When you think of Bhutan, you think of snow-capped mountains, picturesque fields, and crystal clear streams. Cricket, perhaps, would be the last thing you would associate with the small kingdom of Bhutan, nestled in the heart of the Himalayas. Very few would know, however, that Bhutan has a thriving and budding cricket team, slowly making its mark.
Although cricket in Bhutan is still at a nascent stage – it was only in 2001 that the Bhutan Cricket Board was recognized by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and in 2003 it became a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) – the players have been striving hard to make Bhutan’s name count in the world cricket map. Even though they don’t have a proper cricket stadium to speak of till now, Bhutan has already competed in the ICC World Cricket League Division 8 in 2010 and was the finalist at the ACC Under-15 and Under-19 Challenge Cups.
Leading the charge for Bhutan cricket today is the captain of their men’s national cricket team – Jigme Singye. The 26-year-old is a passionate cricketer and aims to do his bit in taking Bhutan cricket ahead. In an interview to Caught at Point, Jigme shares some nuggets of his life as a cricketer in Bhutan, his role as a captain and the struggles that cricket in Bhutan is going through, among other things.
Being the captain of the national team is a huge responsibility. How has the experience been so far?
Jigme Singye: I have had the opportunity to captain various age groups (U15, U19, U23, and Senior Men) in the International tournaments for little more than a decade now and I still find a captain’s responsibility difficult. But over the years, experience has definitely helped me to work with myself and more importantly with the players. In the initial stages, I used to take more pressure on myself and try to control things that aren’t within my control at all; but now I try to bring all the positivity in the team, help players to be on their best mentally, lift myself up and be at my best to indirectly lift my players up, and control only the controllable. And gradually, I have become more prepared technically and in attitude wise as well.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Did an interest in cricket come naturally to you or was it only because of your cousin brother who had already played the sport at a professional level?
Well, it’s a bit of both; I got introduced to this beautiful game of cricket by the help of my cousin brother(s) and an interest in the game naturally came to me afterward. I think the introduction of television had a role as well in getting me inclined to this sport.
Bhutan isn’t known for cricket. Share some of your experiences of playing cricket as a youngster in your country. How and where did you practice and learn the technicalities of the game?
Bhutan isn’t known for cricket but oddly, cricket is the only sport in Bhutan that actually brought home a championship trophy for the country. And cricket used to be played just for fun previously, but it wasn’t really taken seriously. Things have changed now.
I started playing cricket at the age of 11 and I still remember receiving my initial training from Coach Daniel where a huge group of students from all around Thimphu would come to the Changlimithang ground to get cricket coaching. But I would never be satisfied with the coaching at the ground as I couldn’t get enough time to spend with the coach personally. Also, being a shy kid did not help. So, I used to go back home and play with my two friends (Choejor and Sagar) at our colony parking place in our own liberty, until dusk.
My cousin brother Tashi once brought home a cricket manual book, where all the technicalities of the game were explained in details in it. I still have it at my place, well preserved. From there, I learned quite of a bit of insight regarding cricket and my biggest learning I feel was how to bowl a wrong’un. At the end of the day, coaching at Changlimithang did help me to pick up technicalities of the game and playing at the parking space with childhood friends and that manual book helped me build curiosity with a touch of love for the game.
How would you describe yourself as a leader? What has been your biggest challenge as Bhutan’s captain?
I think I am a man of few words. As a leader of the side, I tend to not speak too much but only when necessary. I am always a helping hand in the team and, on a personal level, I always want to give everything for the team. I am a calm person; so naturally, it has reflected in my leadership. However, my biggest challenge until now was during the time I had to captain the side when most of the players in the squad were all senior to me. To be honest, you are always in a difficult situation when you have senior players in the side and you are given the responsibility to captain the team in any sort of team sport I suppose. In my case, many did have dissenting opinions towards my decisions on the field which made it more challenging for me in the next games, but I had to learn my own things and challenges like these only made me tougher at the end of the day.
Give us a peek into your daily routine. How do you prepare for the game? And since cricket season isn’t regular in Bhutan, how do you maintain your fitness in the off-season?
Before going to bed, I usually visualize about all the good games I had so far; how I scored runs, took wickets, and catches. Visualizing before the night and taking it all to my sleep, always helps me to have the right approach towards the game.
Wake up early and sort my kit bag and get all the necessary types of equipment in it. (something I do not like to do before the game night).
Have a good breakfast.
Reach the ground 90 minutes before the start of the play.
After the team warm-ups, I go to nets to have a bit of throw down and bowling for 10 minutes.
Then I leave it up to mental side; to structure my approaches towards the game in play, well in accordance with the situation.
