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China’s quirkiest attempt to globalise: playing cricket

Red China takes on red ball

With the world’s biggest haul of golds at last year’s Olympics, it may seem oxymoronic that China got “absolutely thumped” by the Maldives at a sport. Then again, that sport was cricket.

Indeed, China’s national cricket team enjoyed mixed fortunes at its first senior level cricket tournament in Thailand at the end of last month. After the disappointment of being thrashed by the Maldives (population 350,000), the Chinese went on to record their first ever international win, over Myanmar. China now hopes to be winning tournaments of similar calibre within five years.

This looks ambitious but the Chinese might have a future in international cricket in the somewhat longer term. After all, the successful player relies more on good balance, timing and a quick eye than on being big or powerful. So the more slight Chinese physique is less likely to be penalised; the world’s best two batsmen of recent times – India’s Sachin Tendulkar and West Indian Brian Lara – are both small men.

Cricket is also a game that requires patience; non-cricket lovers may not realise this but some games can last five days. It involves a fair amount of inscrutability too, especially from batsmen trying to cold stare back at angry bowlers. Both are traits that the Chinese are said to possess.

In fact, cricket has a longer history in the Middle Kingdom than we might expect. The first recorded match was played in 1858 in Shanghai, between a team of officers from the HMS Highflyer and a Shanghai XI.

Since then, matches have been concentrated amongst the expat community, although Lu Zhihua, the chairman of China’s Cricket Association, is doing his best to widen the sport’s appeal. Lu wants to have 20,000 players nationally by 2015 and has begun by promoting the game at primary schools.

Of course,the sport’s aficionados will recall at least one further Chinese-related cricketing term – the bowling of the “Chinaman” ball. The delivery is occasionally employed by off-spin bowlers, and uses additional wrist action to achieve a sharper turn of the ball off the pitch.

Charlie ‘Buck’ Llewellyn, the first non-white South African cricketer, is thought to have invented the technique at the end of the 19th century, although how it came to be known as the Chinaman ball is disputed. The version we like best at WiC recalls a 1933 match in which West Indian spin bowler Ellis “Puss” Achong, the first Test cricketer of Chinese ancestry, was bowling against England. Achong sent down an unexpectedly sharp-turning delivery, and had the English batsman Walter Robins stumped as a result.

Legend has it that the politically incorrect Robins remarked on leaving the pitch “Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman.”


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