Friday, 31 July 2009

Big in Japan?

I’ve done my research. Japan competed in Division 5 of the World Cricket League in the Channel Islands last summer, having qualified thanks to winning the East Asia Pacific Cricket Trophy in 2007. Their global debut in the ‘big time’ didn’t go too well, however, with the only fillip being a tie with the Bahamas between defeats to the cricketing powerhouses of Jersey, Botswana and Singapore. They were mercifully rained off against the eventual tournament winners, Afghanistan, who have risen meteorically since to gain official ODI status in April. This summer they held their own in Division 7 of the pyramid, finishing third out of six.

Unlike most lowly-ranked cricket nations, however, it appears that most of Japan’s squad are both homegrown and homebred, with the only reliance on the ex-pat community being a couple of English names and one of apparent sub-continental provenance.

The reason for this preamble isn’t just for showing off my knowledge of barely club-standard international cricket played in distant reaches of the globe (though St Helier is hardly that far), but for the slightly odd episode from cricket nets at the club on Friday night. A young man named Tatsuo from rural Japan walked over to join in. He is studying English in Liverpool over the summer during which time he had seen Pakistani children playing cricket in the park, seen a little on TV in the pub, and was intrigued enough to see what he could do. He’d never seen cricket growing up in Japan and had never played before. It struck me as something akin to me trying to join in a game of Kabaddi whilst touring the Punjab. A very brave thing to do which had the potential to go very wrong indeed.

After an hour or so, with a style very much of his own, he had developed a bowling technique approaching legality with more than a hint of off-break from the pitch. He’d also developed what could generously described as a healthy respect for the ball as well so we left his batting debut for another week but we had an entertaining conversation in the bar afterwards during which he calmly handled all the questions semi-ignorant Englishmen could muster on Japan - yes, of course we asked about the bullet trains. And whaling. He was such a pleasant chap we invited him down to watch the games at the club the following day to experience a game in the flesh for the first time.

I know I’m not the only person to have found it hard enough to explain either the rules of, or merely an enthusiasm for, cricket to English people who are surrounded by the game whether they notice it or not. This includes my manager just this week who has recently watched more cricket than ever before because the Ashes are on the TVs in front of him at the gym. And he still only just about gets the scoring system. What would Tatsuo make of it all?

He arrived in the last hour to see Sefton chasing Southport’s 231. It all seemed to be going fairly swimmingly; I thought he was beginning to understand how the game was ebbing and flowing as a partnership would build and then a wicket would fall in what was turning out to be quite a tense finish. Then, with about five overs left, the bombshell: he didn’t understand why the ‘pitcher’ kept changing ends when Southport were batting at one end and Sefton the other. In the end the chase closed on 230-8 so I then had to try to explain how the draw works.

Fortunately he hadn’t come the week before when the last over had contained a six and three wickets including a stumping off a wide and the most ludicrous and unnecessary run out off the last ball to throw the game away. Fortunately there wasn’t an lbw and bonus points are still some way beyond him.

Hopefully it won’t be the last we see of Tatsuo; he did seem enthusiastic and was keen to learn more. Even if it is just a passing fancy to see this absurd game the English play which can last five days and still be a draw, I hope when he leaves our shores to teach English back in his homeland that he leaves with something of an idea of how cricket works.

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