As India and Pakistan, battle it out at Mohali today, admist razor charged energy, patriotic passions and tenter-hooked tensions during the ICC World Cup 2011, a little known fact comes to light, China, which too once was a British colony has a Pakistani coach – Rashid Khan for their National men’s team and Indian player Mamatha Maben coached the national Chinese women’s team ahead of the Asian Games last year.
Yes, China, a former British colony too, once played cricket and with the steady flow of expatriates bringing their favourite sport to the Mainland, it is once again gaining popularity in China, with the equipment and training both being provided by India and Pakistan.
Cricket in China is little more than an insect that is roasted, spiced up and sold by street vendors, its a bat and ball game some locals are beginning to understand. Not hailing from the league of commonwealth nations, China is alien to the gentleman’s game; however the growing influence of expatriates especially from the India, Australia, England, South Africa and Pakistan has created some cricket aficionado’s in the mainland. After all few know that the People’s park located in the heart of Shanghai housed a cricket ground adjacent to the race track which was later converted into the park.
Cricket in China is still mainly played by self-formed groups of expatriates who move to the mainland for work from commonwealth countries. The game gives the men a chance to bond overseas, a reason to share a beer afterwards and have fun on the weekend. It gives their wives a chance to catch up on gossip from their kid’s school’s, deliberate which tailor at the cloth market stitches the best dress and where and when they plan to escape China next.
Although so close to Hong Kong, mainland China has only recently caught the cricket bug. It initially started out of curiosity – what are these men doing in the middle of a field on a ripe sunday? Or by being told about the sport by an over enthusiastic colleague describing his weekend, however the Chinese got to know if it, cricket still largely remains an expatriate sport in China. Bars frequented by the British and aussies show prominent cricket matches on big screen tv’s, companies owned by cricket crazy nations sponsor local teams during the annual sixers and international cricket celebrities such as Ian Botham, Ian Healy, Alan Lamb and Merv Hughes add star power during the sixers tournaments, however the Chinese people refuse to be cricket crazy!
One reason might be because China is a spectator sport country. Although their tally of Olympic medals doesn’t prove so, a majority of youngsters that work too hard helping to nudge up the country’s GDP often resolve to just watching sports on Tv. For this generation, cricket is a foreign sport, they haven’t played it on play station as children and it hasn’t yet hit their Tv screens yet.
Nonetheless, cricket clubs across China brimming with expats craving to play with the locals are trying their best to introduce the game to the Chinese. “We’ve tried calling in our Chinese colleagues, introducing the sport at local universities, holding coaching camps and advertising the sport in newspapers to allure the locals, but very few join and continue to play,” says James Woolworth, an Australian who plays for the Shanghai Cricket Club a mainly expat-based club that has 10 teams.
Yet, the Chinese zeal for the game showed through – during their first international competition in 2009 at the Asian Cricket Council Trophy Challenge held in Thailand, the Chinese lost by a wide margin to Iran, Thailand and the Maldives before finally beating Myanmar! I guess the insect is more popular than the sport!a