I never thought of Japan as a cricketing nation but hey ho, wrong again. Their men’s and women’s cricket teams are about to arrive for a UK tour to mark the150th anniversary of the first cricket match played in Japan. So this Sunday, 28th April, they’ll play the MCC on the Nursery Ground at Lord’s. (The women’s team play the MCC women’s team at Lord’s the following day).
The MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) was founded in 1787 and began playing at Lord’s Cricket Ground in St John’s Wood in 1814. It’s named after Thomas Lord, a bowler with White Conduit CC. He staged his first match on 31st May 1787. A year later, the newly-formed MCC laid down a Code of Laws, requiring the wickets to be pitched 22 yards apart and detailing how players could be given out. There are two grounds at Lord’s; the nursery ground is the second one, which used to be used just for training, but was upgraded to match standard in 2009.
The first cricket match in Japan, in June 1863, was Yokohama versus the Royal Navy (both teams were, of course, British). It seems to have had a bizarre origin. The Shogun had issued an order to expel foreigners as of the 25th of June, 1863. Instead of leaving, British merchants challenged the Royal Navy to a cricket match. The Navy accepted the challenge and came ashore with a small force armed with rifles. The players also went on the field carrying revolvers. Apparently there are photos of this match in the MCC library at Lord’s. The nearest I could get is the picture below of the first English touring team on board ship at Liverpool in 1859 (bound for North America).
There’s a museum at Lord’s and if you go to the match you can go on a tour of it (though it isn’t free). The museum also holds the Ashes and the copy of Wisden that helped to sustain EW ‘Jim’ Swanton throughout his captivity, in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, during the Second World War.
The MCC are known for their colours – red and gold, known as egg and bacon.
The first cricket club in Japan, the Yokohama Cricket Club, was founded in 1868 by a 23-year-old Scottish tea merchant named James Pender Mollison and his friend Ernest Price. They had both previously lived in Shanghai and played for the Shanghai Cricket Club. They played against teams from the military garrison of around 1,500 troops and naval teams from the warships in the harbour, on a turfed pitch called The Swamp Ground. There was no clubhouse so they went back to the bar in the settlement after matches and drank lots of claret and water.
Unaccountably, Japanese people did not take to cricket, preferring baseball instead. While baseball spread rapidly to become the most popular game in Japan, it took another hundred years for the first Japanese cricket club to be set up, at Kobe City University. Cricket then gradually spread to other universities such as Keio University (1987), Chuo University (1989) and Senshu University (1989). The Japanese Cricket Association was founded in 1984 and in 1989 Japan became an Affiliate Member of the International Cricket Council.
Her’s the Japan National Cricket Team:
The women’s cricket team will have another role to play on Sunday – they will mingle with spectators and explain how cricket is played (because they’re expecting a lot of Japanese spectators who’ve never seen a cricket match before). So look out for them.
If you’re thinking of going to see the match, here’s what you need to know:
Tickets: apply direct for free tickets to the MCC Ticket Office by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 020 7432 1000
Gates open at 9.45 a.m. The match starts at 10.45 a.m and will end by 6.15 p.m. The match will be 50 overs each side with a lunch interval at around 2.15 p.m.
Now for the important bit. There will be a voluntary ground collection in aid of Cricket for Smiles, the programme set up by the Japan Cricket Association to provide enjoyment through cricket to people affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in North East Japan. Please give generously.