Sports / China

Spinning in the right direction

By Tym Glaser (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-09 08:07

Li relishing chance to become China's cricket pioneer

Hong Kong resident Li Kai-ming will create history this month when he becomes the first Chinese to join a professional cricket outfit in a major league.

Li, a 24-year-old legspinner, was recruited last month by the Sydney Sixers for Australia's Big Bash Twenty20 competition as part of the team's Community Rookie program.

 Spinning in the right direction

Li Kai-ming lets rip with a legbreak during a training session in Hong Kong. The young Chinese is set to join Big Bash team the Sydney Sixers this week. Photos Provided to China Daily

He hopes to use the opportunity to encourage more young Chinese to take up a seemingly quirky game that has lunch and tea breaks and fielding positions such as "silly mid-on", "square leg' and "third man".

"I want to be a role model and introduce more Chinese to the game," said Li, who departs for Australia's most populous city on Thursday for a 1 1/2-month cricketing odyssey.

"Cricket is a very exciting game and so many possibilities can happen in one game. Your team may be far behind its target, but in the next over you can turn the game around. I think Chinese people may find that highly interesting."

His efforts to sell the game at home so far have received a somewhat bemused reaction from his friends, who prefer shooting hoops or booting soccer balls around a pitch.

"They didn't know what cricket was," Li said of his early forays as an unofficial ambassador of the game.

"They found the playing conditions and regulations quite complicated, but I took them to some games and tried to explain more and hopefully they can learn more."

Spinning in the right direction

Li has represented Hong Kong in T20s and is one of the stars on the all-Chinese Hong Kong Dragons side in the local league, but the sport remains very much an expatriate game in China and the diminutive spinner (generously listed as 1.6 meters tall) hopes to help alter that state of play.

"When I started playing in Hong Kong nobody was Chinese. I want to be an icon, to show the youngsters that Chinese can also play cricket."

Li was drawn to cricket 13 years ago after watching his sister play in a school game.

"I went to a match and felt funny ... I just wanted to try it. It's not normal in Hong Kong. Football and basketball are very normal in Hong Kong and I just wanted to try something different.

"I then started bowling to my sister, Godiva (also a HK representative). Before I played football, but when I started cricket I stopped that and just wanted to concentrate on cricket," said Li.

While he is unlikely to take the field for the Sixers during the nationwide tournament, he will be rubbing shoulders with some famous teammates, including Australia captain Steve Smith, Test off-spinner Nathan Lyon and recently retired Aussie keeper Brad Haddin.

While legspin is his forte, Li wants to improve other aspects of his game during his sojourn Down Under.

"I want to learn some batting and fielding. I want to become an all-round player.

"I know I am not a good batsman ... I just know how to hit the ball," he said.

Li came to the attention of the Sixers through their ties with the Hong Kong Cricket Association.

"I had been having general discussions with Tim Cutler, the CEO of HKCA," said Dominic Remond, general manager of the Sixers.

"We discussed opportunities and I asked if there were any budding young cricketers of Chinese background that we might possibly consider for our Community Rookie program.

"Li was discussed and identified as a player of talent who would benefit from spending time with a professional club and take his experience back to the Hong Kong community," Redmond said.

Spinning in the right direction

"He will train with the squad, including our star players and experience games in the dugout on match day. He will have the opportunity to learn from our coaches and our very talented spinners including Lyon, (Stephen) O'Keefe and (Johan) Botha."

The signing of Li - for an unspecified sum - also looks like a shrewd marketing move.

"We are keen to use our brand to expand the game of cricket into the Chinese community both in Sydney and in Asia," said Redmond.

"There could be many opportunities in the future and working with Li and the HKCA is a great start."

The mysterious art of legspin

He may be a courier who has to negotiate the bustling streets of Hong Kong, but his sporting choices are well off the beaten path.

First, Li Kai-ming made the foreign sport of cricket his game of choice, then he made legspin, its most difficult craft to master, his area of expertise.

Initially he bowled medium pace but that all changed when he saw legendary Australian legspinner Shane Warne plying his trade on YouTube.

"I saw Shane Warne and wanted to learn from him on the video. I asked my coach could I change to be a legspinner and he said, 'Yes. OK'. I found it difficult to control the ball at first but now I have a topspinner to go with my legbreak," Li said.

Li had a golden opportunity to meet his hero during the annual HK Sixes tournament a few years ago but his natural reticence kicked in.

"I want to meet him (Warne) but it is very difficult. I saw him one time in Hong Kong as an All-Star in the HK Sixes," he said.

"I didn't speak to him though because my English is not that good and I am very shy. I just looked at him and how he turned the ball, how he played and how to tempt the batsman."

Legspin is a slow, wrist spin delivery bowled from the back of a right-hander's hand and turns from the left to the right of a right-hand batsman. Warne was its greatest proponent.

Of the 66 bowlers in Test history who have claimed 200 wickets or more only eight are leggies, but the blond Victorian is second on that all-time list with a phenomenal 708 scalps, and immediately behind him at No 3 fellow legspinner Anil Kumble (619) of India.

The others on that elite roster are: Danish Kaneria (Pakistan, 261), Richie Benaud (Australia, 248), Bhagwath Chandrasekhar (India, 242) Abdul Qadir (Pakistan, 236), Clarrie Grimmett (Australia, 216) and Stuart MacGill (Australia, 208).

Still, it is a bit of a shame Li wasn't born left-handed as a lefty wrist-spinner's delivery is called a "Chinaman."

(China Daily 12/09/2015 page22)

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