Chinese cricketers learn the 'slow game' fast

Like many Chinese teenage boys, Xu Chun Yang had dreams of becoming the next Yao Ming, but two years ago he learnt about a "slow game" and fell in lov

updated: November 28, 2009 12:05 IST
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Savar, Bangladesh:

Like many Chinese teenage boys, Xu Chun Yang had dreams of becoming a great basketballer like NBA player Yao Ming, but two years ago he learnt about a "slow game" and fell in love.

On a grassless pitch at Bangladesh's elite sports academy outside Dhaka, Xu trains hard with 14 other young Chinese cricketers in a bid to fulfil his new dream to be the next Shoaib Akhtar.

"I saw some DVDs on Pakistani fast bowlers and I love them, especially Shoaib," the 18-year-old said through a translator, wiping sweat from his chin after a couple of brisk overs.

"We are still learning the game but we could be as quick as the big names in time. Cricket is developing in China and is now played at a lot of schools and colleges."

Xu and his team-mates from China's Under-19 cricket squad are in Bangladesh for five weeks to improve their skills under the instruction of former national players.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), the game's global governing body, believes the sport has the potential to become huge in China and regularly sends coaches and officials there on promotional tours.

Former Pakistan international Rashid Khan coaches the Chinese men's team, while Mamatha Maben, an ex-Indian international, trains the women's team.

Aminul Islam, a retired Bangladeshi batsman, believes China has a real chance of competing with the world's top teams such as Australia and India in just a decade.

"When I first went there three years ago, there were only a few people who knew what cricket was and they brushed it off as a very slow game," said Islam, 41, who works as a development officer for the Asian Cricket Council.

"But since then I've visited every part of China and there's now a cricket structure in place nationwide. This year 103 schools and six universities took part in regional competitions. They have started loving the sport."

Islam became a hit with his Chinese students by learning enough Mandarin to converse comfortably about cricket.

"It has paid dividends. Chinese people are learning the game fast. I hope they will be a top side in 10-15 years," said Islam, who scored the first Test hundred for Bangladesh in 2000.

"One thing is amazing about Chinese players: they grasp nuances of the game quicker than any other people. What other countries have achieved in 30 years, they can do in 10 years."

Head coach of the Chinese Under-19 team Liu Ping Ping said 15 players were selected from 300 budding cricketers for intensive training in Bangladesh.

They are preparing for a tournament in Thailand in December and then the Asian Games, or "Asiad", in Guangzhou, China in November 2010.

"We are training hard for the Asiad. We are not yet ready to upset the world order, but with help from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka we hope to show that we are closing the gap," Liu said.

He said cricket was not widely screened on television in China and faced stiff competition from basketball and football.

Liu said a good performance by China in Guangzhou would be huge boost.

For team captain Ai Di, the prospect of helping to pioneer the game in his country is one that fills him with pride.

"We haven't achieved much in the game yet. Only one of our batsmen has hit a century, but we're on our way," he said.