During the recently completed 15th Taiwan Annual Cricket Cup, the event was won by the Taichung Warriors and the occasion also marked the website’s first reporting of the cricketing ecosystem within Taiwan. To find out more, Isaac Lockett spoke to Duane Christie about his experiences playing in the territory.
Christie started his interview by saying ‘My journey with cricket in Taiwan has been a real rollercoaster ride with many highs and lows. But it has provided me with a platform to keep playing a sport I dearly love and enjoy. Even though my body begs me to slow down nowadays, I cannot seem to stay off of the field!’.
Christie and the Taiwan Daredevils
Originally from South Africa, Christie moved to Taiwan in 2007 and quickly found an active cricketing community already in existence. Christie described that ‘not long after arriving here I found out that the ex-pat community actively played cricket and after a bit of inquiry I was put in touch with the Chairman of the then Kaohsiung Cricket Club (KCC) and played my first cricket tournament’. Christie happened to join KCC during a period of change as the club changed its name to ‘Taiwan Southerners Cricket Club’ (TSCC). When talking about the justification of the change, Christie reflected that the name allowed the club to become ‘more representative of the area that the players came from, southern Taiwan’. The name change was not the only evidence of change during Christie’s early stint at the club as he became the club’s captain in 2008 and is a position that he still holds. The club has gone through a second name change in recent times with the team now becoming known as the Taiwan Daredevils. This last change was after a club’s former player moved to China and started playing for the Shanghai Daredevils, who then got in touch with his former teammates to suggest they become an affiliated club.
Christie provided an overview of the progress and current position of the Taiwan Daredevils’ as he described that the team ‘enjoyed a lot of success between 2009 and 2014, winning all the major tournaments in Taiwan, or at the very least making it through to the semi-finals. But as is the nature of the ex-pat community, people move on, and it is not always easy finding replacements for the players that we would lose’. Alongside the moving of players, Christie stated that ‘Our Chairman has also moved on and has been back in England since 2018, leaving us with the big task of rebuilding the club again with the new blood coming into Taiwan’.
Cricket’s current position and key barriers
Moving on from an introduction to the Taiwan Daredevils, Christie then spoke about the current facilities and infrastructure that exists within Taiwan. Christie described that ‘around 2013/2014 Taiwan cricket started going into a bit of a lul’. This led to ’a big drive to try to get Asian Cricket Council (ACC) accreditation and develop the sport of cricket in Taiwan’. As part of this process ‘Associations were formed in an attempt to formalise cricket in Taiwan and get grants from the local government to develop and hopefully secure adequate cricket grounds that was a requirement for the ACC accreditation that Taiwan cricket was trying to achieve’.
However, Christie believes that the drive to gain ACC accreditation led ‘to the downfall of cricket in Taiwan as we had known it’. The process fell apart due to a variety of factors including ‘too many promises not being fulfilled and lack of trust and transparency between those involved with the process’. In the end, it was realised that Taiwan cricket was ‘never going to get the accreditation we were after simply because cricket is not a recognised sport in Taiwan, and the funds that the government would need to provide to develop cricket in Taiwan would not benefit the local Taiwanese communities’.
Christie states that one of the significant barriers to the development of cricket in Taiwan is the lack of interest from the local population. Christie reflects that ‘the local Taiwanese population simply are not interested in cricket as they follow and idolise American sports such as basketball and baseball’. This struggle described by Christie is one which many associations face and trying to gain local engagement is the focus of many development plans globally. Breaking down this barrier and opening the sport to the local population is a clear future goal when aiming to grow the sport in Taiwan, but currently, the cricketing community is seeking to rebuild.
After the failed attempt to gain ACC accreditation, ‘there was a sense of bitterness in the cricket community here in Taiwan, and fewer and fewer tournaments were being played’. However, this bitterness did not wholly stop cricket existing. Instead, there are ‘one or two tournaments a year, and small pockets of cricket enthusiasts still get together and play friendly matches’. As explained by Christie’ the largest proportion of cricket players are based in Taipei, and these teams would meet, and still do, regularly to play games over weekends. Occasionally in a small tournament format, but mostly as competitive friendly games against each other’.
Alongside the barrier of a lack of local interest, cricketers in the country face difficulties in securing facilities. It has been hard for Christie and other cricketers to organise tournaments, this is ‘mostly due to the availability of adequate playing fields, but also largely due to the players’ personal schedules not allowing them the free time to commit to weekly cricket matches’. One of the significant reasons why securing facilities is so hard is due to the popularity of baseball. The majority of cricket in Taiwan is played on baseball fields. Christie states that ‘We lay a 10meter strip of carpet over the sand in the middle of the diamond and only bowl from one end. Baseball is very popular in Taiwan and played just about every week if possible, so we need to book fields that are not booked for baseball games … due to its popularity, the baseball teams do get preference when booking the grounds. This is one of the biggest challenges we face playing cricket in Taiwan, but we have managed to build suitable relationships with certain groundskeepers to the point that we are able to get grounds as long as we book them well in advance’.
