The game of cricket making major inroads into China

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The Independent Online

China has made no secret of its desire to be a major player in the world of sport. From the athletic exploits of ex-world champion hurdler Liu Xiang to the rise of tennis player Li Na and on to Yao Ming in North America's National Basketball Association, every success is greeted with blanket media coverage and messages of support from the government.



And now the traditionally English game of cricket is making its mark on the mainland - and there are two tournaments on the horizon that will show to the world just how far Chinese cricketers have come since the game was officially sanctioned in 2005.

First up the Chinese will join the annual Hong Kong Cricket Sixes from November 6-7 - an event that features a scaled-down version of the game, with six players rather than the traditional 11, and an event that is beamed to an estimated global audience of 80 million through the Ten Sports, Dubai network and assorted regional broadcasters.

The event features seven of the sport's top-tiered "Test'' nations - alongside the hosts - and the Chinese players will take the field for two exhibitions matches.

"For the first time Chinese cricketers will be rubbing shoulders with Test countries, which is a big development for the game of cricket itself,'' explained Captain Shahzada Saleem Ahmed, president of the Hong Kong Cricket Association.

China is aiming to have 20,000 registered cricketers on the field by 2015 and the nation's enthusiasm for the sport follows a trend that is fast spreading through the far reaches of Asia.

For the first time in its 59-year history, this year's Asian Games - to be held in the Chinese city of Guangzhou from November 12-27 - will be featuring cricket as one of its 42 medal sports.

Eight nations will play for gold in Guangzhou, with the likes of China, Afghanistan, Oman, Nepal and the UAE taking their place against the top-tiered nations Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

War-torn Afghanistan's rise in the game has been an inspiration. The nation has only been officially part of the regional Asian Cricket Council since 2003 but this year qualified for the International Cricket Council's World Twenty20 tournament - an event only contested by the game's elite nations.

Hong Kong Cricket Sixes:

Ten Sports Dubai network:

Asian Games: