Cricket chiefs eye bright future after Asian Games bow

Guangzhou: Cricket chiefs say the sport`s debut at the Asian Games has been a resounding success as they plot its further growth in the region and mull how to get powerhouse India on board.

As well as the satisfaction of getting the competition off the ground and seeing the first official cricket matches on Chinese soil, the sport has been confirmed for the 2014 Incheon Games in South Korea.

Cricket was in danger of being dropped from the 2014 edition until a last-minute compromise with the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and the Olympic Council of Asia.

Sitting on the boundary during the Bangladesh v Malaysia quarter-final, ACC chief executive officer Ashraful Huq was upbeat.

"It`s fantastic. It brings a different perspective to cricket as part of the second biggest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics," he told AFP.

"It means so much for the smaller countries. They get additional benefits from the Olympic councils for their development. It`s bringing in additional benefits for everybody."

The next step is to get India, the financial powerhouse of the world game, involved. Huq admits that the non-appearance of the cricket-loving nation of more than a billion people is a loss.

India refused to send either a men`s or women`s squad to Guangzhou, a decision that threatened to undermine the credibility of the competition.

Huq acknowledges the difficulties of balancing a hectic international cricket programme but said he was not asking for the superstars to appear at the Asian Games.

"It`s a question of availability. We want Test-playing countries to send their best available team," he said.

"Nobody is going to send their Test players when Tests are being played. Commitments in Tests and one-day internationals are set a long way in advance."

Despite talk of the game`s development, there was a danger that Guangzhou would be a one-off until certain assurances were given to South Korea.

"South Korea wanted a guarantee that we would provide full technical assistance to make the ground, to run the event which we have as we have to (Guangzhou Games organizing committee) GAGOC," said Huq.

He said cricket at the Asian Games was sustainable because of the huge interest in the game.

And benefits for cricket of having it at the four-yearly showpiece include the construction of new facilities and the interest generated.

Cricket`s inclusion also means more funding for cricketers across Asia. Countries that have benefited directly include the Maldives, Malaysia and China, who have received grants from national Olympic committees.

The ACC hopes to hold tournaments at the ground in Guangzhou and Huq said it would be a useful facility for nearby Hong Kong, which does not have an international-standard ground.

"We have given them coaches and a curator funded by the ACC. They are trying to get a (university) team going over here. They think there is enough interest among the students."

As far as cricket at grassroots level is concerned, Huq said 200 schools had started playing the game in China.

"China started playing just three years ago. They only have a handful of players but the team has improved and the women nearly won bronze," he said.

"None of them had seen a cricket bat or ball three years ago, had never had seen it on TV or read about it in the newspapers."

Bureau Report