INCHEON -- While cricket is a foreign sport in many Asian nations, it has a huge following in other parts of Asia and the world. Cricket is like a religion in India, and also has a strong grip on its neighbors. It’s not surprising then that at these Asian Games, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka picked up the gold, silver, and bronze respectively in the women’s competition.
Unfortunately India didn’t send a team in either the men’s and women’s events, likely due to their national players being busy with other commitments. An indication of just how popular cricket is in the Indian sub-continent was clear to see by the turn-out of journalists on the days Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were playing. When rain interrupted the women’s final, there were more journalists than spectators.
Cricket originated in England in the 16th century and spread to other parts of the globe in the 18th century when colonists introduced cricket to the West Indies and the British East India Company introduced cricket to India. Cricket made its way to Australia as soon as colonization began in 1788 and into New Zealand and South Africa in early 19th century.
People unfamiliar to cricket are often confused by the rules and terms which are frequently used in the sport. For instance when a batsman gets out without scoring a run, it’s described as a ‘duck’ and is one of the more embarrassing and least desirable feats in cricket. There's also a ‘golden duck’ when a batter gets out on the first ball he faces and a 'royal duck' -- the first ball of the innings.
There are also some quirky names for the field positions. For example there is a position called ‘silly mid-off’. It’s called ‘silly’ by virtue of the fact that the fielder is positioned close to the batter and in an area where the batsman is likely to hit the ball, so the chances of getting whacked by the ball are pretty high. It’s not a position for the faint-hearted and most fielders now will wear a helmet when they are assigned to ‘silly mid-off.’
There are actually three types of cricket and believe it or not the traditional form of the game is a 5-day test -- yes it can last for five days! In the late 1970s one day cricket was introduced and became popular alongside Test match cricket. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that Twenty20 cricket was formally introduced, where both sides play 20 overs each, the game lasting about three hours. It was thought Twenty20 cricket was more marketable to nations where the game was not popular. Twenty20 cricket is being played at the Asian Games.
One rule that has set cricket apart from other sports at these Asian Games is the use of a coin toss to determine the winner as a last resort. Due to the time constraints of the tournament, a victor must be found at the end of each scheduled game. Being played outdoors cricket is very reliant on weather and the match can’t go ahead if it’s raining due mostly to safety concerns.
Monday’s match between Kuwait and the Maldives at the Yeonhui Cricket Ground was decided this way when the Kuwait captain called heads to win the game and proceed to the quarterfinals. It was a new experience for the skipper Mahmoud Bastaki. “This is our first participation in a huge tournament like the Asian Games. This is the first-ever coin toss I’ve ever had to decide… I called heads and the umpire flipped the coin,” he said.
The pitch is the rectangular shaped area in the middle of the field where the bowler bowls the ball to the batsman. The pitch is treated differently to the rest of the ground and the grass is kept short and a heavy roller is used to keep the pitch flat. The condition of the pitch is important because it can affect the way the ball bounces off it. For example when a pitch is hard the ball can bounce off it like concrete, making it go faster.
Players at the Asian Games have commented that the pitch at the Yeonhui Cricket Ground is relatively low and slow. That generally means the pitch is softer and the bowlers don't get as much speed or height when the ball bounces into the ground.
As opposed to baseball where the ball is delivered on a full-toss to the batter, in cricket the ball usually bounces first before it reaches the batsman. The fastest bowlers in the world can get up to speeds of 160kmph! Some bowlers also spin the ball, and they are just as effective in taking wickets.
A coin toss is also used before the game and the winning captain gets to choose whether his side bats or fields first. Prior to 1809 the visiting team could choose whether to bat or field first before the current method was introduced. Cricket was often referred to as the 'gentleman's game' for the spirit in which it was played. For example if the batsman knew he was out, he should 'walk' even if the umpire decided otherwise. Today the modern game with its high paying professionals seems less and less gentlemanly.
This is only the second time cricket is being held at the Asian Games and some countries like South Korea are fielding teams for the first time. The men’s team was only pulled together about 18 months ago and has since had training tours to Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Fiji.
The president of the Korean Cricket Association Kim Seung-chul says many of the players have been recruited from the Dragons cricket club at Sungkyunkwan University.
“I actually established the cricketing club in our school in 2001. I also tried to include cricket as an after school activity and put cricket as one of the general physical education subjects. And in 2011, I established the Korean Cricket Association to drive the inclusion of the Korean team at the Asian Games. In 2012, we went on a recruitment drive for national team members and although they had short-term training period, they have enthusiasm and confidence,” said Kim.
Cricket is virtually unheard of in South Korea but there hasn’t been any shortage of volunteers to help at these Asian Games. They have come from the small but enthusiastic local cricketing circle which also includes expat players.
“They do anything from setting up the rope boundary to putting on the covers when it rains, for instance we have Choi Jun-hyuck who has been helping prepare the pitch and he now knows almost everything there is to know about the technical aspects of preparing for a cricket competition,” says Kim.
“Since July, I started to be a volunteer for managing the pitch and everything. I’m the first and only South Korean to manage a pitch, I drive the trailer to cut the grass everyday and put on covers after the game or during rainy days because we don’t want the pitch to get too wet,” said Choi. “I was originally part of the Korean national team and went to off-season training to Malaysia and Sri Lanka. But I wanted to work for them rather than being on the team,” said the 26-year-old.
Julien Fountain, a former Great Britain Olympic baseball player, who turned to cricket coaching with much success, was recruited to coach the South Korean side in April. The Englishman says one of the strengths here is that with baseball being popular, players have natural ball skills and believes the key to the future of cricket in South Korea is getting access to guys who play in or just missed out on baseball's Futures League.
"They could take cricket massively forward. These are the athletes they should really try to attract, it could really boost this team, cricket could become stronger here. It also comes down to the marketing of the game and the cricketing concept. Ninety-nine percent will never have even considered it because they don't know anything about it. We have to sell it," he said.
Kim is determined that the Yeonhui Cricket Gound -- the first official cricket venue in South Korea -- will be well utilized after the Asian Games. “I hope that even after the Games end, this newly built stadium is preserved as a permanent relic and the place where various cultures can converge. I hope cricket can continue its unique culture like how field hockey has successfully launched its culture in Korea. I want cricket to be a leisure sport for all the people from various countries.”
By Shin Yoo-won (AGNS)