China will be taking part in the Asian Championships in Malaysia this July - a first such women's tournament organised by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) - along with Nepal, Hong Kong, Thailand, Bangladesh, Singapore, UAE and the hosts. Rashid Khan, the former Pakistan fast-medium bowler who the ACC brought on board to train players in China, was surprised by the potential that Chinese women showed in playing cricket.
"The girls in Asia seem almost the same," Khan told the China Daily. "It's not like the boys, where India and Pakistan are too strong for China to catch up in a short time. I want to give them my experience. That is my main focus here. They are playing cricket for the first time and they play in such a good manner. They are very talented." With regard to men's game China is cricket's next big destination. But the spurt of interest among women in the country is unexpected though heartening.
The Chinese Cricket Association (CCA), which joined the ICC and the ACC in 2004, hopes to set up a women's national team soon and has slated Khan as the head coach of the side. "From my point of view, few countries are developing well in the women's cricket," said Liang Guanghua, the director of the Business Cooperation Committee of CCA. "The situations in India, Australia and England are a bit better."
Khan will hold a 40-day training camp at Shenzhen to prepare for the Asian Championships in July. "For me, every match is like I want to win the championships," said Khan. The foremost thing that players needed to work on, Khan felt, was their batting.
In November 2006 Khan was appointed by the Pakistan Cricket Board to train young cricketers in China. The move was part of a joint effort by the ICC and the ACC to give a fillip to cricket in the country and the ACC teamed up with the ICC to provide US$400,000 to build the cricket infrastructure.
A sign of cricket's growing popularity among women in China is that there are 19 teams in the women's National Championships this year as opposed to only six last year when the tournament was launched. Khan provides more evidence of the same saying that girls in China are keener to learn sports than boys. "They are very tough. In the physical side, they are better than Pakistan's girls," he said. Khan coached the China Under-15 in the ACC Trophy in December the same year and was previously junior selector and manager of Pakistan's U-19 teams.
Guanghua and Khan have an ambitious ten-year plan to make the women's team internationally competitive. "It is a good chance for us. Most of the countries are at the same starting line." But first there are obstacles that need to be removed. "There aren't enough facilities here. CCA has to work hard to solve this problem," said Khan.
Guanghua added that more schools had to be encouraged to set up cricket teams and join the ICC's promotion programme. "What has delighted me in the past years is that students are showing unexpected interest in the sport. I am sure in the next year we will see more schools in the national tournament."
Global revenues for cricket will increase by 30-40% in my estimation once China becomes an established cricketing nation, either as a venue, a participant or a breeding ground for future cricketers in the decades ahead Syed Ashraful Huq, chief executive, Asian Cricket Council
"They are keen to learn," Khan said. "They are very much looking forward to cricket in China. The development is not very good yet, but they are hard working and there are many committed people."
The country is being looked as a potential golden goose and the ICC and ACC expect great returns on their investment. "Global revenues for cricket will increase by 30-40% in my estimation once China becomes an established cricketing nation, either as a venue, a participant or a breeding ground for future cricketers in the decades ahead," said Syed Ashraful Huq, the ACC chief executive.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, foresees China playing the World Cup in 2015. "I have seen 15-year-olds in Beijing who, if given every chance to continue their progress, will become very good cricketers," Speed said.