That was the first question posed to team coach Dhugal Bedingfield by the Japanese media when news first broke that the team had qualified for the 2020 Under-19 World Cup. It says one of two things: either the Japanese media know very little about world cricket, or they aren’t afraid to dream.
Cricket in Japan began in unusual circumstances. The first recorded game was played on June 25, 1863, when a group of British merchants invited the Royal Navy to play a match in Yokohama. The cricket that day, though, was incidental. There had been rumours floating around among the British ex-pats in the weeks before that on June 25, Japanese samurai – on the order of the Shogun – would launch an attack on them to flush them out of the country.
And so, to protect themselves on that day, the merchants chose to link up with the well-armed Royal Navy personnel. James Campbell Fraser, one of the better cricketers in that match, is supposed to have batted with a revolver on his person.
One of the reasons why Japan has taken to cricket is because of how the sport is positioned in the country. In schools, sport is often considered a chore. Then there’s the bhukatsu (after-school) program that asks children to choose one sport and stick with it through their school careers, irrespective of how good or bad they are. Cricket, instead, wants to remain fun.
Neel Date, the team’s No. 3, explains: “Plenty of people here love sport, but don’t love the culture associated with taking up a sport in Japan. There is a reputation of players being pushed very hard. So cricket is popular with children whose thoughts align in the opposite way and look at cricket as an alternate opportunity to play sport passionately. The similarity to baseball also helps.”