Cricketers bowled over by local support
India's women's cricket team receive their gold medals after beating Sri Lanka by 19 runs at the Zhejiang University of Technology Pingfeng Cricket Field on Monday. PHOTOS BY GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY
With the sound of leather on willow once again being promoted and appreciated in Hangzhou, cricket's continental heavyweights are hoping that the return of the game to the Asiad will help capture the imagination of a wider audience.
Despite tricky batting conditions that took a toll on both sides' quality of play, the women's cricket final between India and Sri Lanka on Monday did not disappoint the full house at the Zhejiang University of Technology Pingfeng Cricket Field, with the Chinese spectators quickly getting to grips with the fundamentals of the sport, which is massively popular among South Asian countries and regions.
Propelled by 46 runs from opening batter Smriti Mandhana and 42 from No.3 Jemimah Rodrigues, India set a total of 117 for Sri Lanka to chase after 20 overs, while teenage bowler Titas Sadhu took three wickets for just six runs to help India outscore its subcontinental rival by 19 runs to secure the Asiad's first cricket gold in nine years.
As the undisputed top-ranked sport in countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, cricket had only featured on previous Asian Games programs in 2010 and 2014, before being dropped from the 2018 Games in Jakarta. Its return in Hangzhou, using the shortest T20 format, with each team facing 20 overs and the matches lasting around three hours, has presented a glimpse of its potential for Olympic inclusion—possibly at the 2032 Brisbane Games in Australia, where the game is also incredibly popular.
The Hangzhou crowd's warm reception of the game and its Olympic promise have grown expectations that the Chinese will tap into the game sooner than expected.
"China is a country which could do a lot with cricket. We need to get China involved," Rumesh Ratnayake, coach of the Sri Lanka women's team, said after the final.
"But awareness of the game is very important. If people can watch it more, and if the sporting hierarchy can introduce it ... and recognize the beauty of the game, it could become more popular here."
With cricket remaining a niche sport in China, the impressive turnout at the Hangzhou tournament and the crowd's quick understanding of its basics and rules have given the games an enjoyable vibe for cricketers at the newly built university field, who are used to sensational followings at home.
"I was very surprised to see them in the stands, because I know that China is not known as being a cricketing country," Bangladesh team captain Nigar Sultana said of the spectators' reactions during her country's 5-wicket win against Pakistan in the bronze-medal match on Monday.
"It seemed that they were enjoying each and every moment, and I think it was really motivating for both teams to play (in front of the crowd).
"I think in China, people are actually showing that they are very supportive of cricket and I hope they will do much better in cricket as well."
The excitement generated during the fortnight at the Asiad is expected to last at the university, with the cricket ground to be kept as a permanent facility after the Games for students and amateur club members use for training, according to the venue operation team.
Pundits applauded the approach, while urging Chinese promoters and governing bodies to start introducing the shorter forms of the game among the youth.
"Obviously, you understand the Asiad is a 15-day competition. Cricket takes a lot of time. This is the shortest format, and it still takes three and a half hours. And you need a full field," said Rajib Dutta, the Indian team's bowling coach.
"It is brilliant (to keep the field). I think in a few years we will see China playing cricket."
Pakistan's head coach Mohtashim Rasheed added that it is critical for cricket to captivate more fans worldwide, and China is a market that cannot be overlooked.
"It's very exciting to see the crowds of Chinese coming to watch. That is a very healthy sign for developing cricket in China," said Mohtashim, the brother of Pakistan Test player Haroon Rasheed.
"Now with the shorter version of cricket, it might be designed for those countries (and regions) where the game is not yet established, so they will be more likely to get involved in it. It's a good sign for the development of cricket here."