China looking to make giant strides in cricket

Published: Monday, June 26, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Kuala Lampur:The first recorded game of cricket in China was played in 1858 in Shanghai. Nearly 150 years since those seeds were planted, a tiny sapling is only now beginning to sprout.

If, however, the Chinese Cricket Association's (CCA) development plans are even half successful, it is only a matter of decades before the cricket world could be looking at the new giants of the game.

The CCA, which formed in 2004, has spent the past year developing a core base of players, umpires and coaches, with help from the best cricket establishment in the world, Cricket Australia.

Ross Turner, Cricket Australia's general manager for global development, has had a close-up view of how the game is starting to take root in the world's most populous nation.

''The greatest pleasure of my life in a professional context was visiting China for the first time and working with a group of dedicated officials in breaking incredibly new ground,'' said Turner at a recent Asian Cricket Council seminar on the future of Asian cricket.

''The baby in some ways has not been born yet. But there is an opportunity in a global sense that we need to grasp. The CCA have drafted a long-term strategy -E and I recommend (the world) to look at this project, which will help bring a new face to cricket that we cannot fully comprehend at the moment.'' NEW IDEAS The most famous cricketing event in China over the past few years has been the Beijing Cricket Sixes, involving mostly expatriate teams.

CCA director Calvin Leong said that since September, China had produced 68 qualified coaches and umpires while the association had introduced the game to 19 primary schools, 20 secondary schools and 25 universities.

''When the CCA was established in 2004, cricket was an expatriate game. Only a handful of Chinese had ever put their hands on a cricket ball,'' said Leong.

''In the past, cricket was zero, nil and nothing in China.

At the moment it is a young baby, or a tiny seed.'' Leong said the CCA is choosing only the top schools and universities in which to introduce the game and are currently focusing their efforts on Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Liaoning.

''Beijing and Shanghai are the two biggest cities in China and are more readily acceptable of new ideas and cultures. If we are successful here, it can influence other cities.

''Guangzhou also has a strong economy while we chose Liaoning because many of China's top athletes come from this area.'' The CCA said it is trying to have cricket included as a medal sport at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.

''We are trying to convince the organisers to include cricket,'' said CCA vice chairman Cui Zhiqiang.

''That's why development in Guangzhou area is important. If we can get youngsters there to play, it will help in obtaining Asian Games status.'' Leong added that the CCA is even trying to convince a baseball academy in Shandong to convert to a cricketing institution.

''It doesn't sound that surprising when you consider that baseball does not have a good future in the Olympics and it has been dropped from the 2012 London Games,'' said Leong.

''A Shandong cricket school stands a good chance and that is one of our targets in 2007.'' Leong said the CCA is hoping that by the end of 2007 China would have 30,000 players, 600 coaches and 600 umpires. Their target is for 150,000 players by 2020. They are also hoping the sport can become part of the National Games set-up and receive more government funding.

Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the International Cricket Council, is confident China can be successful in their development plans.

''China is the world's most populous country and the ICC would like to support cricket in China as much as possible,'' Speed told Reuters.

''China has a strong sporting history and when they take a sport seriously, they make progress very quickly. We will watch with interest how much progress they will make.''

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