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May 16, 2001

Cricket in a kimono


Editor's note: 'Globalisation' is a buzzword for cricket administrators these days. And the preferred route to that goal appears to be to have international teams play at all kinds of unlikely venues -- the reasoning, apparently, being that when these games are telecast, people in Russia or Japan or Timbuctoo or wherever will stay glued to their TV sets, get entranced, and start playing the game from the next day on.

Does it really work that way? The NBA is telecast in India, very regularly. How many kids have taken to basketball as a result?

No one is arguing that globalisation is bad for the game -- obviously, the more people who play it, the bigger a game becomes. But could it be that we need to rethink, to change strategy?

The thought occured to us when Maki sent in her story. It is the story of a woman who has never, till date, watched a full -- or even half -- game. One recent weekend, the tennis club she belongs to organised a fun outing -- a cricket match.

So Maki got to play cricket. She practised batting and bowling and fielding, then went out there and did it.

Next thing you know, she's talking of wanting to play more and, more importantly, of wanting to teach the game to her friends back in Japan.

Could it be that this is the right route towards the globalisation goal? That maybe the admnistrators should think not in terms of getting people to watch, but to actually play the game?

Would it be an idea, for instance, for the ICC to organise a 'Cricket Weekend' in, say, Tokyo? Make a few calls, and you'll probably find an equipment manufacturer prepared to provide a few dozen bats and boxes of balls and the rest; a Pepsi prepared to underwrite all the soft drinks that are consumed that day; a McDonald's prepared to provide the bite..

So make up a cricket party. Many will come, out of curiosity. Maybe of the many, some will actually have fun -- and want to do it again. And the game would have spread, to a dozen more people...

Meanwhile, here is Maki's story... as she says it, unedited...

I am a Japanese woman, born and brought up in Tokyo, but living in Hong Kong for over 20 years.

I love sports since my childhood: nothing super standard but I have experienced many sports in my life; catch ball, dodge ball, softball, swimming, high jump, 80 meter Hurdles, 9 players Volleyball (old-style), basketball and finally tennis from the age of 18 until now.

But I had never seen cricket in Japan or any of the other countries I flew to as a former airhostess. My Australian husband is not a cricketer, but he enjoys watching the game on some weekends at the Kowloon Cricket Club. I used to accompany him and his friends for half an hour or so and I learned that cricket has only one innings (baseball term for batting time) each, and therefore if a batsman is out he has no more chances. This part of the format somehow discouraged me to learn further and get into the sport.

One night, when we were playing bridge in the bar the big screen was pulled down and a big crowd gathered to watch a live telecast of a cricket match. It was India against Australia. I joined in and soon became even more excited than some of the keen expert fans. The reason was because I saw Sachin (of India, needless to say) bat for the first time. It was his day and if I remember correctly he scored a 100. I was fascinated by this short, chubby, heavily built guy whose name it was easy for me to remember as in Japan we have a similar name for a girl, Sachi or Sachiko (meaning Fortune).

He was hitting the ball hard all over the place; in the air, on the ground, forward, backward, left and right. He bent down so well to control the hitting of the ball. His movement was a constant smooth flow, over and over, yet with endless variety. Gee… it was not like anybody's style I had seen and I thought it was the Art of Sport. That day his name was noted in my brain and his style of batting was saved in my memory box. Later, just to show my admiration, I imitated his batting to my friends.

Then one day I got the chance to play real cricket in our club. I am in the tennis league and for fun, we decided to have a match against the KCC cricketers. I managed to attend 2 out of the 3 practice sessions, or 'nets' and we novices got a feel of the game. Many of us found the ball far too hard to catch with bare hands, and we soon had several mini purple spots here and there on our palms and fingers. Luckily I had brought along lots of ice and it came in useful for the injuries. Then the bat was so heavy and the strange grip made it hard to control it. But somehow, eye on the ball, I soon managed to start hitting the balls which pitched in front of my body. I was advised not to bat like in baseball.

When I bowled, our coach said I was bending my elbows so it was illegal. It was so hard to keep my arm straight, but then I remembered one of the volleyball service styles and it worked! I was starting to enjoy myself very much and before pack up on our last net session I had one more treat in store. Two young men (I think they were Pakistani) from the Hong Kong cricket team came to practice. I asked one, 'Are you Sachin of Hong Kong?' He smiled and said ,'No, we are bowlers, Sachin is coming.' So I stayed to watch and Whaaao! How fast they bowled and how hard they hit the ball! It was almost frightening! Once the bowler ran full speed and slipped on the slippery turf, fell flat on his face, then got up as if nothing had happened and resumed bowling. This close-up demonstration was very exciting and informative.

Finally the Big Day arrived and our side batted first. I walked out to open the batting with a more experienced Indian batsman. I hit the first ball, heard someone yell 'Run!' and ran like hell. The heavy pads made me slip but I got up and ran like a woman with a mission. There was huge applause from the crowd. Sadly I could not hit a 4 but I did make 7 runs in all and I was proud of myself.

Fielding was more difficult as I was not used to standing in the sun for so long. Still, I managed to stop a few boundaries and was cheered wildly by my teammates. In the end we made 168 runs and were beaten by the opponents, as was to be expected. However, I never could imagine that in my life I would play cricket, never dreamed of being the opening batswoman and scoring runs. It was a very colourful and enjoyable introduction to this wonderful sport.

Life is Learning and full of Wonderful Surprises!

Japanese Sport Lover,

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh  

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