Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2007 - Cricket in China

Willow pattern

Ranajit Dam

Former MCC president Robin Marlar watches the match against United Beijing during the MCC's first tour of China, in 2006 © Getty Images

The official term to describe China's mixed economy is "Socialism with Chinese characteristics". As the country embarks on its journey towards world domination in the cricket field, it uses an approach never before seen in the history of the sport: "Chinese characteristics" would not be a terribly inaccurate way to describe it either.

It isn't just the way cricket is viewed as a "project" to be completed ("Cricket is one of the three big sport projects in Britain and Australia," an official release declares), but also the fact that the sport's administrators believe that mass production of home-grown talent is the ideal way forward.

The Chinese Cricket Association (CCA) has trained around 75 PE teachers from schools and colleges in week-long training camps, with the idea that the newly certified coaches would teach the game to students at their respective institutions. A national Under-15 tournament was also hastily organised in the blazing July heat in Beijing, but it was a bit too hasty: the China Daily interviewed participants who were unaware of the existence of the game even a week earlier.

But it was enough to impress both the ICC and the Asian Cricket Council, who, excited by the prospect of 1.3 billion more cricket fans, threw themselves into the project with much enthusiasm. Malcolm Speed duly arrived in Beijing, gushed about the progress that China had made in only a year, and handed over $US200,000 for further development.

Accompanying him was Shaharyar Khan, the then chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board; he also provided US$200,000 and promised to send the former Pakistan allrounder Rashid Khan to coach the Under-15s. As is the norm in China, actual statistics about cricket are dubious, where they exist, while new targets are available on an almost daily basis. A claim of 5,000 players on the mainland during the summer was reduced to the more exact figure of 995 by September, although there are apparently 6,416 students learning the sport. The target is 150,000 players by 2020, big numbers for a country that does not have either a proper ground or training facilities, and children are still learning cricket on tennis courts and hockey pitches.

Infrastructure, however, is a minor obstacle in the process of "cricket popularisation". China needs to find a way to raise the awareness of a game in a nation completely obsessed with basketball and football. When you realise that millions of Chinese stayed up all night to watch every kick of the FIFA World Cup - and 12 even died in the process - the CCA's tactic of marketing cricket as 'shen shi yun dong' ("The Noble Game") might be far from enough.

Ranajit Dam is a sports reporter for the Shenzhen Daily newspaper.

© Wisden Cricketers' Almanack