HK expertise to help Taiwan establish game
Cross-straits relationships may be booming on the economic and tourism front, but it is a whole new ball game when it comes to cricket.
The mainland was unable to lend Taiwan a hand with its unexpected request for help to establish the game, so they lobbed the ball on to Hong Kong.
'Taiwan approached China asking for assistance to develop the game, as well as to become a member of the Asian and world governing bodies,' said Danny Lai, general manager of the Hong Kong Cricket Association. 'China knew how much we helped them and passed Taiwan's request on to us.'
Lai recently returned from an exploratory visit to Kaohsiung, the budding centre for cricket in Taiwan, convinced the game would take root. He has started the process of helping Taiwan acquire membership of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and the International Cricket Council (ICC).
In Taiwan, there are many fields of dreams for baseball. And it is this link to a bat and ball which neophyte Taiwanese cricket officials hope will kickstart the game as they look ahead to future participation in the Asian Games.
'We have a very strong baseball culture in Taiwan, both men and women, and we will be inviting some of these players for a trial,' said Chen Taisheng, president of the newly established Chinese Taipei Cricket Association.
Like so many things in life, it was a chance occurrence that led to the creation of the governing body.
'I came across cricket purely by chance when I met an Indian artist studying in Taiwan,' Chen said. 'This guy was mad about cricket and I was amazed by his devotion to the game. I became fascinated by this and was soon hooked.'
Cricket has long been an alien sport in Taiwan, only played by a small group of expatriates - mainly British and Indian - playing socially on a baseball diamond. But ever since the Chinese Taipei Cricket Association was set up, there has been a move to establish a league in Kaohsiung, which boasts eight teams.
While the players still struggle to come to terms with the rudiments of the game, the biggest challenge facing Chen and the pioneering association is grounds.
'We only play matches on baseball fields of which we have a lot in Taiwan. But these are small and not quite suited for cricket,' Chen said.
'The Kaohsiung government has promised to give us a [piece of] land which is roughly 200 metres by 500 metres near the National University of Kaohsiung for construction of a cricket ground.
'We hope to turn it into a cricket training centre in one year. This centre will have international-sized grounds with practice nets.'
The Asian Games has been a major catalyst behind Taiwan's move to embrace the game.
In 2010, at the Guangzhou Games, cricket in its Twenty20 format was played as a medal sport for the first time with both sexes taking part.
It was a huge hit, so much so that the Olympic Council of Asia convinced South Korean officials to include cricket at the Incheon Games in 2014.
Chen concedes getting Taiwan to field a competitive team in 2014 might be ambitious, but he has high hopes of developing the women's team faster than the men's.
'Ultimately we want to be competitive at the Asian Games, but we have a long way to go to catch up. Luckily, we are close geographically to Hong Kong and China and we hope we can get their help in developing the game,' said Chen.
'We need to play a lot of practice matches and we are planning to send a group of coaches and officials to attend the Hong Kong Sixes this year so they can learn more about the game.
'China, who was proposed by Hong Kong, became a member of the Asian Cricket Council in 2004, followed by the ICC in 2005. We would like to follow in their footsteps,' Chen added. 'The Hong Kong Cricket Association has been helpful in guiding us in these initial stages.
'One day, we hope we can play in a triangular with China and Hong Kong and who knows, maybe soon, there will come a day when all three teams will be able to stand on the medal podium,' he said.
Having already given a helping hand to the mainland, the HKCA is now looking to aid Taiwan too. 'We are doing all we can with our limited resources. I hope the ACC and the ICC realises how much we are doing to promote the game.' said Lai.
The entrance fee, in Taiwan dollars, or HK$788, for individual members of the Chinese Taipei Cricket Association