Cricket making strides in Asian countries

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Karachi:Just a few years ago it was hard to imagine cricket taking root in conservative societies like China and Afghanistan.

But the passion shown in countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka has spread like an epidemic, prompting the caretakers of the sport in the region to fast track its development in these unlikely nations.

"China is our main focus and we think China can become a big market. In the same breath, cricket is also flourishing in Afghanistan," Sultan Rana, development manager of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), told AFP.

The ACC, formed in 1983, now has 21 members and the number is increasing every year with Myanmar a recent addition that is set to feature in the ACC Trophy in Kuala Lumpur in August this year.

By holding events like the Asia Cup, due in 2008 in Pakistan, the ACC is able to raise the necessary funds to spend on developing the game in the nascent countries.

It is estimated that the next tournament will generate around 16.5 million dollars from television rights and sales.

Rana, a former first class cricketer in Pakistan and younger brother of well-known former umpire Shakoor Rana, believes cricket has no boundaries.

"Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Nepal, Singapore and Hong Kong are in our fast-track development programme because cricket is progressing by leaps and bound in these countries," he said.

"China and Afghanistan are catching up.

"The best thing about China is that the government in Beijing is very keen to promote the game and last month we conducted a coaching course in China and I was highly impressed at the enthusiasm of participants."

Already, the sport has been introduced to 15 universities as part of student programs.

ACC chief executive Ashraful Huq is so confident that the game will catch on in China that he hopes to see it playing in World Cups within 15 years.

"All the talent and determination is there already and with the hard work and support of the state, I am sure that cricket will be one more sport with which the Chinese people can bring honour to their country," Huq said last month.

In a bid to give them the best opportunity, the ACC has hired Australian coaches to teach cricket in China, although Rana warns there is a lot of work still pending.

"China will send their U-15 team to an ACC event in Bangkok, Thailand this year and general developments are proceeding at a fair pace, though given the scale of China, there is still much work left to do."

Pakistan and India have been at the forefront in helping the game take root in China and Afghanistan, regularly sending cricket equipment and other help to prove they are the "big brothers" of the Asian cricket family.

"Cricket is fast replacing football as the number one sport in war-torn Afghanistan and its close proximity to Pakistan has helped a great deal because most of the Afghani players practice in Peshawar," Rana said.

He added that Hong Kong and Malaysia are also making big strides.

"Hong Kong is a former British colony so cricket has been a common sport there for centuries and the ACC is doing its best to lift the standards there," he said.

"Malaysia will host the ICC Under-19 World Cup in two years and it will be a big boost.

"Singapore is also an old member of the family where the infrastructure is good and the youth development is great. We are getting coaches and umpires ready in Singapore but the impetus is in the hands of the locals."

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