Although cricket is quite inconspicuous on the Chinese mainland, the game is making a comeback at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has included cricket in the sports program for the next Asian Games to be held in the historic city in China's eastern Zhejiang Province.
The decision was taken at the OCA's general assembly in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday and was confirmed to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency by the OCA's honorary vice-president Randhir Singh. "Yes, cricket has been included in the sports program for the 2022 Hangzhou Games," the PTI quoted Singh, who is a former Olympian and an ex-international shooter.
Cricket in multi-sports events
Despite making its only Olympic appearance at the 1900 Paris Summer Games, cricket has never been an Olympic sport but made its first Asian Games appearance when the Chinese city of Guangzhou hosted the quadrennial event in 2010. The sport was added to the program of the next edition in Incheon, Republic of Korea, in 2014, but was dropped from last year's Jakarta Games in Indonesia.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the governing body of Olympic sports in India, sounded happy with the decision to add cricket back to the games program. IOA secretary general Rajeev Bhatia told the Indian media, "We welcome the decision of the OCA. Which format will be played is not yet confirmed but it is a welcome decision."
Although cricket is played with three different formats – the five-day long Test, the 50-overs-a-side one day and 20-overs-a-side Twenty20 – it's the shortest Twenty20 or T20 version of the game that has been the most convenient option for a multi-sports event like the Asian Games. The short and snappy format not only attracts viewers with its slam-bang big hitting but also helps new viewers hook on to the game because of its shorter duration.
In 2010 and 2014, the T20 format was played and it's expected to be played again in Hangzhou as well.
Will India send their cricketers to Asian Games?
Quite interestingly, India, the game's powerhouse, didn't send their much-celebrated men's cricket team in any of those Asian Games editions and skipped the events owing to the team's packed international commitments.
In fact, the IOA has no control over Indian cricket which is run by a separate governing body, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Mehta, who attended the general assembly in the Thai capital, said, "The IOA will request the BCCI to send a cricket team in the 2022 Asian Games. India can win in both men and women's events and increase its medal tally."
However, cricket is the biggest money-spinner in Indian sports and with the cricketers having high commercial values and the BCCI earning in billions, sending a team for an event like Asian Games, which follow the age-old amateur participation rules and doesn't pay any money to the athletes, it's very unlikely that the Indian cricketers will take part and leave aside their million-dollar professional contracts and endorsements deals.
According to PTI, a BCCI official told the news agency, "There is a lot of time to go for 2022 Asian Games. In due time, we will discuss and decide."
Incidentally, other sub-continental powerhouses Sri Lanka and Pakistan grabbed the men's and women's gold respectively in 2014 while Bangladesh and Pakistan bagged the top medals respectively in 2010.
Cricket was also included at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when India sent a team, comprising of a couple of senior cricketers like icon Sachin Tendulkar and also some youngsters but failed to win a medal as the Shaun Pollock-led South Africa won the gold medal and Steve Waugh-led Australia the silver.
China and cricket
The presence of cricket in China is as negligible as the popularity of the game of mahjong in the Indian sub-continent, but historically the British-invented gentlemen's game was played on the Chinese soil way back in the 19th century when a team of officers from the British ship HMS Highflyer played against a local eleven in Shanghai somewhere in Hongkou on April 22, 1858. A few years later, in 1863, the Shanghai Recreation Fund from the Race Club bought the first true cricket ground in the mainland and the ground was situated inside the Shanghai Race Club racecourse, located in present-day People's Square and People's Park near the iconic Bund.
China's Hong Kong has embraced it and the Special Administrative Region (SAR) has made significant progress in the world of cricket. In last year's Asia Cup, Hong Kong not only qualified but almost snatched a victory against the formidable Indian cricket team after making them huff and puff.