Cricket makes Asian games debut in Hangzhou, China, drawing curious and engaged crowds.

A sense of reverence fills the air as Pakistan’s Sadia Iqbal takes the bowling crease, facing off against Bangladesh’s Shathi Rani in the Asian Games women’s bronze medal match in Hangzhou.

The distinct sound of leather meeting willow reverberates around the purpose-built cricket ground, which not long ago was a field of vibrant sunflowers.

The atmosphere exudes a village green charm rather than the electrifying ambiance of a venue like Pakistan’s Gaddafi Stadium. Nevertheless, the few hundred spectators present are fully engrossed in the action—even those who admit to never having seen cricket before.

The predominantly Chinese crowd reacts with collective “oohs and aahs,” erupting into applause when a wicket falls, cheering heartily at every boundary, and occasionally donning puzzled expressions when a fervent lbw (leg before wicket) appeal disrupts the tranquility of the Zhejiang University of Technology (ZJUT) Cricket Field.

“I had never seen cricket before, so I was curious to learn more about this sport,” remarked spectator Huang Dapeng, a local business owner in Hangzhou. “I’m starting to grasp the basics, but I’m genuinely enjoying it.” Some in the audience possess a degree of cricket knowledge and are captivated by the game’s intricacies.

“I had visited Sri Lanka before, and a friend invited me to watch a cricket match, which piqued my interest,” shared Liang Xiaoqian, a travel agent. “When I heard that cricket was part of the Asian Games, I wanted to delve deeper into the game.” She added, “I’m really enjoying watching it, and I’ll be supporting Sri Lanka in the gold medal match.”

Others attended simply because it was the Asian Games, and they were eager to witness any sporting event. “These were the only Asian Games tickets we could secure,” said Jeff Wang, an engineer, smiling as he sat in the stands with his father, Wang Hang. “It’s my first time watching cricket. I didn’t know much about it before, so I’m not entirely sure what’s happening. But I did hear that this game is very popular in South Asia.”

‘Legacy Beyond the Games’

As one gazes upon the nearly circular ground, it’s hard to fathom that the meticulously manicured grass was once a flourishing field of sunflowers. Thankfully, it won’t be left untended after the Asian Games. The ZJUT campus’s newest sports facility is slated for a vibrant future.

“It will remain here indefinitely,” affirmed venue manager Li Danlin to AFP. “Cricket will continue to be played at this venue.” The university, boasting over 20 colleges and an enrollment of 80,000 students, plans to educate its students about the sport and encourage participation.

“We aspire to see cricket clubs forming and utilizing this facility,” Li stated. Pakistan’s head coach, Mohtashim Rasheed, stressed the importance of expanding cricket’s reach into new territories.

“It’s incredibly exciting to witness the Chinese crowd turning up to watch cricket,” Mohtashim, brother of Pakistan Test player Haroon Rasheed, expressed to AFP. “This is a promising sign for cricket’s growth in China.”

He continued, “Cricket is a complex sport, so we need to develop it not only in China but also in other countries. The key is to introduce it into schools.”

Mohtashim envisioned exchange programs to help Chinese boys and girls learn the game, starting with a shorter format like six-a-side cricket. “If we can get under-10s involved, we’ll see a difference in five years,” he emphasized. “For older kids, we can introduce cricket alongside baseball, which has some similarities. Swing a bat and hit a ball—this translation could work.