. In recent years it has also been a popular choice for lower-tier ICC tournaments, hosting a number of WCL divisional tournaments and regional T20 qualifier events over the years.

More importantly, however, it has been the springboard for cricket's steady growth in the country over the past decade. While Malaysia's on-field progress has been solid but unspectacular, currently playing in the CWC Challenge Leagues a tier below ODI status Associates, and despite occasionally impressing in the shorter format (as in their win against Papua New Guinea last week, a high-scoring tie against the Netherlands last April, or sweeping a five-match series against Hong Kong in their most recent home internationals at Kinrara), Malaysia have yet to progress beyond regional qualifying on the T20 international ladder. Off the field Malaysia are thriving, however, ranking among the top handful of Associates in Tier 1 on the ICC's scorecard - which takes account of participation and development indicators as well as on field performance.

The use of the Kinrara Oval has been foundational to that success. At the time of the previous dispute then MCA president Mahinda Vallipuram estimated the value of the use of the ground, its accommodations and facilities to be somewhere in the region of USD 150,000 a year to Malaysia Cricket, and the cost of replicating it elsewhere considerably more. But situated on prime real estate in the suburb of Puchong to the south of Kuala Lumpur, its value to PKB as a potential commercial development is likely significantly greater.

"With regards to the recent judgement, we respect the rule of law and will endeavour to settle the outstanding amount as ruled by the court ... MCA is up to date with statutory payments, including those to the Land Office," Iqbal Ali avers in the statement. "The tariff for quit rent was based on sports and recreation. As a non-profit organisation and the national sporting association with Kinrara Oval as the home of cricket in Malaysia, we strongly believed that the Subang Jaya City Council (MBSJ) tariff for assessment should have been based on sports and recreation instead of a commercial rate. It was for this reason we had disputed the tariff and were taken to court, on which the judgement came against us."

While there are several other grounds in Kuala Lumpur, none can replicate Kinrara's role as a centre for administration, events and training; not to mention accommodating many of Malaysia's players. Indeed there are few comparable venues anywhere in the region, with several of Malaysia's neighbours also making use of the ground for training camps and regional bilateral series in the past. The shuttering and eventual bulldozing of the ground, which now seems inevitable, will come as a blow not just to Malaysian cricket, but to the game in the wider region.

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