May 20, 2017

How do you explain cricket in Japanese?

Amod Sugiyama
A commentator recounts his experience of describing the game (and carrying water to the toilets) during the ICC Women's T20 Qualifier in Sano, Japan
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The Sano International Cricket Ground © Amod Sugiyama

April 28
I arrive in Tokyo station around 5am on a night bus from Kyoto. A two-hour train journey still awaits me before I get to Sano, "the city of cricket" in Japan, a place most people in the country haven't heard of.

I'm heading there to do live-streaming commentary for the ICC Women's WT20 - East Asia Pacific Qualifier, on behalf of the Japan Cricket Association. In addition to the hosts, Samoa, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Vanuatu are taking part.

A member of the JCA is waiting at Tanuma station to save me a 30-minute walk to the Sano International Cricket Ground, which is in the middle of nowhere in Tochigi Prefecture. "If you build it, they will come," the JCA might have thought.

I have been told that I will be on my own for the first game, and that the commentators, members of the Japan national men's team, will join me as the tournament goes on. I have to do commentary in Japanese and in English, which is not my first language. But I soon find out that English commentary is much easier to do. I have no idea how to say, "Another huge appeal for lbw, and this time it is given by the umpire!" in Japanese.

Both games on day one turn out to be tough to commentate on. Japan finish on 70 for 8, managing four boundaries (two come off Samoan misfields), and Samoa chase the total in 13 overs for no loss. A similar game follows with PNG managing an easy nine-wicket victory against Vanuatu.

Explaining the rules of cricket to new viewers is hard enough in English, let alone any other language © Rob Baney

April 29
Samoa win their second game as well, against PNG, after a patient innings of 36 off 46 from the Samoa captain, Regina Lili'i, and some late hitting from Lelia Bourne takes the score to 99, and the bowlers restrict PNG to 83. Lili'i, the player of the match for her 36 and 0 for 7 off three overs, quickly becomes my favourite cricketer to watch in the tournament.

Unfortunately it is another bad day for the hosts. They are bowled out for 61 by Vanuatu, with 29 of those runs coming from extras.

After day one I receive feedback that I am using too many cricket terms while commentating in Japanese, which defeats the point of getting non-cricket watchers interested. So I try using baseball terms. For example, "infielders" for cover, point, mid-on and so on, and "outfielders" for long-on, deep midwicket, deep square-leg etc. It turns out be a big mistake because I cannot specify which fielder had taken any particular catch.

About 200-300 spectators turn out for Japan's weekend games - which is more than for Ranji games, isn't it? The Sano ground is beautiful, but it doesn't have any stands, only tents for the spectators.

April 30
A wet run-up delays the start of the morning game between Samoa and Vanuatu and I spend most of the day explaining the rules of cricket in Japanese. I am relieved when the weather gets better for the afternoon game - explaining the Duckworth-Lewis method in Japanese would have been a disaster!

Japan lose another game after they concede 138 runs to PNG, dropping about six catches and bowling without purpose.

Umpire Tony Wilds (left) with the author © Amod Sugiyama

Commentating with members of the Japan men's team gets a bit boring after a while because one of us describes the action in English and the other then repeats the same in Japanese. But it is fun when the team manager, Alan Margerison, who I had played with in Kyoto, joins me. "The batter drives it through the covers and it goes to the boundary like a tracer bullet! (Hope you are listening, Ravi)," we say.

Japan Cricket Association's CEO, Mr Miyaji, kindly hosts me in his house through the tournament. He is a man with a clear vision and a fantastic person to talk to, though I do not agree with every plan he has for developing cricket in Japan.

The JCA is supposed to be a national organisation, but since it is based in a small town, a lot of the resources are focused on producing players in Sano. Other teams have to travel to Sano to play matches or not participate at all.

However, the JCA is working with limited resources, and the turbulence of the last few years in the ICC has hit Associate cricket hard. Mr Miyaji has done a wonderful job of creating an international venue and now the local government has also promised a grant for developing the game.

