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The diehard sports lovers while comparing the merits, achievements and popularity of cricket with other games often advanced the plea that its sphere of influence was not as wide as other sports. Patronized by only a few countries on the globe it lacked the worldwide audience, they argued. This might have been the situation a decade ago but not now.
With persistent efforts of the ICC and its affiliated cricket bodies the game has spread far and wide. The strength of ICC members including the associate and affiliate members has reached 63 and there are countless other countries where cricket is played at certain levels. This is a big number for a game as expensive as cricket. No other game is played in streets and parks even with improvised equipment as widely as cricket. Similarly no other game dare match the duration of television coverage that cricket enjoys. Hectic efforts are underway to improve standards of the game in the regions where the roots of cricket are not very old.
The efficient organization and conduct of junior cricket is a pre-requisite for the development of international cricket. Just as schools, colleges, clubs, associations and counties are the nurseries for national cricket, the formation of junior teams and their participation in international tournaments play a vital role in the promotion of cricket on higher levels. Except for the late comers who jump into the national teams from no where, most of the stars carry the junior cricket's tag with them. The quick march on cricket's development trail is thus very logical. Emphasis is being laid on the promotion of junior teams like Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19. It is from these tiers that the stars and super stars eventually emerge. Lot of work is being done in this respect especially on Asian level.
An Asian championship for Under-15 was held recently in Malaysia in which teams from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia participated. India defeated Pakistan in the finals to clinch the championship. The Pakistan Under-15 team has now proceeded to England to take part in the Costcutter Challenge Cup where they face a tough competition from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, the other participants of the tournament.
The 'A' teams which form a separate cadre are generally the blend of senior players unable to find a place in the national team and promising youngsters. With no age restrictions they participate in the series particularly designed for them. While the competitions provide match practice to senior players to rehabilitate themselves, they serve as useful avenues for grooming of the younger clan. Pakistan's A team recently returned from a fortnight's tour of Kenya where they lost the one-day match series to the hosts.
The path to success of the upcoming youngsters lies in the fact that they should be provided maximum exposure to national and international competitions at the right time. After the successful conduct of the ICC Under-17 Asia Cup held in Pakistan that Sri Lanka won, the Asian Cricket Council has now announced the schedule of next ACC Trophy to be held at Sharjah and Dubai (UAE) from 15-24 November. Called the Pepsi-ACC Trophy, the tournament will be participated by teams from Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, Hong Kong, UAE, Maldives, Japan and Nepal. The two finalists of the championship will participate in the Asia Cup to be held in Pakistan in April 2001.
The very composition of this tournament will reveal how far flung small and big nations have been roped into Asia's cricket network. It simply indicates the ever rising interest of nations in the game of cricket. The most surprising is to attract a country like Japan which concentrates mostly on dominating the world through its unmatchable industrial and economic potential with perhaps somo wrestling as the most entertaining sports event. Being such an industrious nation, the time may not be far when they will start dominating the cricket field also, at least in South East Asia.
Maldives, the other participant of this tournament is an island country with limited facilities available for cricket. It is the enthusiasm of the settlers from other Asian countries that is trying to put the country on the map of Asian cricket. Mr Khalid Aziz a former cricketer and an international umpire from Pakistan visited Maldives a few months ago to provide them necessary guidance in the organization of cricket in the country.
The germs of cricket are spreading so fast that even strife torn country like Afghanistan is anxious to adopt the game. In response to an invitation from the ruling Taliban, Mr Nasim ul Ghani the ICC Development Officer for Asia is planning to visit Afghanistan to assess the possibility of introducing cricket over there. He will inspect the existing infra structure and ground facilities etc to determine the level of assistance required by them. While Iran is the next country on his list for such a probing visit, it is learnt that the ICC is also thinking of promoting the game in the Central Asian States.
Apart from Asia, many new countries in other parts of the world are setting themselves on the path of cricket. The continent of Africa has already two cricketing giants in South Africa and Zimbabwe while Kenya an associate member of the ICC played in the World Cup 99. Among the other progressive forces in the continent are East Africa having already participated in some junior international tournaments and Tanzania and Uganda fast emerging on the scene. They have engaged a former Pakistan player Shakeel Ahmed as their national coach.
I may inform the protagonists who undermine the importance and popularity of cricket that there is no stopping this princely game spreading its wings all over the universe. While it has taken its roots in China its progress in USA and Canada is highly encouraging. If hockey can be played on ice, you may see cricket being played in Antarctica one day.