In the latest of my articles on the game of cricket around the World, I revisit Japan and see how a new project called, Cricket Blast, aims to engage more children in the game, increase the exposure of cricket in the country and, ultimately, improve the national side.
I speak to the Japanese Cricket Association's Cricket Blast Project Manager Alan Curr and ask him a few questions on the idea behind Cricket Blast, his role in promoting it and how Japan's children, and cricket in general in the country, can benefit from it.
What is Cricket Blast and why was it formed?
Cricket Blast is a 6-a-side modified format of cricket where everyone gets to bowl two overs and bat, as a pair, for four overs (no matter how many times you’re out). Each game takes around 90 minutes and the players involved are boys and girls aged between 8-12 years.
Cricket Blast was formed to give kids an opportunity to play cricket in a fun and safe environment and in a way that would not take up huge chunks of time.
This is the first real step into cricket for most of the participants, and while we are happy to see kids coming back again and again, we also want to see our numbers growing as people learn more about cricket in Japan.
The program itself runs for six consecutive weeks, twice a year, for just two hours on a weekend. This gives time for everyone to play one match and have a few other warmup games and challenges besides.
We don’t want to eat into people’s time too much and we find this way that many of the parents don’t just drop their kids off and leave, but instead stick around to watch and learn about the game, which is a terrific way of growing the general knowledge of the sport here.
What is your role in it?
Well, the project is a joint initiative between the ICC and the Japan Cricket Association and I report to both. My official title is Project Manager for Junior Participation which means that I am working with two development officers, one based in Sano which is about 80kms north of Tokyo and is where the JCA Head Office is, and another in Akishima, in the western suburbs of Tokyo itself.
Ultimately we are trying to upskill staff and volunteers so that we can create a sustainable and scalable format of cricket that, once it is fully established, we can take to other areas and continue increasing player numbers.
My job is to help the guys here see the big picture as well as learn the skills required to work within a growing organisation like ours.
It is worth pointing out that although the ICC has been getting a lot of stick recently for not supporting the global game, over here at least, for a country with only a minor standing in the cricketing community, the support has been fantastic.
Not just on a financial level, but also having a number of people to ask for help, largely within the Cricket Australia/Victoria organisations, to assist in mentoring everyone here. That sort of support is invaluable and helps everyone here believe that we can achieve something.
How has Cricket Blast been received by the children of Japan?
It is early days yet but so far I would say very well. The sport is something new and different and there’s no doubt that the kids all really enjoy it and leave each week wanting to return.
That was especially evident at the final Cricket Blast in Akishima when several kids and parents were wondering what they were going to do between now and the next series in
That is actually our next big challenge and one we are looking seriously at right now. In Sano cricket is quite well established and there is a good level of knowledge here about the sport, but in Akishima we were starting from scratch just six months ago.
We need to have volunteers who are able to help run junior cricket clubs to maintain the interest levels that we’ve managed to build up during the program or else risk losing the kids back to other sports.
What are you hoping to achieve from this initiative?
Well the bottom line is that we want more kids playing cricket. Over here it is unusual for people to discover the sport much before university and so the players in the national team have nowhere near the experience that other nations have. So if we are getting boys and girls playing from the age of 8, then the standard will inevitably rise purely through having played more.
In Japan it is unusual for a child to play more than one sport growing up. It’s not like the UK where you’ll play two or three sports over the course of your school year, here it’s one sport and that’s it – until the weather gets too hot and everyone just jumps in the pool.
So we need to keep providing opportunities, but as I said before, for the project to be sustainable these need to be run by volunteers as the JCA simply does not have the resources to do it all ourselves.
Will Cricket Blast become a regular part of Japanese cricket?
I certainly hope so – if it doesn’t then I probably won’t have done a very good job here! We are very hopeful that the ICC will continue their backing into a second year, and if we hit our targets and grow as we think we can then their overall vision is for us to be able to sustain the program ourselves after 3-4 years.
There’s no doubt that’s a huge challenge, but the structure is in place here and with the right amount of commitment and focus there’s no reason why we won’t see the first player to come from the Cricket Blast programme playing in the national team in less than 10 years.
There’s a lot more information at www.japancricketblast.com which is in English and Japanese and where you can find out how Cricket Blast is trying to grow cricket, starting in schools, and where the Blast series fits into the pathway.
The future is bright in Japan and with the efforts of those involved in Cricket Blast i am sure it will continue to develop and thrive.
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