A commentator recounts his experience of describing the game (and carrying water to the toilets) during the ICC Women's T20 Qualifier in Sano, Japan
I arrive in Tokyo station around 5am on a night bus from Kyoto. A two-hour train journey still awaits me before I get to Sano, "the city of cricket" in Japan, a place most people in the country haven't heard of.
I'm heading there to do live-streaming commentary for the ICC Women's WT20 - East Asia Pacific Qualifier, on behalf of the Japan Cricket Association. In addition to the hosts, Samoa, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Vanuatu are taking part.
A member of the JCA is waiting at Tanuma station to save me a 30-minute walk to the Sano International Cricket Ground, which is in the middle of nowhere in Tochigi Prefecture. "If you build it, they will come," the JCA might have thought.
I have been told that I will be on my own for the first game, and that the commentators, members of the Japan national men's team, will join me as the tournament goes on. I have to do commentary in Japanese and in English, which is not my first language. But I soon find out that English commentary is much easier to do. I have no idea how to say, "Another huge appeal for lbw, and this time it is given by the umpire!" in Japanese.
Both games on day one turn out to be tough to commentate on. Japan finish on 70 for 8, managing four boundaries (two come off Samoan misfields), and Samoa chase the total in 13 overs for no loss. A similar game follows with PNG managing an easy nine-wicket victory against Vanuatu.
April 29 Samoa win their second game as well, against PNG, after a patient innings of 36 off 46 from the Samoa captain, Regina Lili'i, and some late hitting from Lelia Bourne takes the score to 99, and the bowlers restrict PNG to 83. Lili'i, the player of the match for her 36 and 0 for 7 off three overs, quickly becomes my favourite cricketer to watch in the tournament.
After day one I receive feedback that I am using too many cricket terms while commentating in Japanese, which defeats the point of getting non-cricket watchers interested. So I try using baseball terms. For example, "infielders" for cover, point, mid-on and so on, and "outfielders" for long-on, deep midwicket, deep square-leg etc. It turns out be a big mistake because I cannot specify which fielder had taken any particular catch.
About 200-300 spectators turn out for Japan's weekend games - which is more than for Ranji games, isn't it? The Sano ground is beautiful, but it doesn't have any stands, only tents for the spectators.
A wet run-up delays the start of the morning game between Samoa and Vanuatu and I spend most of the day explaining the rules of cricket in Japanese. I am relieved when the weather gets better for the afternoon game - explaining the Duckworth-Lewis method in Japanese would have been a disaster!
Japan lose another game after they concede 138 runs to PNG, dropping about six catches and bowling without purpose.
Commentating with members of the Japan men's team gets a bit boring after a while because one of us describes the action in English and the other then repeats the same in Japanese. But it is fun when the team manager, Alan Margerison, who I had played with in Kyoto, joins me. "The batter drives it through the covers and it goes to the boundary like a tracer bullet! (Hope you are listening, Ravi)," we say.
Japan Cricket Association's CEO, Mr Miyaji, kindly hosts me in his house through the tournament. He is a man with a clear vision and a fantastic person to talk to, though I do not agree with every plan he has for developing cricket in Japan.
The JCA is supposed to be a national organisation, but since it is based in a small town, a lot of the resources are focused on producing players in Sano. Other teams have to travel to Sano to play matches or not participate at all.
However, the JCA is working with limited resources, and the turbulence of the last few years in the ICC has hit Associate cricket hard. Mr Miyaji has done a wonderful job of creating an international venue and now the local government has also promised a grant for developing the game.
I tell Mr Miyaji that my favourite cricketer is Mike Atherton.
"Atherton? He was just a blocker!"
"Exactly! And that is why I like him so much."
Today is supposed to be a rest day but the Samoa and Vanuatu game has to take place after the officials decided to postpone it from the previous day because of a rain delay. An umpire at dinner the previous night told me the girls deserved a full 20-over match and not a five-overs-a-side nonsense after flying all the way to Japan.
Not many volunteers - mostly friends and family of the JCA staff or members of the men's team - turn up today, so I end up carrying four tanks of water repeatedly to the temporary toilets that have been set up around the ground. I thought I was here to do just commentary and match reports! "For the love of the game," I tell myself.
Another win for Samoa concludes the first round of the round-robin phase.
Another sorry sight for Japanese cricket. They only manage nine runs in their first ten overs, and a total of 49, against Samoa. That is now four losses out of four games. What surprises me the most is that their top-order players have looked to be the most technically correct batsmen in the tournament. However, if an opposing captain sets a silly mid-off, short cover, silly mid-on and a short midwicket, you need more shots than a perfect straight push, don't you?
I have a nice chat after the game with the Japan captain, Kurumi Ota, who was appointed only three weeks ago and hasn't had enough time to prepare. This is a new team with not much international experience. Cricket captaincy is the toughest job in the world, skip! Look at all the premature greying among international captains. I wish her all the best for the coming years.
A late withdrawal by one of the umpires on the panel calls for the arrival of Tony Wilds, who umpired two Sheffield Shield games and a BBL game last season. We often talk about how competitive the Australian professional players' structure is, and how that extends to the umpires in Australia. Fewer teams mean fewer opportunities for an umpire like Tony at the top level. During dinner he tells me many great stories. Maybe I've misunderstood Shane Watson all these years. Sorry Watto!
I tell Tony about the time I met the Australian team at The Oval during the 2013 Ashes. On the opening day, I went to the ground early to meet the players. Pretty much every player ignored this idiotic Japanese fan who barely spoke English, but Ed Cowan took some time out to have a chat. We spoke about cricket in Japan, and in the end he gave me his Gray-Nicolls bat and batting gloves. Tony umpires in Sydney grade cricket and Ed still appears for his club, Sydney University, when he has the time, and Tony confirms that Ed is one of the nicest blokes in the game.
May 3 Japan lose to PNG by 92 runs but they play much better cricket. The captain's lofted extra-cover drive is the best shot of the day in my eyes. They are bowled out for 63 in the end but not before they take the attack to the PNG bowlers.
The last day. The game between Samoa and PNG is effectively the grand final. Although Samoa are undefeated so far, PNG have a better run rate. It is a tightish game, but PNG chase the Samoan total of 79 in the 19th over. It is heartbreak for Lili'i, who once again carries the team with her all-round performance (32 and 2 for 9 off four overs).
And finally, a consolation victory for Japan! They beat Vanuatu by three wickets. I stopped taking sides in cricket a few years ago, but I think I have found my team again.
We all wish Papua New Guinea well for the next qualifying stage, during a presentation dinner for all the players, ICC officials, JCA staff and the volunteers.
This tournament has given me an opportunity to see what life is like for Associate cricketers and those involved in the lower rungs of the game. I have a chat with a Vanuatu player who is thinking about moving on from international cricket to go back to study. She thought I was playing for Japan's national men's side. "No, no, I do not play for Japan." "Why not?" she asks. "You will see when you see my left-arm spin in the nets," I reply.
Time to bid farewell to Tony as well. Every time I check Sheffield Shield scores from now on, I will check whether you are umpiring in the game. We will be in touch.
This tournament has reminded me again how much I love this game. I think I'll come back to Sano for the next edition of the qualifier.