Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Pre Season

February and March are a surprisingly hectic time in the Japan Cricket office. Despite it being distinctly un-cricketlike conditions outside (generally cold, a bit wet and even the odd bit of snowfall), you could easily think we're in full swing given the schedule.

I recently realised that I am currently in the middle of working 10 out of 12 weekends, which is fairly draining, especially as it's often hard to take days off in the week. That said, I am currently writing this from my bed at 9:30am on a Wednesday morning as I figured a half day wouldn't do any harm.

It may sound like I'm whinging, but I'm really not. Most of these weekends involve hanging around a cricket field, which is why I took the job in the first place. Two weekends in February for example, were spent in the city of Bendigo, Australia, watching our men's team play in the East Asia Pacific regional qualifiers for the World Cricket League. The sun shone, the company was good, the only issue was the results.

Unfortunately we were undone by every team there, which showed how far we have to go. Of course there were some mitigating circumstances (it's the middle of our winter, our team was the youngest by far and the only one without any "expat" players), but ultimately we hope that if we can keep this group of players together, and supplement it with new young talent who have played the game since they were eight years old, then our standing within the region will increase.

A tour like that can be quite chastening, but I was really impressed with the attitude of our players, who all got on with it and continued to give their best. If they can keep that up then better results will come.

Right now I am in the middle of the National Trials weekends. This was introduced last year and we had just two days with men and women together as we tried to identify some new talent. It was all a bit hectic so this year we split it into two weekends with the women trialling last weekend and the men this weekend coming.

Running these events is Cam Tradell, a man who has featured in the blog before, who is over here for his sixth time and brings with him not only a unique coaching mind, but an incredible positivity which helps everyone around him. He's not scared of a beer either.

After this we have a strategy meeting with the ICC and then the women's tournament warm ups begin and the event itself kicks off at the end of April. Once that is all done and dusted I'll get a decent break as my parents are coming to visit and we'll do a little bit of travelling around Japan, so I'll finally visit Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima.

It's not all weekends of cricket however, because just prior to going to Bendigo I took the brilliantly named "Snow Monkey Express" train up to Nagano and hung out with some primates who enjoy a warm bath. Never have I felt more surrounded by likeminded creatures.

This trip was actually worth a blog post all of it's own, but since it's been about six weeks you'll just have to make do with some monkey pictures and my assertion that it was awesome and everyone should go. Pretty cold though.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The East Asia Cup

I figure that if I am going to keep writing this thing then it may as well be informative about what I actually do over here in Japan. Hopefully not in a self-aggrandising way, but then I am pretty awesome.

Folks in Japan probably won't learn a lot from this piece, but feel free to read on should you have nothing better to do.

So last November Japan hosted the inaugural men's "East Asia Cup". I say men's because there was a women's version of the tournament in South Korea the previous year which was given the name retrospectively.

The tournament consists of four teams; Japan, obviously, then China, Korea and Hong Kong. In the men's tournament it is the Hong Kong Dragons, which is their all Chinese development side, but for the women it is their full side.

The idea for the tournament was really borne out of necessity as none of the four countries were playing enough cricket. I am not trying to be critical of the ICC here, but the fact is that between late 2014 and early 2017 our men's team did not have a single "official" cricket fixture.  As such we do our best to find opportunities for the team to get together and play; most often that is against touring club teams.

The women fare a little better, as they compete in the Asian Games every four years, and with ICC qualifying events taking place roughly every two years as well then it keeps their calendar relatively busy.

It was at one of those events that my friend and colleague Dhugal began discussing the possibility of playing more regular fixtures between the sides in the region. The idea marinated for a while and in late 2015 an agreement was drawn up between the four cricket associations and signed by all.

We in Japan took the lead on these conversations and proposed a number of different options, with the final agreement being that there would be a tournament every year and that it would alternate between being men's and women's events. The four countries would take turns in hosting over the next four years and then we would reassess where we were.

Since Korea had just hosted the women, Hong Kong had a packed schedule in 2016 and China did not have a suitable venue yet, it fell to us to host and so it was that the first men's tournament was put in the diary for 3rd - 6th November in Sunny Sano.

This was my first time as a Tournament Director and it was a phenomenal experience to try and manage so many moving parts. I've got a few mates who work in events and it really did give me much more appreciation for what they do for a living; frankly it's bloody hard work!

Thankfully the weather was amazing throughout, a good few people turned up over the four days, and we had quite a lot of folks watching on the live stream which we were using for the first time. By the time the final was played we had more than 18,000 watching online, which is pretty cool.

I was also balancing the job of Tournament Director with umpiring and I managed to cause a bit of a stir in the every first match (my long-awaited international debut) after giving our opening batsman out after he left the field of play without permission. It did serve to get us a bit of attention however, although I felt pretty bad about it at the time.

