Sparkling new ground sure to help cricket take root on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am

Examples of the legacies promised by staging the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games may be hard to pinpoint.

The capital's iconic stadiums lie empty amid the returning smog, traffic snarls the Olympic express lanes, and mainland sport remains an elitist, secretive industry run by faceless government bureaucrats.

However, whatever the outcome of this year's Asian Games, there will be a corner of the mainland that will be forever blessed with cricket.

It took some hard persuading by the visiting 160 international journalists last month to convince organisers that Guanggong Cricket Ground should be a must-see on the inspection tour.

The 5,000-seat venue is a slick modern arena that will cause club chairmen from Hampshire to Hobart to flush green with envy.

Here, the cricket's Asian Games debut will attempt to bowl over a new audience. It is hoped the quality and excitement of the Twenty20 format will match the surroundings, and the teams - including men's and women's squads from both China and Hong Kong - will dazzle and attract a loyal following on the mainland.

With interest piqued and TV images beamed around the world of this neat little ground wrapped in loud applause for a boundary or a wicket, IOC officials might be convinced it is time for the sport to be welcomed back into the Olympics after a hiatus of a century and more.

'We hope the Asian audience will appreciate this [cricket ground],' says Xu Ruisheng, vice-mayor of Guangzhou municipality and Gacog executive deputy secretary-general.

Cricket fans the world over will be lining up to shake Xu's hand if it helps their beloved sport make it into the 2020 Olympics.

Asian Cricket Council chief executive Syed Ashraful Huq is also bubbling with optimism.

'They are building an exceptional stadium of international standard. This is going to surprise the whole world,' he says.

The ground would also be a boon for Hong Kong cricketers, he said.

'The ground will be dedicated exclusively for cricket and [regions] like Hong Kong can make use of this facility,' he added.