Cricket is played, followed and enjoyed in over 200 countries and territories the world over, yet mention the sport to Japanese friends and you will most likely be met with blank stares. At best, they may confuse it with a game played with nets on the end of sticks, or a game played on horseback. Definitely something outlandish. It usually comes as a surprise that cricket is in fact not lacrosse, or polo. It comes as an even bigger surprise when they learn that Japan has a national cricket team.
Japan fields both a men’s and women’s national team, is an associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and, all things considered, isn’t that bad at it. The men’s team is currently ranked 43rd in the world out of 106 and the women’s team 13th. The women even won the bronze medal in the 2010 Asian Games. Considering the main skills required to play are similar to that of baseball, you’d imagine Japan could get even better at it, if it should be so inclined.
In a country where baseball rules supreme and soccer its closest rival, getting cricket noticed or funded has proven an uphill struggle, but one tirelessly undertaken by the Japan Cricket Association. An NPO since 2001, the JCA has been introducing cricket to school children, educating coaches, establishing teams, developing playing facilities, and competitions, nurturing elite players, and participating in international competitions. Its bold vision is to make cricket “a shining sport of choice” by 2017. It estimates that currently cricket is played by 3,000 players in Japan and through its grassroots initiatives, is being introduced to more than 14,000 school children each year. By 2017 they aim to increase that to 50,000.
Making cricket relevant, fun and engaging for kids and schools has been one of its major challenges. When professional cricket can sometimes take five days to complete a single match (test match cricket), keeping it short and snappy is key. Last year saw the launch of a short, fun-filled program and competitive series called Cricket Blast.
Instead of a hard leather ball, pristine white uniforms and perfect grass pitches, Cricket Blast is played with a soft ball in t-shirts and caps, on local elementary school grounds. Where the professional game is played by two teams of 11 players, Cricket Blast is played with teams of six. It’s a six week program (two-hour sessions per week on a weekend), where elementary school age kids can practice the core skills of bowling, batting and fielding and have fun in an exciting competition format. Registration for the series is either individually or in groups, with individuals assigned a team based on their age.
Cricket Blast is actually the last step in a three part pathway for kids. It begins in the schools directly, with kids coached in the fundamentals by either JCA professional coaches or trained volunteers.
The second stage is the Cricket Blast School Cup, a one day competition where all schools in the region (currently limited to Sano in Tochigi and Akishima in Tokyo, with Yokohama starting in October) are invited to enter teams and go head to head and enjoy the atmosphere of a thrilling mini tournament, complete with high energy music.
Introducing cricket into schools offers a unique opportunity for kids to experience the second most popular sport in the world, develop their teamwork, social and sporting skills and for schools, the chance to engage with the local community and even gain some kudos by winning cups and competitions.
As Program Manager Alan Curr explains:
“The sessions we run in schools are all focused on improving fundamental movement skills, teaching kids how to catch, throw, strike a ball and keeping them active. We also work on decision making and teamwork in every session we run.
“We are teaching these core skills in ways that Japanese schools have not seen before. We are working closely with the ICC and Cricket Australia, who send consultants over on a regular basis, to make sure our material is right on the cutting edge”.
If your school would like to begin a cricket program (either as part of a regular PE class or as an after school club) please see the Japan Cricket Blast website for details or contact Alan Curr directly at [email protected]
For parents who’d like to get involved and help develop cricket in your own community, the JCA operates an Ambassador program. As an ambassador, you would help set up, umpire and score events and introduce cricket to local schools in your area. See the Cricket Blast website for more details and to access Cricket Blast videos and coaching manuals.