Shenyang native Jiang Shuyao first Chinese cricketer to play in England

Shenyang native becomes the first Chinese player to compete in England

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 2:24am

When the authors of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack update the around the world section for the 2013 edition, they might be inclined to include somewhere in the 1,400-plus pages a mention of Jiang Shuyao - the first Chinese player to compete in the English league.

The 26-year-old Shenyang native made history this summer when he joined Cleethorpes Cricket Club in Lincolnshire and made a dream debut, becoming the club's highest scorer of the season and notching up several match-winning innings.

Trainee sports teacher Jiang arrived in May to bring a hint of oriental exoticism to this windswept Victorian seaside town at the buffeted North Sea end of the industrial Humber estuary on Britain's east coast.

The Asian Cricket Council paid for Jiang's flight and his parents raised RMB50,000 for living expenses after a Cleethorpes member teaching at a university in Shenyang brought him to the club's attention. Jiang had first caught the eye in Hong Kong, playing opening batsman at the Quaid-e-Azam Twenty20 tournament at Mission Road in 2010.

He made an impressive first knock of 73 not out for Cleethorpes and has put a spring in the step of the club with his quiet, can-do attitude and gracious, patient approach to learning the complex ropes of the English game and sticky wickets - something sociologists as well as cricketers have been attempting for well over a century.

Though clearly good enough for Cleethorpes' first team, Jiang - or Shu as he known here - has been welding his willow and donning his trademark red gloves in the seconds. The overseas player rule allows the club to field only one foreign player in the first XI, and they had before his arrival signed South African U19 international Graham Hume.

So rare is the opportunity for a Chinese player to play on foreign fields that Jiang has been gorging himself during his busman's holiday. He has been turning out for the club's third, fourths as well as academy sides to capitalise on the experience.

"It has been a real education for me to play in the English league, and I have learnt much about the way the game is played, the techniques and about the culture of the sport," he said during a blustery Bank Holiday 40-over match with the "Meggies" Academy team.

"I have to say the crease here is a bit difficult," said the right handed batsman, referring to the greasy wicket at the rather utilitarian ground of opponents Immingham, located a few miles up the Humber river banks, the industrial backdrop a small reminder of home for any journeyman Chinese cricketer.

He was caught behind for a modest 13 - a low score from the prolific run scorer who is poised to top the stats table as the leading batsman overall with 741 in all games. He has played 27 games, averaged 30.88 and hit five 50s. He's a productive fielder to boot, with 19 catches - not bad for a player who only took up the game four years ago after a chance encounter with an Indian international he flicked onto on China's eclectic TV.

He is wrapping up his historic season on English soil this weekend, playing in the third and fourth teams.

Jiang said his five-month long immersion in the English league - fickle weather, cucumber sandwiches and all - will pay dividends when he returns home, his trip hopefully inspiring other Chinese players to take to the wing and seek overseas experience.

"I'll be taking all that I have learnt back with me and passing it on to young Chinese cricketers. It's been an amazing experience. More Chinese players need to play in established leagues," said Jiang.

His arrival and talent have caused a stir with the UK media. "Is the arrival of Shuyao going to spark a Chinese influx at Clee?" asked the Grimsby Telegraph when Jiang touched down. Hopefully it is, said club chairman Paul Hewstone. "He has been really well received at the club and is hugely popular. Shuyao is the highest run scorer at the club this season and though we have a few games this weekend, I don't think anyone will surpass him," he said.

Several players, ground staff and supporters called out, "Hello Shu!" to him as he arrived at the ground. He has a firm grasp of the important calls - especially those to prevent mayhem running between wickets - and he has an easier time ignoring sledging from his opponents.

"To start with, his English was really poor but he can now hold full conversations and he enjoys the banter," said Hewstone.

"He found English wickets difficult to start with but he soon learnt to adapt. He also learnt how to play different types of innings depending on the situation. I think - and hope - it is not just his cricket experience which he will take back with him, but the overall experience of club life," he said.

There is talk of signing him next year as the club's international star. "We'd love to have Shu back and we would also consider having other Chinese cricketers over in future, finances and other factors dependent of course," said Hewstone.

As light rain drifted briefly across the Immingham field - to be quickly replaced by another burst of sun - Jiang was given out, caught behind.

"I really regret not taking up the sport from an early age," Jiang lamented after his walk back to the pavilion. "I know I will never become a professional player as I started playing too late. I now realise it is so important for cricket to be introduced to young players in China. You need to build the sporting culture at grassroots, as they do here in England, if you are going to develop talent," he said. "I know the General Administration of Sport is interested in promoting the game but there needs to be a change in attitude to build from the bottom up and make cricket more accessible."

Jiang was brought to the attention of Cleethorpes by long-time club member Matt Smith, who teaches English at the Aerospace University in Shenyang and also coaches cricket.

"I set up a cricket team at my university and we played regular matches against Shu's university. I watched his development and he impressed for the Chinese national side during the Asian Games. I contacted the club here, saying he was of great standard, and they have been very accommodating," said Smith, 41.

"He has impressed Cleethorpes, as I knew he would. Jiang is one of the shining Chinese players who really gets the game and is a natural cricketer. He is the complete sportsman, with a good spirit," he said. "A member of the club offered him a room, so he has had a great English experience, living in an English home and playing cricket."

Inflation may be a worrying problem in China but Jiang has suffered bouts of expensive culture shock in England.

"Everyone has been really friendly but England is very expensive. I have spent 30,000 RMB since I have been here - that's a year's wage for my parents and most Chinese," he said.

Smith, a self-taught Mandarin speaker who has helped compile a bilingual glossary of cricketing terms, reckons Jiang is the first of many Chinese players to venture overseas. "One of Shu's teammates will be going to Sydney this winter to play for Western Suburbs," he said.

For Jiang, the future consists of coaching cricket and more playing.

"I want to help bring young Chinese players up to standard and I will pass on my experiences here, all the culture that surrounds the sport," he said. And he wants to open a cricket equipment shop - "We don't have such facilities," he said - in which Chinese players of tomorrow can hopefully pick up a Wisdens.