Monday, May 27, 2024

Cricket in Uzbekistan: Two years on from Associate Membership

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Cricket in action at ANFA International Cricket Stadium (Photo: Cricket Federation of Uzbekistan)

The COVID-19 pandemic may have cancelled cricket games en masse around the globe in the early 2020’s, but the time period also gave birth to a most curious phenomenon. The emergence of cricket in the unlikely regions of Central and North Asia!

In fact, Mongolia and the ex-Soviet Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all became Associate members of the ICC within a year of each other, in 2021 and 2022. It was just reward for the hard work and determination shown by a handful of passionate cricket converts in each nation. Proximity to Afghanistan and it’s meteoric rise in the sport also played a part in inspiring its neighbours Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It’s amazing to think that these newly minted Associate members only started playing cricket seriously less than a decade ago.

Emerging Cricket caught up with Cricket Federation of Uzbekistan (CFU) CEO Ibodullaev Fazliddin and President Aziz Mihliev to talk about how cricket development is progressing in the country, two years on from Associate membership.

1) During our last interview, CFU had described efforts to create a domestic T20 competition with 6-8 teams. How is that coming along and what are the participation numbers like?

CFU is making concerted efforts to create a competitive local cricket scene this year. Our intention is to run multiple tournaments, with more than 14 cricket teams scheduled to compete in six T20 events from April to October. We also hosted a T20 event successfully last year with over eight teams.

League cricket in action at Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Photo: Supplied)

Our participation rates are growing nicely too. At the moment, CFU is in charge of 14 men’s teams and 8 women’s teams that play cricket throughout Uzbekistan.

2) With cricket being a brand-new sport in the country, is it hard reaching the average mainstream sports viewer? Have you received any support from local media?

Raising cricket awareness among the people of Uzbekistan has been a slow but worthwhile process. One of our initiatives is to provide individuals the chance to play cricket on the pitch and receive equipment so they can experience the game directly. CFU has also held masterclasses in cricket for a range of age groups. Although there hasn’t been much coverage in the mainstream media, CFU is aggressively using its official media channels to increase exposure and interactions.

3) What mediums are you using to host the cricket masterclasses? And have you been able to introduce the sport to schools?

So, we use all sorts of platforms to broaden the reach of cricket nationally. This includes social media, live masterclasses at schools, cricket weeks on the streets of Tashkent and so on. Additionally, since cricket is in the Olympics, the Sports Ministry of Uzbekistan has allowed us to insert cricket into the syllables of 253 sports schools, which are located all over the country. This is a huge development for us. Also, we are translating ICC’s CRIIIO program into the Uzbek language, so that people can learn cricket easily wherever they reside.

4) In 2021, Pakistan Cricket Board signed a MOU with your organisation to help develop cricket. Tell me a bit more about the relationship with PCB and what assistance you are receiving with regards to cricket development?

To promote cricket growth, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed in 2021 with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). While this is a good first step, regrettably, PCB has not yet provided CFU with the expected support.

5) How is the construction of the new cricket stadium coming along?

CFU has a cricket ground in Tashkent’s outer fringe, called the ANFA International Cricket Stadium. It’s on the banks of Chrichiq river, around 41 kilometres north of the city centre. Currently, the construction is half finished. We are planning to buy seeds of grass which can be planted on the ground. Hopefully, it will be green soon.

CFU President Aziz Mihliev pads up at the ANFA International Cricket Stadium (Photo: Supplied)

If everything stays on schedule, we should be ready to host international matches from next year and receive the proper accreditation from ICC. Furthermore, CFU runs an academy there that acts as a central location for regular club practice sessions and national team preparations.

6) Congratulations on receiving Associate status in 2022. How much funding are you getting from ICC? Is the government providing any financial help as well? 

ICC financing is limited to the first membership, and it will grow according on how we do in the following years with our scorecard measures. According to the Uzbek government, CFU will possibly receive funding from them in the current year on the back of cricket’s inclusion in the Olympic Games.

7) When can we see the Uzbekistan cricket team make its international T20I debut? Are there plans to participate in the Asia Cup pathway events or the ICC T20 World Cup qualifiers in future?

With confirmation from the ICC regarding international dates, CFU expects to make its international debut next year. We are extremely excited! In order to prepare the Uzbekistan cricket team for this momentous occasion, the players are undergoing intense training. This will pave the way for future involvement in competitions such as the Asia Cup route events and the ICC T20 World Cup qualifiers.

8) That’s exciting to hear that Uzbekistan will make its international debut next year. Are you looking at Tajikistan and Mongolia as your potential opponents?

We haven’t confirmed the fixtures yet. But yes, Tajikistan and Mongolia could end up being our very first opponents. Our long-term goal is to beat the full members. It’s an ambitious goal and years away, but we believe we can get there!

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