Now, those of you who were paying attention will have noticed that I said early 2017 was the next men's official fixture, which would be now. So next week we fly to Melbourne for a tournament in Bendigo where Japan will come up against Fiji, Indonesia, the Philippines, Samoa and Vanuatu with the winning team qualifying for the World Cricket League Division 5, which is the first rung on the way to World Cup qualification.

It should be a pretty good week and I am going along as Team Manager, my first time doing that too. I'm pretty confident my next entry will have a few thoughts on that. Until then...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Guess Who's Back?

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned; it has been 2.5 years since my last confessi.....I mean post.

It would seem somewhat blithe to put this down to simple forgetfulness, so I hope that perhaps laziness will suffice as an explanation.

In posts gone by I have often promised to pipe up more frequently, fear not, there shall me no more such grandiose claims. Instead I shall simply say that I am not quite sure what form this blog will take in its latest edition, or how often I'll sign in to say hello, but from time to time I shall poke my head up above the parapet and say something if I think it is worthwhile.

Anyone still reading?

Amusingly, I don't really have anything worthwhile to say right now, so I guess I should quickly fill you in on what you've missed.

In the 2nd half of 2014, let's call that Year One, there was more Cricket Blast for juniors and a little bit of domestic travel when a rather tall friend of mine came and holed up in my apartment for three months. Here we are, hiking around Chuzenji Lake in Nikko.

Hard to say what really happened in Year Two. I caused a bit of a stir with a tweet I sent from the Japan Cricket account after a couple of fine ales on my birthday were left tasting sour due to England crashing out of the World Cup at the group stages. Got us a few more followers at least.

Aside from that, life got a bit easier initially as I was basically repeating what had been done the previous year, but that was boring so we decided to open up another Cricket Blast Centre, this time down south in Yokohama at the Country and Athletic Club where Cricket was first played in Japan back in 1863. That went OK and is still running.

I did continue my mission to see a bit more of Japan (and the world in fact); Hokkaido got a visit and I finally managed to get myself up to the top of Mount Fuji, which was actually pretty cool (there I am at the top). Internationally there was a trip to Vietnam, where the previously mentioned tall man had fled after his visa for my house/Japan ran out.

Towards the end of the year things got a little complicated as the funding for my position came to an end. What that ultimately meant was a job change to the very important sounding "Head of Cricket Operations" - yes, you should all bow down before me as I pass from now on.

So Year Three was a bit different. I made more of an effort to connect with the cricket community, get to know the players who the Blast kids will hopefully grow up to play with/against, as well as better understand all the domestic structures we want to improve.

I also had to oversee the National Teams, which has been both enjoyable and extremely challenging. The women travelling to Samoa and the men competing in East Asia Cup at home were major events which were great to be involved with, and extremely tiring. With a better understanding of the needs of the players and the longer term vision of the JCA I am confident these programs will be even better in 2017.

Additionally I attended the ICC Annual Conference for the first time, which last year was held in Edinburgh, and later did a two week placement with Cricket Scotland. Learned loads on those little jaunts, as well as on a "Leadership Forum" in Sydney a little later in the year organised by the ICC regional team. Met loads of new people and made lots of contacts to bounce ideas off in the future.

I have played less and less; two games in Year One, just one in Year Two and not a single one in Year Three (apart from a Drovers appearance back in London). I have instead done a lot more umpiring and under the impressive guidance of Chris Thurgate am now part of the Japan Elite Umpiring Panel...which may have been chosen by my friend Dhugal...but that's by the by. Here we are, looking rather sexy I'm sure you'll all agree.

While all this is going on the placements from overseas, which were such a central part of my early months here, have not only continued but increased in frequency. Too many to detail, but let's just say that we have not had a dud yet. All have been great, none shy of a beer and managing the placements from Cricket Victoria, Cricket Without Borders and the MCC continue to give me a huge amount of job satisfaction, and I hope some lifelong friends as well.

2017 has much lined up, I am, barring disaster, off to Australia (Bendigo) in February as Team Manager for our Men's team where they will compete in a World Cricket League Division Five qualifier, and in April/May we will host a Women's World T20 Qualifier for the region. Expect (or don't), to hear a bit more about those here in the coming months.

We will have a festival in September, which if all goes well will be combined with a match against a Top League Rugby side - still trying to get all of that confirmed, but it could be pretty entertaining.

My folks are also coming to visit in May, following on from my sister Helen making it out here in 2016, which means I might finally get out to Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima and all those other places I have thus far failed to reach.

I think that pretty much covers it, no need to babble on longer than is necessary. I shall leave you with some of my favourite photos of 2016. A whole yen is on offer to anyone who can guess where all nine were taken...