A team of amateur young athletes, drawn mostly from local baseball clubs, are set to represent their country in a sport still very foreign to most Vietnamese.
The SEA Games 2017 will also be the first time cricket, which is the world’s second most popular sport by participation, will be competed in at the biennial event.
A short history
In late 2005, the first artificial cricket wicket in Vietnam was opened on the grounds of the newly established RMIT University Saigon South campus in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.
One year later, the Saigon Cricket Association was founded by a community of expat players living in the southern metropolis, and was later renamed the Vietnam Cricket Association (VCA).
After just over ten years of hosting games at RMIT Vietnam, the VCA moved only this year to their first official ‘headquarters’ at Phu Tho Stadium in District 11, where the first all-Vietnamese cricket team was formed.
The team is a collection of former amateur athletes, the majority baseballers, who have only just found their passion for the unusual game.
Team captain Le Hoang Dang, 25, originally from Tra Vinh Mekong Delta province, is a personal trainer who has taken to the a full-time schedule of cricket training since February with a monthly allowance of VND5 million (US$220).
Dang is no stranger to sports. He has a bachelor’s degree in sports management and previously attended the SEA Games 2011 in Indonesia as a member of Vietnam baseball team.
“I tried cricket a few times and found it quite amusing,” Dang said. “The whole team is training and getting used to the rules of cricket, which are quite complicated. Though we are all new to the sport, we will try our best not to rank the lowest at SEA Games 2017.”
For other members of the team, the opportunity to take part in a regional sporting event like the SEA Games is a dream come true.
Hoang Phuc Ty, 23, commutes 80 kilometers every day between Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong Province, where he coaches an amateur volleyball club, to pursue his passion of playing cricket.
A costly sport
One of the biggest obstacles for Vietnamese cricket players is the high cost of the equipment required.
One cricket bat can cost upwards of VND1 million (US$44), with added expense required for protective gear and other accessories like gloves, helmets and nets.
The first national cricket team of Vietnam has been founded with permission from the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, on the condition that the cost of practice and competition be covered by VCA.
According to Sandeep Gill, the association’s secretary, cricket is among the top three sports in the world in terms of participation.
Gill wants to promote the sport to Vietnamese players, or at least create the opportunity for international cricket lovers in Vietnam to share their passion with local enthusiasts.
Michael Blinkhoff, an Australian photographer who has been based in Vietnam for two years, has been appointed head coach of Vietnam newly formed team and has been undertaking the five-times a week sessions on a voluntary basis.
All 18 members of the team are novices, and 16 are undergraduate students who will attend their first-ever SEA Games in August.
Their aim in Malaysia is not bring home medals, but to give their best for their country, and develop cricket as a sport for further development in Vietnam.