I tell Mr Miyaji that my favourite cricketer is Mike Atherton.

"Atherton? He was just a blocker!"

"Exactly! And that is why I like him so much."

May 1
Today is supposed to be a rest day but the Samoa and Vanuatu game has to take place after the officials decided to postpone it from the previous day because of a rain delay. An umpire at dinner the previous night told me the girls deserved a full 20-over match and not a five-overs-a-side nonsense after flying all the way to Japan.

Not many volunteers - mostly friends and family of the JCA staff or members of the men's team - turn up today, so I end up carrying four tanks of water repeatedly to the temporary toilets that have been set up around the ground. I thought I was here to do just commentary and match reports! "For the love of the game," I tell myself.

Another win for Samoa concludes the first round of the round-robin phase.

Players and volunteers dance to celebrate the end of the tournament © Amod Sugiyama

May 2
Another sorry sight for Japanese cricket. They only manage nine runs in their first ten overs, and a total of 49, against Samoa. That is now four losses out of four games. What surprises me the most is that their top-order players have looked to be the most technically correct batsmen in the tournament. However, if an opposing captain sets a silly mid-off, short cover, silly mid-on and a short midwicket, you need more shots than a perfect straight push, don't you?

I have a nice chat after the game with the Japan captain, Kurumi Ota, who was appointed only three weeks ago and hasn't had enough time to prepare. This is a new team with not much international experience. Cricket captaincy is the toughest job in the world, skip! Look at all the premature greying among international captains. I wish her all the best for the coming years.

A late withdrawal by one of the umpires on the panel calls for the arrival of Tony Wilds, who umpired two Sheffield Shield games and a BBL game last season. We often talk about how competitive the Australian professional players' structure is, and how that extends to the umpires in Australia. Fewer teams mean fewer opportunities for an umpire like Tony at the top level. During dinner he tells me many great stories. Maybe I've misunderstood Shane Watson all these years. Sorry Watto!

I tell Tony about the time I met the Australian team at The Oval during the 2013 Ashes. On the opening day, I went to the ground early to meet the players. Pretty much every player ignored this idiotic Japanese fan who barely spoke English, but Ed Cowan took some time out to have a chat. We spoke about cricket in Japan, and in the end he gave me his Gray-Nicolls bat and batting gloves. Tony umpires in Sydney grade cricket and Ed still appears for his club, Sydney University, when he has the time, and Tony confirms that Ed is one of the nicest blokes in the game.

May 3
Japan lose to PNG by 92 runs but they play much better cricket. The captain's lofted extra-cover drive is the best shot of the day in my eyes. They are bowled out for 63 in the end but not before they take the attack to the PNG bowlers.

May 4
The last day. The game between Samoa and PNG is effectively the grand final. Although Samoa are undefeated so far, PNG have a better run rate. It is a tightish game, but PNG chase the Samoan total of 79 in the 19th over. It is heartbreak for Lili'i, who once again carries the team with her all-round performance (32 and 2 for 9 off four overs).

And finally, a consolation victory for Japan! They beat Vanuatu by three wickets. I stopped taking sides in cricket a few years ago, but I think I have found my team again.

May 5
We all wish Papua New Guinea well for the next qualifying stage, during a presentation dinner for all the players, ICC officials, JCA staff and the volunteers.

This tournament has given me an opportunity to see what life is like for Associate cricketers and those involved in the lower rungs of the game. I have a chat with a Vanuatu player who is thinking about moving on from international cricket to go back to study. She thought I was playing for Japan's national men's side. "No, no, I do not play for Japan." "Why not?" she asks. "You will see when you see my left-arm spin in the nets," I reply.

Time to bid farewell to Tony as well. Every time I check Sheffield Shield scores from now on, I will check whether you are umpiring in the game. We will be in touch.

This tournament has reminded me again how much I love this game. I think I'll come back to Sano for the next edition of the qualifier.

