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Japan's tryst with ODI cricket

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Japan_ODI_CricketThe International Cricket Council’s decision to award T20 international status to all of its 104 members has brightened the hopes of plenty of nations who have, for long, striven to attain recognition at the highest level. Among these teams is Japan, where cricket began to be taken up by locals only in the 1980s, despite the huge popularity of close cousin baseball in the country. Japan became an Affiliate member of the ICC in 1989, and an Associate member in 2005.

Interestingly, not many people know that Japan actually played official One-Day International cricket even before it was given Associate status by the ICC. As of today, the farthest that the Japanese men’s team has gone on an international scale is Division Five of the ICC World Cricket League in 2008, wherein they finished tenth out of 12 teams. They ultimately went down the ladder to Division Eight in 2012, after which they went off the World Cricket League radar.

On the other hand, Japan’s women’s team had already attained bragging rights by participating in the Women’s World Cup Qualifier (for the 2005 edition) in the Netherlands in 2003. This was the first time that a qualifying tournament was held for the Women’s World Cup. In what was a six-team event, Japan were joined by the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, Pakistan and the West Indies to determine the top two, who would gain entry into the 2005 World Cup in South Africa.

This inaugural Qualifier was christened as the International Women’s Cricket Council Trophy – it was not until 2005 that the IWCC merged with the ICC. While the presence of Ireland and the Netherlands was due to their finish in the bottom two at the previous World Cup in 2000, Japan were one of the four invitees, and their spirited 14-woman squad bore a youthful look, with an average age of 23. They were the only team in the competition without prior ODI experience.

 

In fact, Japan’s opening game against Pakistan at Sportpark Drieburg in Amsterdam on July 21, 2003 was not only their first ODI, but also their first List A fixture. To put matters in perspective, the Japanese men have not played List A cricket yet. The greenhorn side, led by 25-year-old medium pacer Kaori Kato, had a chastening initiation into the ODI scene, as they were routed by Pakistan, who were themselves finding their feet in the world of women’s cricket.

 

Kato bowled with purpose, taking 2/25 in her ten overs to help restrict Pakistan to 181/6. The top scorer was extras, with 54, as the debutante bowlers conceded as many as 43 wides. Japan began their chase soundly, with openers Yuko Sasaki and Ema Kuribayashi putting on 21 for the first wicket, albeit with a lot of help from extras. However, what followed was arguably the most sensational collapse seen in any ODI match, engineered by 15-year-old off-spinner Sajjida Shah.

Shah was only 12 years old when she made her debut for Pakistan in 2000, making her the youngest international cricketer of all time. She castled Sasaki and trapped Kuribayashi leg before within the space of two runs. Both the openers made three runs each – which would turn out to be the joint highest individual scores of the innings. Shah’s off-breaks, in tandem with Khursheed Jabeen’s left-arm spin, proved virtually unplayable for the Japanese batswomen.

Caught in the tangle of the spinning web, Japan unravelled in incredible fashion as the innings went on. They lost all their ten wickets for just seven runs, with six of them being ducks. The agony lasted for 34 overs, in which they could muster a measly 28, inclusive of 20 extras. Shah captured scarcely believable figures of 7/4 from eight overs, which are still the best in women’s ODI cricket. The next day, Japan took on Ireland in Haarlem, and the game was as one-sided.

The only silver lining for Japan was that they survived the full 50 overs this time, but all they could manage was 62. In contrast, Ireland galloped to a nine-wicket win in the tenth over. Japan’s third game at Schiedam saw their bowlers at the receiving end of a total of 375/5 by the Netherlands, before tumbling to a humungous 301-run defeat. Japan had the ignominy of creating a new record for the most extras conceded in an ODI innings – 104, including 67 wides.

 

Japan’s most competitive performance came two days later, in an extraordinary encounter against Scotland at The Hague. Through their best display with the ball, they managed to bowl the Scots out for 142, even though their profligacy continued with 73 extras. Unfortunately, the batting could not rise to the occasion, and despite the luxury of 55 extras in their innings, Japan caved in for 85. In a rather bewildering stat, 56.38% of all runs scored in this game were extras.

 

The concluding game against the West Indies at Amstelveen was nearly a replica of the one against Ireland, as Japan were demolished by ten wickets after being skittled out for 62. Across their five games, Japan failed to cross 100 even once, and in every innings of theirs, the top scorer was extras. Only thrice did a Japanese batswoman cross double figures, and the highest individual score was just 18. There were 258 extras conceded by them, including 191 wides.

Yet, their ordinary show notwithstanding, Japan had done themselves proud just by being there. They were only the 15th nation (including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, who played as separate teams at the 1973 World Cup) to play women’s ODI cricket, and till date, remain one of only 16 to do so. Representing a cricketing outpost at the highest stage is no mean feat, and the 14 women who toured the Netherlands have the satisfaction of being Japan’s only ODI team.

For the record, the 2003 IWCC Trophy was won by Ireland, who made it to the 2005 World Cup along with the West Indies. The next time Japan played List A cricket was in 2011-12 in Bangladesh, where they finished ninth out of ten teams at the Women’s World Cup Qualifier for the 2013 edition. In the ninth place playoff, they not only surpassed the 100-run mark for the first time, but also notched their maiden win, grittily defending 152 to beat Zimbabwe by six runs.

Japan is not the only nation whose women’s team has played ODIs before its men’s team. Like Japan, Denmark too has been represented solely by the women’s team at ODI level, having first played in 1989. Similarly, the eves also stole a march in the cases of the Netherlands (1984) and Ireland (1987), with the men’s team’s making their ODI debuts only in 1995-96 and 2006 respectively.



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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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