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Cricket gaining popularity in baseball-crazy Japan

In Japan where baseball is king, cricket is slowly gaining popularity with the country’s captain saying “our dream” is to make it to the qualifying rounds of the World Cup.

While Japan is now home to an estimated 3,000 players and 200 teams, with the game no longer a sporting curio, the idea that the country could one day compete in a major international tournament no longer sounds as preposterous as it would have done just a few years ago, the 

Guardian reported. In November, the Sano ground the first dedicated cricket pitch in Japan to meet international standards will host Japan, China, South Korea and the Chinese Dragons from Hong Kong in the first ever East Asia Cup.

That Japan’s youthful team their youngest player is just 15 is aiming to reach the latter stages is proof of how quickly the sport has developed in recent years, according to Naoki Alex Miyaji, chief executive of the Japan Cricket Association.

“The gap in ability in international tournaments used to be huge,” Miyaji, 37, said. “We didn’t have what it took to build an innings. If we batted first we were lucky to make it through to lunch,” he was quoted as saying by the British paper. Miyaji, whose mother is Scottish, fell in love with cricket during childhood summer holidays spent in the UK, before taking it up at Keio university in Tokyo and going on to make his debut for Japan in 2000.

Japanese cricket’s turning point came several years ago when he returned from working in England, eager to share his love of cricket with his compatriots. To his amazement, local authorities and businesses, desperate to arrest population decline and bring more visitors to the area, agreed to support his plans to turn Sano into Japan’s first “cricket town”.

Japan’s 33-year-old captain, Masaomi Kobayashi, had not witnessed a single over of cricket until curiosity prompted him to start playing at university. “This is a young side, so we have a lot to look forward to,” said Kobayashi. “Our immediate aim is to become one of the top three or four teams in the region.
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