Bemused, intrigued fans see cricket make China bow
The sound of leather on willow. Flags fluttering in a gentle breeze. Thousands of miles from the game's birthplace, cricket breaks new ground - in the industrial heartland of China.cricket Updated: Nov 13, 2010 10:47 IST
The sound of leather on willow. Flags fluttering in a gentle breeze. Thousands of miles from the game's birthplace, cricket breaks new ground - in the industrial heartland of China.
The Guangdong Cricket Stadium was the setting on Saturday for the first official cricket match in the vast nation of 1.3 billion people, a Twenty20 fixture at the Asian Games.
But even as China's women took to the field against Malaysia, where they clinched an impressive 55-run win in front of just a smattering of spectators around the immaculate ground, the future of the game as part of the sporting showpiece hung in the balance.
China's players, clad in red, mixed stylish orthodox strokeplay with some enterprising hitting, reaching 116-6 in their 20 overs against some wayward Malaysian bowling.
In reply Malaysia were off to a slow start against accurate Chinese bowling and lively fielding in the clash in Group A, which also features Pakistan and Thailand and were restricted to 61-8.
Asian cricket chiefs say the game is making major strides in China but spectators of the morning clash in the sun-drenched stands had mixed views after their first taste of action.
"It's the first time I've seen a cricket match. I'm a little interested but to be honest it's a bit boring," said Zhen Zhilin, who listed his favourite sports as basketball and football. But the 21-year-old student said despite his mixed feelings he was prepared to give it another go.
"This is the first time I've seen cricket and it's very interesting. I didn't know about this game and I will come again," said Tan Zhaowen, 19, who described it as a "difficult game".
Asian Cricket Council (ACC) spokesman Shahriar Khan said the match, also the first cricket game at the Asian Games, was "highly symbolic" adding, "It's the biggest stage in Asia below one-day internationals."
"Cricket has had enough of preaching to the converted. We want to get new people involved and people not just interested in the game but excited about it," he said. "Fourteen months ago this ground was a flat piece of mud. The ACC and International Cricket Council came and inspected the ground in our hard hats, not realising things would get done so quickly and to such a high standard."
He said cricket was developing fast in China and that a thriving domestic game could exist within 10 years. But its future at the Asian Games is far from certain.
The alarm bells rang when cricket was omitted from Incheon's list of events proposed for the 2014 Games. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) decided last year that the number of sports in future Asian Games should not exceed 35, with 28 from the Olympic Games and a maximum of seven to reflect the sporting culture of Asia's five zones.
"It is rude and presumptious to suggest that cricket will not be part of the Asian Games anymore," Khan said on Friday. "We have heard nothing definite against cricket being part of the Games, but we do understand Korean concerns at the costing, facilities and support staff for a sport they know little about."
Cricket was last seen at a major multi-sport event at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, but was dropped for the next three editions in England, Australia and India.