Japan's breakthrough, and sub-zero cricket in Russia
Welcome to the latest editon of 'Beyond the Test World', our look at cricket's new frontiers. In this editon, we review Japan's triumph at the East Asia Pacific Cup, and preview the start of the Thai and Nigerian seasons.
An infusion of youth and greater depth have been cited as the main reasons for Japan's breakthrough title success in the recent East Asia-Pacific Cup in Vanuatu. Japan earned their first win in an ICC tournament after defeating the well-drilled Cook Islands in the final in Vila by six runs.
Eleven of Japan's 15-man squad were locally born, and Japan Cricket Association official, Yosuke Hatanaka, said the recent addition of seven new players into the national team had lifted their standard. Hatanaka added that twice-yearly visits by accredited Cricket Victoria coaches for the past three seasons had been beneficial. A Cricket Victoria coach accompanied Japan to Vila.
Wicketkeeper, Tatsuro Chino, a former baseball catcher who joined the national team after three years playing cricket, starred in the final, hitting 51 in Japan's 161 before taking a match-winning acrobatic catch to end the Cook Islands' innings.
ICC East Asia-Pacific official Russell James implied the 2005 Japan team enjoyed greater depth. "The Japan team were probably a more mature and experienced team this time around," he said. "They appeared to have a more even spread across the team rather than relying on one or two individuals."
The Cook Islands attack was spearheaded by former Auckland representative Chris Brown, and Dunu Eliabia, both of whom had played the majority of their cricket in New Zealand. They were well prepared by Northern Districts (NZ) Development Officer, Grant Bradburn, who conducted several national team camps in the lead-up.
Samoa were handicapped by having two of their players ruled ineligible, so fielded a nine-man team. Their completed innings of 19 for 8 from 10 overs against the Cook Islands was the third lowest score in a recognised non-Test limited-overs international.
Tonga were the unlucky team, finishing fourth behind Vanuatu following the third-place-play-off , after earlier completing the preiminary matches on equal points with Japan and Cook Islands, but with an inferior run-rate.
Japan and Cook Islands now progress to the next stage of the ICC World League, meeting Fiji next July, probably in Australia.
In the meantime, the East Asia-Pacific squad to compete in the Australian Country Championships in January are currently training at the Cricket Centre of Excellence in Brisbane.
From Russia, in the freezing cold
Cricket has completed its first season of sorts in Russia's second city, St Petersburg. A motley collection of nationalities have been playing informal matches loosely based on six-a-side rules every other Sunday in the city's Field of Mars.
If you fancy a game, please contact Albert Helms: firstname.lastname@example.org . They're still playing,despite average maximums of around 0°C.
Sixes of Chiang Mai
Thailand, where the latest season just got underway, is not just the home of the world famous Chiang Mai Sixes - it is also has one of Asian cricket's fastest growing junior development programmes.
Over 98% of the 4000 children playing cricket in the Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Petchabun, Chonburi, Hua Hin and Phuket regions are Thai. Around 2000 are playing in Chiang Mai schools alone, where eight full-time coaches are working hard. In Bangkok, the Thai Junior Cricket League has formed a close association with one of the best international schools in Thailand, the Bangkok Pattana, which has already installed a synthetic wicket for the junior league, while cricket nets will be completed soon. The Bangkok junior league has about eight teams, players ranging in age between 9 and 12.
Six of the national Under-19 team which competed in the Asian titles in Nepal last week are Thais. The pick is 14-year-old left-arm spinner, Khon Kaen.
Only ground availability is preventing more cricket being played at the adult level, where a 'C' Grade 25-over competition has been introduced for cricketers who can only spare half a day. A record 19 teams will contest the three divisions. A new field is expected to be completed halfway through this season, allowing another two teams to join next season.
Meanwhile, defending A Grade premier champions, Indian CC, experiencing renewal from the children of original club members coming through, are likely to be challenged by several teams, Thai Colts perhaps the most ominous threat. Colts form the the bulk of the national Under-19 team which went to Nepal and have played together for several years.
The remaining A Grade sides, British Club Elite, Royal Bangkok Sports Club, Bangkok CC, Siam CC, Champions and Southerners are all expected to be competitive in the race for the finals, which are played after an eight-game round robin.
Thailand's proud tradition of Sixes tournaments is shared with Chiang Mai by Bangkok, Hua Hin, and more recently Phuket. The Bangkok Sixes is run by the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, held on two of the best cricket fields in Asia, right in the heart of Bangkok.
Lagos league kicks off
Nigerian cricket's premier competition, the Lagos League, kicks off its 2005-2006 season this weekend when defending champion, Foundation CC, takes on a combined 'best-of-the-rest' Lagos League XI.
The six-team First Division starts the following weekend when Foundation CC, Howzat Pioneers, Lagos Indians, GCIOBA, Cosmopolitan CC ane joined by newly-promoted Rocks of Ogun CC. They will contest a traditional league format before the elite fight out the Super Four competition.
Meanwhile, five teams, including Howzat Dolphins, British International School Cricket Club, Apapa Indians CC, King's College Old Boys CC and FGC Warri CC comprise the Second Division.
Players to watch out for in the First Divison include Dolapo Gafar, Joshua Ogunlola, Wale Adeoye & Anofiu Salako (Foundation CC); Kunle Adegbola, Tayo Okusanya & Thomas Ezeh (GCI CC); Endurance Ofem, Ovie Osuaso, & Onikoyi Ademola (Howzat Pioneers) and Seun Odeku (Cosmopolitan CC) among others.
The standard of cricket in Lagos is said to be revitalised following a slump in 2002 - the challenge for clubs is sponsoring their young players who attend school in other parts of the country so they can return to Lagos every weekend to play.
Although Nigerian cricket is centred around Lagos, there is a four-team league in Benin City, while FGC Warri from the port city in the Niger Delta plays in the Lagos Second Division.
In the next edition, a look at the start of the Argentine and Papua New Guinean seasons and find out what the Bermuda Cricket Board is doing about the Cup Match fracas. We'd like to update you on the current South Korean season - if you are involved in South Korean cricket, please drop us a line on email@example.com.