Amod Sugiyama is a part-time teacher who plays club cricket in Kyoto

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Siva on May 23, 2017, 12:08 GMT

    Good write-up! I have lived in Japan for a few months and had many great trips there. I have always told my Japanese friends that Cricket is similar to Baseball but somewhat "superior"!! I love Cricket and Japan and hope Japanese will take to cricket in a big way.

  • afu2551680366 on May 23, 2017, 1:04 GMT

    this gentleman from Nagoya had ALL the gear! He got a taste of the game from his days studying at uni in the UK and wanted to promote the game in Japan. The game had not taken hold even when I left Tokyo in late '98 but it is heartening to see that it is gaining in popularity. Baseball has always been popular as fans can attend games after work so perhaps T20 does have an opportunity for growth in Tokyo and Osaka. A very interesting article and it makes me very glad to hear that cricket is not a mystery to the Japanese people anymore.

  • afu2551680366 on May 22, 2017, 14:10 GMT

    tottemo natsukashii (very nostalgic) as someone who grew up watching plenty of maidan cricket (ToI Shield matches sitting in either the tent of the Mafatlal team or the JK team - the late MAK Pataudi liked reading the Archie comics that I used to have on me - yes, it was interesting to see that he enjoyed them; he was one of my favourite cricketers, Ashok Mankad being the other) and plenty of Ranji trophy matches at the Brabourne stadium as a youngster; living in Tokyo from the mid 80s' was like being exiled into the desert without water! There was absolutely no cricket news of any sort, even in the Japan Times! I recall being one of the first members of the "Tokyo Cricket Club" and playing our first practice match by the banks of the Arakawa river. We then played a match against the Yokohama Country Club on their home ground. There was a Japanese gentleman who traveled all the way from Nagoya to play in this game... he was known as "Mr.Cricket" as he was crazy about the game...

  • Pranay on May 22, 2017, 1:26 GMT

    It was a joy reading your article Sugiyama-san. I am actually surprised to note that the Japanese women's team is made up of all Japanese players, as most of the teams I have seen from associates have a number of players from the subcontinent. May be I haven't seen many. Nonetheless, it would be great if we could have some article on how cricket came to Japan, how it has progressed over the years and what locals think about it (especially those who like/follow it). You have great writing skills and I am sure you will be able to do justice to it.

  • Jose on May 21, 2017, 2:02 GMT

    Delightful reading.

    Even more delighted, if the game catches on in japan. And, if that happens, watch out! By the time you visit them & say 'sayonara ' Japan may win both WC & WCT20!

  • Jose on May 21, 2017, 1:56 GMT

    Never try to explain in words. May turn out, futile!

    Convert every step in detail, into a comic book. They will grab it & swallow it, the way a kid may do with little cookies in a cookie jar. Next time, when you go there. look around, anywhere, more so in public transportation, or when they take a break after an-office lunch, in their little air-conditioned cars. You can see almost everyone has in his hand, at least one comic book.

    Sorry for the stereotyping, but it is all in fun, based a bit on reality

  • ARKRAJ3849247 on May 20, 2017, 18:44 GMT

    Nice Article Amod...Good Luck for your Writing n Cricket..Welcome to India or even to US for the commentary,,Great to see lots of new teams, Always wished to see China and Japan, If they join, that will be more exciting to watch (atleast in T20s). Have Fun Young man,,

  • Nihaz on May 20, 2017, 16:34 GMT

    Great article... Need more articles like this.

  • Procheta on May 20, 2017, 11:31 GMT

    Amod (that's an Indian enough name!), that was an absolutely delightful read. You certainly know better English than most Indian writers/commentators in the sport! In any case, superbly witty article and I wish you and Japanese cricket, men's and women's, all the best. Hope you visit India soon; we can chill out at a Ranji game and I can learn some Japanese commentary.

  • Chris Ward on May 20, 2017, 10:51 GMT

    Sano! Played there a few years back (i live in Japan). The JCA is doing their best to promote the game over here but its not easy in a country obsessed with baseball. Played against Miyaji - nice guy. And dismissed his wife, the former Japan women's captain, with a dirty beamer haha. Great times!

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