Forget the Yanks, but ambitious plans are afoot to engage China

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am

It was not exactly a day of national mourning in the Great White North, although I can't really understand why not. After all, it was Canadian John Davison who hit the fastest century in World Cup history in South Africa a mere four years ago against the West Indies.

Judging by their inclusion in this year's World Cup, Canada are also one of the top 16 cricket-playing countries in the world. And yet there was hardly a sense of indignation when Kenya thrashed them by 70 runs in their first match at this year's tournament.

Save all the jokes about how the Canadian team would have fared much better if there was ice on the pitch because this year's World Cup is being played in the balmy West Indies and not the Northwest Territories. But at least the Canadians were in the position to be the butt of cricket jokes. Their superpower neighbours to the south did not even qualify. So it won't be the Americans who are humiliated in the tournament by England and New Zealand. It won't be China either.

That submissive role will be left to the hapless Hosers of Canada and all because the fingerprints of colonialism are all over this World Cup. Other than the Netherlands, every country in the tournament has a historical link to England.

For some folks, this is not a good thing.

It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavours look interesting and lively, American humourist and travel writer Bill Bryson opined in his book Down Under, that was merely an unintended side effect. But try convincing one billion people in India that cricket is nothing short of life or death, Mr Bryson.

Yet, while there are more people playing cricket in India than there are playing American football or rugby in the entire world, the game is still one of the most inaccessible of sporting pursuits. You may not know the rules to rugby, but the brute strength of the game can often simplify it. The same with American football.

Cricket features so much subtlety and strategy that the uninitiated are often left scratching their heads. And let's be honest here; most folks in the working world can't afford to give up five days to watch one match. Throw in the fact that places like Sri Lanka and the West Indies are world powers in the game and you can see why cricket has a hard time getting global acceptance.

However, I am sure if England win the World Cup, which has become slightly more difficult after losing their opening match to New Zealand, they won't consider it a shallow victory because the Americans and Chinese were not participating. The country came to a virtual standstill and indulged in a massive orgy of partying when they finally beat Australia in the Ashes in 2005 - and that was only against one country.

Still, this is 2007 and whether it's sports or business, things feel slightly incomplete without some sort of token involvement from one of the world's two superpowers. But the imperialistic US have stretched themselves far too thin globally right now and to try and invade the cricket pitch as well would be futile, so forget the Yanks and focus on China.

It seems everybody is looking for ways to engage China and why should cricket be any different? The problem is there might be more people playing cricket in Hong Kong than there are in the rest of China. The game has just not developed any sort of critical mass on the mainland.

However, ambitious plans are afoot. The Chinese Cricket Council (CCC) has laid out a 14-year plan that will culminate in the mainland playing in the 2019 World Cup and gaining full test status by 2020. Considering that there are no teams from East Asia in the World Cup, their stated ambition would automatically make China a cricket power in this part of the world. And while the common theory holds that whatever China wants these days it will eventually get, I can't help feeling that the CCC's projections are still wildly optimistic.

Fortunately, China has already found itself a role in this World Cup as it has used its new-found wealth to build sparkling stadiums in Grenada and Antigua. Rest assured, this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact Taiwan has long ploughed money into the West Indies in a desperate effort to buy diplomatic status. The US$12 million stadium in St Kitts and Nevis was built by donations from the cricket-mad folks in Taiwan.

Not to be outdone, China stepped up and built a couple of stadiums because it loves the game of cricket as well. According to captain Ricky Ponting of the highly fancied Australians, spin will be in as the wickets get a bit more worn throughout the tournament.

It's good news for China, which seems to be spinning its cricket ambitions already.