Like many Chinese teenage boys, Xu Chun Yang had dreams of becoming a great basketballer like NBA player Yao Ming, but two years ago he learnt about a “slow game” and fell in love.
On a grassless pitch at Bangladesh’s elite sports academy outside Dhaka, Xu trains hard with 14 other young Chinese cricketers in a bid to fulfil his new dream to be the next Shoaib Akhtar.
“I saw some DVDs on Pakistani fast bowlers and I love them, especially Shoaib,” the 18-year-old said through a translator, wiping sweat from his chin after a couple of brisk overs.
“We are still learning the game but we could be as quick as the big names in time. Cricket is developing in China and is now played at a lot of schools and colleges.”
Xu and his teammates from China’s Under-19 cricket squad are in Bangladesh for five weeks to improve their skills under the instruction of former national players.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), the game’s global governing body, believes the sport has the potential to become huge in China and regularly sends coaches and officials there on promotional tours.
Former Pakistan international Rashid Khan coaches the Chinese men’s team, while Mamatha Maben, an ex-Indian international, trains the women’s team.
Aminul Islam, a retired Bangladeshi batsman, believes China has a real chance of competing with the world’s top teams such as Australia and India in just a decade.
“When I first went there three years ago, there were only a few people who knew what cricket was and they brushed it off as a very slow game,” said Islam, 41, who works as a development officer for the Asian Cricket Council.
“But since then I’ve visited every part of China and there’s now a cricket structure in place nationwide. This year 103 schools and six universities took part in regional competitions. They have started loving the sport.”
Islam became a hit with his Chinese students by learning enough Mandarin to converse comfortably about cricket.
“It has paid dividends. Chinese people are learning the game fast. I hope they will be a top side in 10-15 years,” said Islam.