It was freezing cold in Tokyo on Tuesday night when Japan’s under-19 cricket team boarded the flight for a 12-hour journey to Dubai.
These aspiring cricketers from the baseball-loving country were itching to get a few hits in warmer weather ahead of the Under 19 Asia Cup (December 8-17) in Dubai.
But what warmed their hearts was the warmth of Dubai’s G Force Cricket Academy head coach, Gopal Jasapara, and Shyam Bhatia, a well-known cricket enthusiast, who went out of their way to offer their training facilities for free.
Barely a couple of hours after checking into their hotel following the long flight from Tokyo, the Japanese cricket team hit the ground running at the G Force Cricket Academy facilities in Al Jaddaf, Dubai.
Ardene Ruhode, a former Zimbabwean first-class cricketer who is now the head coach of this under-19 Japan team, was lost for words.
“We cannot thank them enough. This is the most ideal thing for us, just getting off the plane and having people ready to help us with anything,” Ruhode told the Khaleej Times as his wards started taking some high catches.
Ruhode says his team rarely gets to practice in proper cricket facilities back home as the sport is still at a nascent stage in Japan.
“The boys are really grateful and they are just seeing a nice pitch and outfield. These boys don’t get to see many turf wickets back home in Japan. But with people like Bhatia and Gopal, it’s a different story for us,” he said.
“Bhatia has also done a lot for grassroots cricket in Japan. He is one of the good servants of the game. So we are really grateful and we hope to get continued support going forward.”
Bhatia, the 81-year-old cricket aficionado who has attended every 50 overs World Cup since 1975, even rushed to the ground on Wednesday to wish them luck for the Asia Cup in Dubai.
“I am over the moon. Seeing them here for the Asia Cup makes me so happy,” said Bhatia who was honoured by the ICC (International Cricket Council) recently at the World Cup in India for his tireless efforts to promote the game globally.
Koji Hardgrave Abe, Japan’s under-19 team captain whose father is from New Zealand, also doffed his hat to Bhatia and Jasapara.
“It’s an awesome gesture from them. It’s an absolute pleasure to train on these facilities and to bat on these wickets. These wickets are awesome. We are all very thankful,” Abe said.
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