The city state plans to import players to coach their kids - and take them to the World Cup Hong Kong cricketing rivals and close neighbours Singapore have a goal. They want to play with the big boys of the game at the World Cup in 2011. And to do that, they have shopped in India for four young players of exceptional talent, investing HK$2.5 million over the next four years, which they hope will provide the backbone for this ambitious project. The players chosen from more than 100 who attended trials last month are former India Under-19 off-spinner Mulewa Dharmichand (22 years), who also played Ranji Trophy for Karnataka, Sagar Kulkarni, 21, Chetan Suryavanshi and Kiran Adhav, both 18. The four are not part of the current Singapore team taking part in the annual Tuanku Ja'afar tournament in Kuala Lumpur. They still do not qualify. But have no doubts, they will soon be absorbed into the national set-up even though Singapore Cricket Association (SCA) officials coyly insist that the imports are also part of a plan to broadbase cricket among schools in the city state. 'We are expanding our schoolboy league and we desperately need qualified coaches,' says Brendon Kuruppu, SCA director of coaching. 'And the reason why we have gone for these younger players is that they can readily relate to young kids. We didn't want to pick older players as we are investing money for the future.' Kuruppu, a former Sri Lankan Test player who holds the proud record of being the only Sri Lankan to have scored a double century on his debut, did not discount the possibility that these four players had another more important role - to see Singapore into the 2011 World Cup. 'Our main aim is to develop our young schoolboys. But yes, one of my goals is also to see that Singapore get in through the ICC qualifying process into the 2011 World Cup,' concedes Kuruppu. The Singapore Straits Times in a recent article, implied that there was a tacit understanding that the four players should 'be prepared to bat for their new home'. It stated that the players were nominally tagged as coaches to help smooth immigration formalities at Changi Airport. SCA honorary secretary Anil Kalaver stressed that the four were coming as coaches. As to why the SCA picked players who had no coaching background or indeed qualifications - they will be sent to the Australian Cricket Academy for a Level One coaching course soon - is a moot point. And when the Singapore newspaper pointed this fact out to Kalaver, he conceded that they may be included as players in future national teams. 'Our aim is to qualify for the 2011 World Cup. But we don't have enough coaches and players. So they will coach school kids who will form the basis for future national players. They may also play for the national team in the future,' Kalaver was reported as saying. Disguising the entry of the new players under a coaching blanket has apparently been prompted after the Singapore Sports Council - the all-important branch of the government which disburses funds to sports - was believed to have raised questions. There is no question that the Indian brigade will be given the task of spreading the gospel around schools. There are presently 48 teams from 37 schools playing the game in some form in Singapore. The aim is to increase this number to 125 teams from around 80 schools. But the holy grail is the 2011 World Cup. That is why the SCA last year employed Kuruppu and has taken this bold move to fast-forward development. 'I don't think the idea of Singapore playing in the 2011 World Cup is a far-fetched idea. We are currently ranked 25th in the world. At the last World Cup, there were 14 teams. The next one will have 16 and by the time the 2011 event comes along, it is likely to expand to 20 with the ICC intent on broadbasing the game worldwide. 'Under this scenario, we have to advance five places to be in with a realistic chance. We have almost eight years to achieve that. I'm not expecting Singapore to go out and beat India or Sri Lanka. Our aim is to qualify for the World Cup. We are not aiming to get one-day status or anything like that,' explained Kuruppu. A lot of hopes will be pinned on the four Indian youngsters. With the ICC relaxing rules regarding eligibility of expatriates in associate members teams, the SCA has taken this step to fast-track the popularity of cricket which currently lags behind football as the main sport. Under international rules, national sides may field up to two non-citizens, provided they have stayed in the country for four years. And what if all these four players are willing to give up their Indian nationality and opt for Singapore citizenship in a couple of years? The four will each be paid around HK$10,000 a month - a huge sum even when compared with what state-level players earn back in India. The funds will come from the SCA's coffers and corporate sponsorship. And to make it all worthwhile, the four will have to earn their way by coaching schoolchildren. 'The aim is to make cricket and coaching a career for youngsters. In this current team, we have two players who are already Level I ICC coaches. We first looked at home and now we have gone abroad,' says Kuruppu, playing a straight bat. When we asked the captain of the Singapore team Zeng Renchun what he thought about the idea of importing talent into the city state, he refused to be drawn into the debate. 'None of us has heard anything about it,' said 20-year-old Zeng smoothly. 'All I know is that we have a goal of playing in the 2011 World Cup and we are looking ahead.' What the future holds for him, and the rest of his teammates playing in the Tuanku Ja'afar tournament remains to be seen. Only time will tell if Zeng, a wicketkeeper, ends up being the token Singaporean in a side comprising players imported from the sub-continent. Hong Kong officials have already distanced themselves from this move and stated they would never go down this path of sacrificing homegrown players for more talented overseas players. But the SCA's long-term approach has its merits. For they get quality players, who if committed, could form the spine of a future national set-up that could make dreams come true. After all, if one stay seven years in a country, wouldn't one be deemed eligible to play for that place? And seven years is a commitment, especially if you can make it through to the World Cup.