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A week is a long time in Chinese game

Nick Mulvenney

Fen Zhen was disappointed to make just one run in his innings but given his short acquaintance with cricket his score was quite an achievement.

A week before taking the pitch at Beijing's Tsinghua University in China's first national cricket championships, the 15-year-old from Shanghai was, like most Chinese, completely unaware of the game.

"I'd never heard of it, never seen it, never played it before, I just did it because the teacher asked me to," the Heng Feng middle school pupil said.

Seven days of practice later and Fen and his class mates were taking on Beijing Science and Technology middle school in a tournament the Chinese Cricket Association (CCA) hope will unearth enough talent to field an under-15 national team.

Despite the enthusiasm displayed on the converted soccer pitch, it will be a long time before a China team take on England at Lord's or Australia at the Gabba.

"On a scale of one to 100, Australia are maybe a 98, Sri Lanka a 95," said Asian Cricket Council (ACC) development officer Rumesh Ratnayake. "Here we're talking a three or a four."

Although cricket was brought to China by the British as long ago as 1858, the game was never taken up by the locals and, beyond a few expatriate tournaments, did not exist in the world's most populous nation until the start of this century.

The CCA was founded in late 2004 but receives no funding from a state-run sports administration directing most of its resources at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


The association does, however, have ambitious plans and has roped in the ACC and Cricket Australia to help it to fulfil them.

It started by taking the game into China's most prestigious universities such as Tsinghua, Peking University, the People's University and Fu Dan as well as their associated schools.

"In Britain, it has always been regarded as a sport for gentlemen so we've decided to position it as 'the noble game'," said CCA director Calvin Leong.

The CCA hopes China will have 30,000 players by the end of 2007 and 150,000 by 2020. If it achieved such targets across a wide enough geographical base it would then be able to press for government funding.

"The concept is to train the teachers and send them back to the schools and colleges," said Ratnayake.

"On day one, they are very sceptical but by the end they are more enthusiastic than those we train in more developed cricket countries.

"It's amazing," the former Sri Lanka test bowler said, pointing at the schoolboys bowling and batting in the blazing sun. "Their teachers did a course in May and they've already got teams playing.

"They've never even seen cricket played on TV so for them to put teams together is unbelievable.

"These guys are keen so if the infrastructure is right, the pitches in place and so on, then cricket can just take off."


Some 70 men and women have undertaken coaching courses so far, with half of those having been through a Tier I course and the other half taking it in August.

The next step is to enter an under-15 team in the plate competition at the ACC Trophy in Thailand in December.

"I was sceptical and thought it was too early," Ratnayake said. "But the authorities and coaches were keen so we said 'let's get ready'.

"We hope they can make a mark and later they can go through the under-17s, under-19s and then on to senior cricket."

Li Zhen, a teacher at the Shanghai Sports Institute, said his students had taken well to the game.

"Generally, they are very fond of cricket," he said. "There are some problems with them understanding the more technical features of the game which makes it difficult for them to get excited when they play."

Indeed, there were very few leg before wicket appeals in the match, which the Beijing school won by 53 runs.

Fen Zhen described the game's notoriously complex rules as "very simple", saying that in his single week's initiation there was not enough time to deal with every sub-clause.

The CCA know they have much work to put cricket on the map in China. Leong, asked how long it would take to have a national team competing at senior level, replied: "Don't hurry us, we only started nine months ago."


South Africa captain Ashwell Prince wipes his face during net practices in Colombo. Prince admits his inexperienced squad, missing three senior players including first-choice skipper Graeme Smith, start their test series against Sri Lanka as the underdogs

Today's Trivia

Last year Shoaib Akhtar took 17 wickets against England with his devastating mix of rapid hostility and cunning slower balls


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