Land of the rising sun shines on cricket
The recent ICC East Asia Pacific Trophy in Japan, won by Papua New Guinea who defeat the hosts by 11 runs in a tense final, showed the considerable amount of life in the women's game away from the traditional markets.
The tournament, hosted by the beaten finalists in the city of Sano, was bathed in sunshine throughout the five days and a crowd close to 1000 watched on as the initiative seesawed between the sides in a match that perfectly showcased the spirit and desire in both camps.
At a time when the England women have signed their first professional contracts and Australia's Southern Stars are only a year on from a considerable pay increase of their own, the teams from the EAP region displayed the raw passion that still exists when playing for your country.
Tournament director Laura Piekarski said: "I just cannot get over how much all these teams have improved in the last two years. Since Vanuatu in 2012 these players have come on leaps and bounds; they're playing straighter, bowling more consistently and it is huge credit to all of them who have put so much effort."
There was plenty of ability on display too. Away from the final, Samoa's Moelagi Tuilagi carved the Cook Islands for a 74-ball 104, the first century by any woman in the region in the T20 format, while her compatriot Regina Lili'l was the player of the tournament as Samoa finished third.
Tournament ambassador and three-time World Cup winner Alex Blackwell, who worked with all of the teams, said: "What encourages me most is the clear pathway that is now in place. These girls have great opportunities coming their way with a Big Bash League next year and talk of a women's International Cricket League in Singapore too. There's lots of talent here and with the right support some of these players could go far."
There were outstanding individual performances from Alvina Chilia of Vanuatu and Tekura Kaukura of the Cook Islands who took her team to fourth place, registering their first ever win at international level along the way, while Chelsea Moscript from the invitational side Cricket Without Borders, coached by former Test player Bryce McGain, has been identified as one of Australia's emerging talents.
That win was particularly significant for coach Alister Stevic who told ESPNcricinfo of how there were no female cricketers at all in the islands just five years ago, while now there are around 30 clubs. He believes his win alone is likely to bring in 30-40 new players overnight and create a belief that suddenly they can compete with other teams in the region. That belief should prove a powerful tool in the further development of the game and the tears of joy that were openly shed after the winning runs were hit would have lifted the spirits of even the most sceptical observer.
With every team registering a win during the four-day event there are now some real rivalries developing and it will be interesting to see how players improve further when the majority of these teams next come together at the Pacific Games in PNG next year.
Full tournament match reports, standings and statistics can be found on the ICC website here.