Lose or win, play your part in respecting the opposition team – I keep telling myself that.
A good cool down to finish off the game day and head home.
At the end of the day, I note down all the things I did right and all the mistakes I had made.
During the off-season, I play other sports such as football and basketball, which helps me to remain active. And when I don’t have football or basketball to play, I go for a run around Thimphu, and at times go hiking or trekking into the mountains with friends.
How would you describe yourself as a batsman? Is there any international cricketer that has inspired you?
To be honest, I do not consider myself as a hard-hitting batsman. But the likes of Kevin Pietersen and AB De Villiers have definitely inspired me to play big shots. However, the biggest international cricketer that inspired me to bat is Rahul Dravid.
I always tried, in my early days of cricket, to emulate his batting style and technique. So, I can say, I am more of a “look for the singles and build a partnership” batsman.
In the last 10 years, international cricket has changed significantly. What would you say about Bhutan cricket? How much has it evolved in the past decade and which areas do you believe there is still some work required?
Cricket in Bhutan has definitely changed over the last 10 years. It has certainly seen an increase in the number of public participation in the games and more domestic tournaments are being organized each year. Large sections of the people have become aware of cricket and understand what it could bring for the country, except for the government. Watching tournaments like the Indian Premier League and various other T20 leagues have helped in bringing changes in the mindset of the people in Bhutan, I believe. However, the biggest drawback is that we still do not have one proper cricket ground which is shocking to most of the outsiders despite all the achievements by Cricket Bhutan. So, I believe, there is still a lot of work required, mostly in the infrastructure department.
If you had to look back at your career, what would you say have been your defining moments – both from domestic and international cricket?
In international cricket, the U-15 ACC Challenge Cup 2005 has been the most defining tournament for me because firstly, it was the first time Bhutan had reached the finals of an international tournament and I received the best batsman of the tournament award as well. Secondly, I have received a scholarship to study in Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Thailand, where my (late) Coach David Buck who was a Lv.3 (ECB) qualified, provided all the coaching and training I required to further hone my cricket.
I am so grateful to David Buck for making me a better cricketer.
Is interest in cricket rising in Bhutan? How do fans react to the team’s wins and losses? I remember speaking to your ex-vice-captain Tshering Dorji a few years back and he had said that the cricket fans in Bhutan are very emotional like Indians. Is that still the case?
Interest in cricket is definitely rising in Bhutan. People in Bhutan are mostly aware of how their team is doing and they keep up with all the news of the game. Whenever we have international tournaments, we can definitely feel that they are right behind us, although not through physical presence but they are there cheering for us in all social media platforms. And yes, they are quite emotional like Indians. However, they do take into consideration the fact that cricket in Bhutan lacks so much of infrastructure and other facilities; and despite all that, when the team still manages to perform better than their expectation, they go over the moon for us. And that’s exactly the kind of support you need for a team like ours where the locals can understand our situation and where we come from.
From what I understand, getting a proper-sized cricket ground is a problem in Bhutan because of it being surrounded by mountains on all sides. Is this interpretation correct? And how much of that affects the growth of the game in the country?
Yes, it has become a challenge and I really hope the government gets their hand in it to sort the issue because most cricketers at present are in Thimphu and having no decent-sized cricket ground does not help in the promotion of the game. We have one proper cricket ground under construction in the southern part of Bhutan, Gelephug, which is still waiting for its clay to be installed. I feel that the future of cricket in Bhutan lies in the southern region for the only reason that there are plenty of lands there where cricket grounds could be easily built but if that is to be so, we might have to sacrifice Thimphu in becoming the cricketing hub in Bhutan.
Bhutan is known for being a picturesque and happy country. What do you feel about your country? And do you feel the beauty and happy essence of Bhutan have also shaped you as a person and a cricketer?
I feel so fortunate to have been born in this happy country. It has definitely shaped me to become a better human being, made me value and preserve nature, and respect every human being. And having already learned to value things and respect others through my own culture, it has made me easier to sync with the values and culture of the game of cricket, and that has only helped me live my life in more meaningful ways.
Any young talented cricketer from Bhutan that you feel can make it big in the coming few years in the international arena?
Tobden Singye (RHB and Slow-Medium pacer) and Mikyo Dorji (RHB and Medium pacer) I feel are the ones to watch out for.
The immediate goals are to ensure Bhutan reaches the top 3 in the upcoming ICC Eastern Region T20 Qualifiers which is going to be held in Malaysia and will help us qualify for the next round.
As an individual player, I want to perform against the big teams like Nepal, Malaysia, and Singapore in the upcoming tournament.