The development of the Yingfong Cricket Ground
However, one of the recent changes has seen a team known as PCCT secure a field which has become the first-ever cricket dedicated ground in the country. To secure the ground PCCT ‘spent a lot of their own time and resources’ on securing the land. When describing the facilities at the Yingfong Cricket Ground (YCG), Christie describes it as having ’a cement pitch in the middle, however, we still only bowl from the one end as they currently only have a carpet long enough to cover three-quarters of the pitch’.
The third barrier highlighted by Christie during the interview was the lack of a ‘formal body governing cricket in Taiwan’. Due to the lack of a formal body, ‘there is no fixed league system’. Instead ‘Cricket is only played socially, but on occasions competitively in a tournament format. These tournaments usually comprise of 6 or 8 teams with the format being either 15 or 18 over games, depending on the number of teams. Tournaments are always held over a two day period on weekends with round-robin games being played on Saturdays and finals on Sundays’. The tournaments are ‘arranged by different teams or individuals’ along with a sixes tournament which is held to try to include more teams.
Finally, Christie was asked about the popularity of cricket in Taiwan. Christie presented that ‘Cricket is a very unknown sport to the vast majority of Taiwanese citizens. Only those Taiwanese who have either spent time or grown up in a cricket playing country have any kind of idea about cricket. However, even these locals have no idea that we actually play cricket in Taiwan, and are always very surprised to hear that we are actively playing the sport in their country and on their sports fields’. The lack of knowledge about the sport causes many issues for the development of the sport, including it being ‘exceptionally hard for Taiwan cricket to get any kind of support or sponsorships from any Taiwanese entities. For the most parts, clubs fund themselves through the players’ willingness to support the club. There are numerous successful ex-pat businessmen who play cricket here, and they do support however and wherever they can. Their support is usually targeted at their own clubs. For the rest of the teams, we approach local businesses (mostly ex-pat owned and run) for support and occasionally receive sponsorships from these enterprises. Sponsorships are important as they allow for both individuals to gain ‘help with acquiring new cricket gear and playing kits’.
All eyes on Taiwan and the benefits of attention
Despite the number of barriers that Christie identified throughout the interview, Christie identified some exciting recent changes to the cricketing ecosystem in Taiwan. Christie described that ‘Taiwan cricket was recently presented with a very unique opportunity to broadcast live games to India and across the world via online streaming networks’. Cricket in Taiwan was not stopped due to the ongoing pandemic being managed successfully within the territory and while cricket lovers pined for action to watch attention turned to Taiwan.
As the majority of cricketing action halted around the world, Christie explained that ‘During this period we were contacted by two of India’s largest cricket fantasy league platforms and eventually commissioned by the one company to create a 4-week league and broadcast the games live. This was unprecedented, as never before in the history of Taiwan cricket had any of the games been filmed and broadcast live. In the space of 10 days, we contracted a full production crew (none of whom had ever filmed any form of cricket before), set up the Yingfong cricket grounds in Taipei (which have zero infrastructure apart from a portable toilet, electricity and tents had to be arranged), and started a 4 week T10 tournament league. The matches were broadcast in HD complete with real-time commentary, on-screen score tickers and player stats.
When talking about the streamed tournament, Christie explained that ‘The success of this live broadcast tournament has sparked great interest in cricket in Taiwan again, and the 2020/2021 “season” has seen a huge growth in the number of players and teams. So much so, that we have played more tournaments in the past eight months than we had played in the previous two years combined. This interest has seen some seriously talented young cricket players emerge and the formation of new, and very competitive teams. These teams are taking their cricket very seriously and play practice games quite regularly (almost weekly) in between tournaments. Their efforts have become very evident in the results that they have been able to achieve’. Christie rounded off talking about the current situation in which Taiwanese cricket by stating that ‘in the space of only eight months, the quality and quantity of Taiwan cricket has just exploded, and we are looking forward to a lot more cricket here in Taiwan in the coming year’.
The future of Taiwanese cricket
Christie stated one clear aim for cricket in Taiwan, ‘it is a dream for many of us playing cricket here in Taiwan that cricket Taiwan would one day become more structured, and that talented players from Taiwan could become recognised and be able to compete against teams from other emerging nations, the reality is that without the support and recognition from the local government this will remain a dream’. In order to develop in the future, Christie stated that ‘A dedicated person, or (preferably) group of individuals, needs to stand up and take responsibility for the creation and organisation of such a league. This is easier said than done as all those involved in cricket in Taiwan all either have full-time jobs or are students. Time is a scarce commodity these days, and without the proper motivation, it is extremely hard to find even one person here in Taiwan with the time and knowledge, to take on the responsibility to organise such a league’.
Christie concluded his interview by stating that ‘Even though it is my sincerest wish that Taiwan Cricket can grow, at the very least to the point where an annual league format is established, I cannot see the scene changing much from the way cricket has always been played: A handful of weekend tournaments throughout the year, and teams getting together between tournaments playing friendly practice games. This will at least keep Taiwan cricket alive, and the ex-pat community here in Taiwan will always have somewhere to play the sport they love!’
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