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Cricket bats clatter as dawn comes up in Yangon

Decades after the country's British colonial masters departed, taking their game with them, cricket is making a comeback.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2007 20:46 IST

As people in Myanmar's ramshackle but bustling former capital made their way to work one recent weekday, they heard a sound many may have struggled to place. Through the tinkle of temple bells and the rumble of traffic was the distinctive crack of a leather ball on a willow bat.

Decades after the country's British colonial masters departed, taking their game with them, cricket is making a comeback.

The current standing of the game in Myanmar is reflected in the zero amount of local coverage of the cricket World Cup now being played in the West Indies.

But on a tree-fringed field, within sight of the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, hordes of youngsters brought out bats, leg pads, gloves and stumps. For an hour and a half, boys and girls threw themselves into a knockabout version of the game, while slightly older youths practiced their batting and bowling skills.

For nine-year-old William Phyowai, his first taste of cricket was a revelation. "It's great!" he enthused, "It's fun!"

For Aye Min Than, who has been playing for two years, the appeal was more cerebral.

"Cricket's different from other sports," the lanky 21-year-old bowler said, smiling.

Such a scene would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, when cricket was all but dead here. But in 2005, the Myanmar Cricket Federation formed and began a vigorous program of promotion, including this annual three-week Summer School.

The federation's president better known locally as a movie star than as a sporting evangelist watched and nodded with satisfaction.

"The schoolboys in Yangon are interested; that's the initial stage," said Nyunt Win. "Now it's growing. We're going to promote cricket in other states this year, so I hope there'll be more players coming."

Besides school teams, Yangon now has eight clubs, the central town of Taunggyi has two, and a new one is setting up this month in Mandalay.

There are national teams at Under-15 and senior levels, and work will start shortly on a new showpiece ground on the outskirts of Yangon. The Asian Cricket Council, the sports regional development body, has donated gear worth thousands of dollars.
It is not about to challenge the dominance of soccer in Myanmar, but cricket is unquestionably on the rise.

"Cricket is developing as well in Myanmar as it is in any other new country," the council's development manager, Sultan Rana, said in an e-mail. "The most encouraging sign is to see that children have taken a liking to the game.

In some ways it is puzzling that cricket should need a revival. After all, Myanmar then called Burma was a province of the British Raj, along with what are now the cricket-crazy nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

First Published: Apr 16, 2007 20:24 IST