SANDIPAN BANERJEE | 13 FEBRUARY, 2018
The One Time Cricket Played In North Korea
Crickets appeal in North Korea…
Whether we agree or not but it is a fact that outside its conventional territories, cricket, as a sport, is yet to spread its wings thoroughly. Despite its rich history and tradition, it is often considered as a commonwealth sport — accepted and played only in the former British colonies. However, at times there have been those odd occasions when fans of the sport had broken the barriers and taken the game to new lands.
In this piece, we will recall one such instance when the game invaded arguably the most covert and mysterious nation in the world: North Korea.
For decades foreigners were denied entry to this isolated territory — until in the 21st century when the North Korean government finally started issuing tourist visas, that too for a selected parts of the nation. Capital Pyongyang is one of those places where outsiders are allowed to visit. And it was at the Taesongsan Park, situated on the outskirts of the Pyongyang city, where the first and only known cricket tournament on North Korean soil was played, back in April 2008.
It was a six-a-side triangular tournament, called the Pyongyang Friendship Cup.
This weird and unique idea of taking the game to North Korea was the brainchild of Jon Newton, the then President of Shanghai Cricket Club (SCC) and his friends Ainsley Mann, a Scottish Businessman along with Denzyl Allwright, the then Secretary of SCC. In fact, the idea actually resulted from a bet.
It took eight months of rigorous planning and paperwork to secure 21 Visas and the necessary permissions to ship the equipment to Pyongyang from the United Kingdom. It was not possible to prepare a turf wicket at Taesongsan Park, a venue, which was allotted by the North Korean Ministry of Sport. Hence, the organisers had to import a matting pitch as well. And every little movement in North Korea was strictly scheduled by the Government.
In a country, where citizens are still not being allowed to choose their own hair style, getting the clearance of playing a British sport, that too involving mostly foreigners, was indeed a remarkable achievement by Newton and his friends.
Finally, on April 25, 2008, the big day arrived. Three teams were formed. Two of those, delicately named after two political theses of Kim-II Sung — Juche and Reunification — were representing the SCC and the other one from the Pyongyang Cricket Club (PCC) – a club, which was founded in 2002 by the head of European Union in North Korea.
According to a description by Wisden, the players of the two SCC teams were, “Mainly British, Australian and South African expats [majorly, people from the respective embassies]…The Pyongyang side included the tourist’s two government minders [Guides], the coach driver [Mr Li, who, it turned out, had played professional baseball in Japan in his younger days], two lads from the tour company that organised the trip, and a man from DHL [the courier company, which shipped the equipment].”
Wisden further provides a description of the playing field and the surroundings, “The ground lay in the shadow of Taesongsan fortress — a large pagoda-like structure over three centuries old. The fortress was damaged by the American bombs in Korean War. The fort had to be reconstructed after the War.”
Perhaps, it was the only place in the country where the game could have been played.
In the end, it turned to be an exciting competition. Each team played the other once and my research notes that more than 800 runs were scored on that day and eventually the team named Juche was the crowned winner.
Following that day, nothing has been heard or written about the Pyongyang Cricket Club or any other edition of the Pyongyang Friendship Cup in North Korea. The tournament still takes place, but in Shanghai.
It requires a lot of courage, determination and passion to take the sport to the most secretive part of the world. So, hats off to those devotees of the game, who had accepted the challenge and did the unthinkable.
Hence, on April 25, 2008, cricket was the real winner.
(Image credit: CricWizz)