Japan boast a global reputation for productivity but their rapid emergence onto cricket’s global scene has surprised even the most positive of supporters.
Later this month, Dhugal Bedingfield’s side will rub shoulders with India, England, Australia et al, ready to pit their wits against the biggest forces in the game at the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup.
But three years ago they didn’t even have an U19 team let alone one capable of sharing a global stage with players who possess IPL contacts, such as India’s Yashasvi Jaiswal and Anuj Rawat.
Still, Japan is known for creating things: cars, electronics and robots are its specialism, but in this case a pathway from school fields to international fields has been formed. Japan may not be regarded as a cricket powerhouse but it may just become one.
A summer camp in August 2017 convinced Japan Cricket there was sufficient talent and enthusiasm to build a U19 team. That came after four years of sweat, blood and toil in promoting the game after a structure was first put in place following an ICC grant for a targeted pilot participation programme.
They ambitiously bid and won the rights to stage the East Asia-Pacific Qualifier last year, selecting a young group of players they were hoping to blood for 2021.
However, they beat Samoa by 170 runs in the tournament opener and qualified with ease – going unbeaten through the tournament.
As anyone who has ever visited Tokyo can attest, things tend to happen rather quickly in Japan.
“People might be surprised that Japan is playing cricket and there might not be an historic culture in the country, but that is not to say we can’t be good at it,” said Alan Curr, head of operations at Japan Cricket.
“Eleven of the boys that played in the qualifiers are able to play again in two years, which shows how far we have come. We are two years ahead of what we expected.
“We are not expecting to knock over India but we are hoping to come away with our reputation as a cricketing nation enhanced.
“A lot of people have said how great it is but we are not there to make up the numbers. We don’t expect to tear up any trees but if we can bag a win or two then that would be great.”
It would be unwise to discount Japan. They boast plenty of talent, led by Marcus Thurgate, who scored a half-century in each of their qualifiers. He is also the team’s captain, wicket-keeper and star batsman – filling in anywhere in the top order.
Neel Date, an opening batsman, is another to look out for while off-spinner Yugandhar Retharekar has the best economy figures in the Japanese senior league last season, despite being just 16 years old.
His five for 18 helped set-up a four-wicket win against Fiji in Japan’s final qualifier, while fellow spinner Masato Morita will hope to find pitches that suit his leg-breaks.
“If we can maintain the learning curve we are on right now then we will only get better,” Curr added.
“We only meet up four times a year and we have qualified for a World Cup. We knew we would have to do a lot of work with them.
“With the tournament being in January and February, which is in the middle of our winter and there are no indoor training facilities in Japan, we have had to get creative.
“We had a coach called Rohan O’Neill come over from Victoria to work with the boys for six weeks, so they have been through some intense training and they have improved – although there is a long way to go.”
There might be. But Japan has already gained considerable ground.
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