In Cricket China is next India

Published: Sunday, August 10, 2008, 11:44 [IST]
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New Delhi: In Cricket China is the next India. At least, that is the view of Cricket Australia, which is taking a leading role in teaching the Chinese to play the game and sees the world's most populous nation as a vital frontier in the sport's expansion plans.

While China's interest in cricket pre-dates the explosion of Twenty20, the snappiest form of the game is seen as the best way of getting the Chinese hooked on it, just as Adam Gilchrist believes it is the vehicle to take cricket to the Olympics in 2020.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland and chairman Creagh O'Connor will visit Beijing during the second week of the Games, but the board's manager of global development, Ross Turner, began working with the Chinese through the Asian Cricket Council in 2005.

With its population of 1.3 billion people and its changing economy, could China one day be a cricket power to rival India? "The emphatic answer to your question is yes," Turner said.

"It may not be in five years, but it will certainly be within a decade. China has such a strategic approach to everything. They won't be benchmarking against some atoll in the Pacific, they will be saying what is the world standard and trying to better it, seeking prominence and world recognition."

Leading corporate and commercial lawyer Ian McCubbin, an expert in Chinese-Australian affairs, believes the aftermath of the Olympics will present a crucial opportunity to capitalise on the Communist country's widening interest in western sports.

"I don't think the success of cricket in China depends on having hundreds of thousands of people playing it in the park on a Saturday afternoon. I think it depends on promoting it as a television product," said McCubbin, who is also a legal adviser to China Central Television Network.

In the first instance, the most likely approach appears to be convincing broadcasters such as CCTN to show games played overseas, just as American tycoon Allan Stanford is hell-bent on selling cable packages to his Twenty20 franchise, based in the West Indies, into the United States.

"Look at India, and the commercialisation of cricket there. There is no reason why that can't happen in China. It's a growing economy, it's a changing economy, but it's also an economy that is becoming an avid consumer of western culture," McCubbin said from Beijing.

"What's in it for cricket? There is so much competition for all types of sports now, and cricket is no different to any other product in the sense that it can't afford to ignore China."

Sceptics might suggest world cricket authorities should concentrate on making the game strong where it is played at the highest level, given that Test cricket is struggling for prominence everywhere but Australia, England and India. However, Turner said expansion was necessary to make cricket thrive on a truly global scale.

Cricket is called banqiu in Mandarin, and Turner estimates there are now between 5000 and 7500 Chinese playing at a "national" level. "The intention is to internationalise very quickly," he said.

Guangzhou will host the 2010 Asian Games, where China will compete in cricket and for which two cricket grounds conforming to ICC standards will be built.

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