Beyond the gully.
By Shradha Aswani
“Every cricketer of Indian descent will tell you that their cricket journey began from playing with other kids on the street,” Vichanath ‘Hunny’ Singh tells me with a smile, as he settles into his chair after ordering a signature cold brew in the quaint coff ee shop where we met. A semi-professional cricket player in his own words, Hunny currently leads the Thailand National Cricket Team as Captain, while juggling his day job as a brand manager in a jewellery company. Born in Thailand, his early childhood memories are from Delhi in India, where he spent his school years living with his chachu (paternal-uncle)and grandmother.
“My chachu was part of the Air India cricket team, and my first memories associated with the game are of watching those matches with him. I specifically remember one of Team India’s tours to New Zealand, during which he used to wake me up at three or four in the morning, India time, so that we could watch the matches together. For as long as I lived with him, we watched almost every one of their cricket matches.”
Hunny moved back to Thailand in his last year of school and continued his university in the Kingdom, where he started his cricket journey. “When I first moved to Thailand, years after studying in India, I did not even know that cricket was played here professionally since it was played within a very small community,” he unveils. “I was inducted to the cricket scene here by a few of my Indian friends, and encountered an ex-national player of Thailand who took me to a few of his club games and then sent me to the National Training Camp. I started playing as a part of the Under-17 (U-17) Thailand Team. My second tour was as part of the Under-19 (U-19) Team and in that tournament, I was appointed as the captain. To this day, that remains as one of the most chilling memories of my life, and the goosebumps I felt then still remain in the pit of my stomach.”
Since then, Hunny has been in a couple more international Under-19 tournaments before he started playing as part of, and leading, the Senior Cricket Team of Thailand. He speaks to Masala about how he continues to remain dedicated to the game whilst having a full-fledged day job, the discipline it takes to excel as a sportsman, and how he feels about representing the country at an international stage as a captain.
When did you realise that you liked cricket enough to make a career out of it? Was that an easy decision to make, and how did your parents respond to it?
I think I had a passion for sports from an early age, I competed well in many sports in my school days in India, even though I never trained for the game professionally. When I discovered that I could play the sport in Thailand, and that I was able to play and compete with decent proficiency, my passion rose significantly. I started devoting a lot of my time to my fitness, and fine-tuning my game whilst managing my university course simultaneously.
I knew that I could not devote all my time on the sport alone, seeing as Thailand was still a growing country in cricket and far behind the top-level international countries. It was not possible to survive on the compensation that came from cricket alone, so I always knew that I had to have a separate career, while continuing to play for the love of the game. That is why I say that I am a semi-professional cricket player. The
fact that both my parents were supportive of my journey made it easier, and that has led me to be able to play consistently in the Thailand circuit so far.
Sports tend to have a deep impact on one’s personality, considering they require you to push your limits, over and over. How would you say cricket has shaped you as a person?
I agree. Sports does impact your personality significantly. For me, the effect was not just on my fitness, speed
and skills, or my physical stamina. The game actually affected my social skills. My ability to communicate with my teammates and handle situations of pressure have nourished the values of leadership in me. Moreover, I’d always been a shy kid who spoke less and was more of an introvert. Over the years, I have been able to polish my ability to connect with people, not just on-field, but off-field as well. In fact, most of my friends are fellow cricketers. They are the ones I hang out with even when we are not touring or playing tournaments.
It seems that most of your world is weaved around cricket. How does this impact your personal life?
All of my life is built around cricket, indeed! [Laughs] In fact, during the times when a tournament is approaching, I have to train twice a day. When we were going for the SEA Tour, which is short for the Southeast Asian Games T20, I used to wake up at about four in the morning to go for my training which was at the far end of town, then come back and go to work, and then go back to train in the evening. I barely had time to sleep, let alone anything else.
So, the game does take up a lot of my life, and it does affect the time I get with my family, but when you go
through with it all, and score a victory, like the bronze medal we won at the SEA Games, everything seems
worth it. Also, there is the off -season, the times when I am in the city and not training for any tournament in
particular. I get to spend more time with my family then, and make up for all the moments I may have missed.
What are some of your strengths that add to your game and your role as a captain? What are the challenges that come with leading?
When I started playing in Thailand, I came in as a left-arm orthodox spin bowler, and one of the main things I was appreciated for, by my coach, teammates, and competitors, was the consistency and speed I bowled at. This has proved to be a major asset.
The other strength that added to my game and allowed me to lead my team well was my calm. Because I was calm while we were playing, I was able to gauge the game and strategise better, alongside being able to successfully communicate with my team, control my players, and fully understand the game. I have had a very supportive team throughout my leadership role, and the connection we had with each other was the biggest advantage we had as team.
What I value most, from this decade that I have spent playing cricket, is the mutual respect I have managed to build with players across the board, including teammates from my U-17 and U-19 teams, colleagues from the Senior Team, or even players from opposing teams.
How would you describe the cricket scene in Thailand? What have your experiences been being part of, and leading, a Thai national team as a Thai-Indian?
Cricket is progressing fast within Thailand, with a huge number of players that are being trained in different parts of the Kingdom. Cricketing communities and coaching staff are now well spread out in different provinces, and in schools within them. There is also a small but growing expat and Thai-Indian community playing regular cricket at the club-level in Bangkok and in other provinces. Women in Thailand, particularly, are playing much better on an international level. The Thai Women’s National Cricket Team is performing much better and is much higher on the global scoreboard than their male counterparts! So the cricket scene is definitely booming.
I’ve had great experiences being part of the Thailand cricket set-up. Since playing for the U-17s, the U-19s, and now playing for an international team and touring for different tournaments, I have greatly enjoyed the camp sessions, training with the group, hanging out, ganging up, or even playing pranks with coaches and teammates. The country has given me great exposure and a different sense of belonging.
Most professional sportspeople retire from the game in their prime – do you plan to follow suit, and what are your plans for the future?
Yes, true. I won’t deny that many players hang up their boots in their prime. For me I would say I am aiming to last for a few more years and will probably call it a day once I feel I am blocking another good talent spot or I am not able to give my 100 percent to the game. I currently manage both my work life and cricket, and would like to take it on till I am capable. The day I am not feeling it, or am unable to contribute to my team, I will make room for someone new.
Rahul Dravid has been my favourite cricket player, and I have been following his career since my childhood. I also enjoy watching Yuvraj Singh and Hashim Amla. From the current crop of players, I would pick Mohammad Rizwan and Suryakumar Yadav (SKY).
Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He is just too good, and is always calm and composed.
India, of course. But I do enjoy watching New Zealand as well.
Test cricket. It’s the real deal. Even though Thailand doesn’t play Test, I love watching it.
Favourite Cricket Memory:
Winning the bronze medal at the SEA games for Thailand in 2017. From looking at the crowded stadium while walking to the fi eld, to standing on the podium to take the medal, it was all surreal.