Japan hoping surprise cricket U-19 World Cup appearance is just the start

By Jack Tarrant

Cricket is barely on the radar in Japan, where baseball, soccer and sumo wrestling dominate the sporting landscape, but all that could be about to change after its under-19 (U-19) team qualified for the World Cup in South Africa.

It is early days yet, of course, with the Japanese Cricket Association (JCA) founded in 1984 and made an ICC member only in 1995. The U-19 side was founded in 2017 and took part in 2019's East-Asia Pacific qualifying tournament to get some practice.

After a 170-run win over Samoa in their opener, however, they went undefeated to book their place in the U-19 World Cup, which starts on Friday. The team includes five players of Indian origin and several with mixed heritage, reflecting Japan's slowly increasing cultural diversity.

"Cricket is an international sport and with the changing Japanese domestic demographic, this is what the future is going to be," said JCA chief executive Naoki Alex Miyaji, who has a Japanese father and Scottish mother.

Miyaji pointed to the success of Japan's rugby team at the 2019 World Cup, where a squad featuring 16 players born outside the country reached the quarter-finals for the first time.

"We need to change and see that traditional Japanese thinking is not going to help Japan in the future. Japan needs to open up a bit," Miyaji said.

"We need to learn (from) ... the really good reception from the Japanese people after the World Cup. Those players ... are Japanese, they speak the language and they represent the values that people can relate to."

In a bid to increase the number of people playing cricket from the current 3,000, the JCA have targeted two "Cities of Cricket" - Sano, which is 80 km north of Tokyo, and Akishima, which is to the west of the capital.

"Rather than throw a massive blanket over Tokyo and capture everyone we can, we have gone for a more targeted approach," said the JCA's head of operations, Alan Curr.

"We got cricket into the schools and set up the junior Cricket Blast program. It is six-a-side, fun cricket where everyone gets a bat, everyone gets a bowl. It is all about being inclusive and having a laugh."

The program has produced 11 of the 14 players in the under-19s squad including Kazumasa Takahashi, an all-rounder who debuted in Japan's senior team the day after his 15th birthday.

Japanese cricket is keen to differentiate itself from the harsh, disciplined approach to training at junior level in baseball and other more popular sports.

"We want to be seen as a Japanese sport, of course, as we are a Japanese organization ultimately, but there are parts of Japanese sport we aren't particularly fond of," Englishman Curr added. "Kids should be kids."

Curr recently took the squad on a whirlwind 10-day, five-match tour of Australia to prepare for the World Cup and vice-captain Neel Date said he was living the dream.

"Playing international cricket in some form was always a huge dream for me, and the under-19 World Cup is making that dream a reality," the 18-year-old said.

Date, who has Indian heritage but has lived in Japan since he was an infant, said his love for cricket had begun to rub off on his Japanese school friends.

"For them, my name has almost become synonymous with cricket," said Date. "They are immensely proud of my pursuits and I know they will be following my cricket in South Africa very eagerly. They may be even more excited for the World Cup than I am."

Regardless of how they perform in South Africa – where they have been drawn in a pool with Sri Lanka, New Zealand and defending champion India – the players hope this is just the beginning for cricket in Japan.

"It will be a matter of utmost joy to see not just expats but also Japanese kids playing cricket in the park like we did when we were 10," said Date.

"If I get to see this sight 20 years from now, and know that I contributed a tiny fraction to make the situation of cricket in Japan that way, it would be boundlessly satisfying to experience."

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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It would be nice to have some cricket news on JT now and again. The World Cup came and went last summer without a single article, even after that incredible final.

Come on JT, give it a go!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Not a sport I watch but good for them.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Awrsom, would love to see it more. Baseball if you are American, or Japanese I get it. But if you are a cricket fan, Australian, British, Jamaican, New Zealander, South African, Irish, Indian, Pakastan, Shrilankan, Bangladesh, and others I'm embarrassed I can't remember the others. But it's an international game played everywhere. Japan making a splash is great. Requires not size, strength but skill. A fair playing field. Japan could do well if given support.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Something I never thought to see, a cricket article on JT :)

Well good luck to them, Like Cricky above, cricket is a game I always thought would suite the Japanese.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Cricket has come from a soporific "gate ball" type deathly boring game to something that makes you sit up and watch. Modern cricket is worth watching. I'm very happy to see Japan take an interest in this. It suits this climate!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

But if you are a cricket fan, Australian, British, Jamaican, New Zealander, South African, Irish, Indian, Pakastan, Shrilankan, Bangladesh, and others I'm embarrassed I can't remember the others.

to Cricky

What you should be embarrassed about is not the fact that you don’t remember all the countries that play cricket but the fact that you are implying that only the US and Japan plays baseball.

I understand that cricket is a international sport but baseball is just as global as cricket. I hate people who comment negatively on baseball when they don’t really understand the sport and that is ignorance imo.

Your ignorance on the sport of baseball is... “awrsom”.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

99.9% of Japanese have no idea what cricket is and could not explain even the simplest detail of how the game is played. I'm very surprised they have a team in the world cup. This is the very first I have heard of it. I suppose it is a good thing for cultural diversity.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I understand that cricket is a international sport but baseball is just as global as cricket.

I'm not so sure. Cricket ranks as the No.2 sport in the world by popularity (2.5 billion fans). Football (Soccer) is No.1 at 4 billion.

Baseball (500 million) is played by some people around the world, but outside of the US and Japan and possibly the Carribean, I can't think of any countries where it is a major sport.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Cuba? Which is funny as its hands off for the league.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Wishing the Japanese Cricket team much success in their bowling, batting, fielding, and catching endeavors at the forthcoming Cricket World Cup in South Africa.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Kazu my little friend, exactly where did I disparage baseball? In fact I said if you like baseball I get it. It just happens many nations consider cricket a national sport.

Your ignorance about cricket can be fixed with an Internet seach. Now that's embarrassing. When I was at school we had baseball classes for those not into Rugby, Aussi Rules, League, Soccor, Gailic Football, Fencing, compeditive origami, pig pong, jazz ballet, interpretive dance, sure I'm aware of baseball. Don't be so serious about a game, there will be another next week.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

cricket is a game I always thought would suite the Japanese.

Agree - from an aesthetic perspective, it does fit Japanese culture, rather than the more boisterous and in-your-face baseball, focusing more on elegance, even down to the all-white uniforms of the players.

Perhaps in recent years it has moved more in the direction of baseball, with shorter, brasher games, with coloured uniforms and music etc, but the slower paced five-day test match is still at the top.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Please, god, no...and I'm British!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

They score one even mild upset and... boom! Everyone becomes cricket "fans."

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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