is a long time in Chinese game
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
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
"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
"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
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."
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
Last year Shoaib
Akhtar took 17 wickets against England with his devastating mix of rapid
hostility and cunning slower balls