KUALA LUMPUR: China is the next frontier in cricket's expansion and the world's most populous country is ready to take a giant leap forward, according to Asian Cricket Council chief executive Syed Ashraful Huq.
And only when it does will the game become truly global, he believes.
While most kids in the country of 1.3 billion people still prefer football, cricket is taking a grip.
Authorities have drawn up a comprehensive development plan with coaching, funding and facilities in place to fast-track China into being ready to play one-day games.
International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Malcolm Speed will be in Beijing next week to find out how far it has come.
"China has just started to play cricket. It has hosted its first schools tournament in Beijing and the Chinese state has unveiled a plan which will establish cricket as part of the national sporting curriculum," Ashraful Huq said.
"Once China comes on board in a significant manner, then cricket will truly be a global game. Chinas presence will encourage other countries to try harder to make an impact."
Cricket was almost unknown to the Chinese before 2005 but it has since seen 90 sports teachers become professional coaches and referees.
The country was admitted into the Asian Cricket Council in 2004 and membership of the ICC came the following year.
Since then, the China Cricket Association has unveiled a strategic plan that has 60,000 schoolchildren playing cricket in three years and 150,000 in five years, with Beijing, Shanghai and Dalian the hubs for promoting the game.
Mandarin editions of the Laws of Cricket are now available in China while Australian cricketing officials have visited the country to conduct coaching courses.
"Developing a cricket culture takes time, but one thing we can be sure of is that China is now ready, willing and able to make the great leap forward into cricket," said Ashraful Huq.
"Their Olympic athletes impressed us all in Sydney and then Athens, and they have emerged as champions in a very short space of time.
"Looking ahead, China is the next frontier for the games expansion.
"Coaching, funding and facilities are in place to fast-track China into playing one-day matches against ICC Affiliates and Associates within the next few years.
"They very much want to be a part of the Asian game."
Ashraful Huq said the long-term objective was for China to participate in future cricket World Cups, and if that happened lucrative commercial windfalls would follow.
But it was vitally important to get state funding.
"Funding is the key to popularity," he said.
"The ACC has set the ball rolling, the government will pick it up if cricket itself expands its competitive boundaries. Once cricket is a known concept in China, the marketers and sponsors lining up for access to this new audience will further fund crickets growth in China. The potential benefits and commercial revenues from its presence in the cricket world are enormous. As soon as China breaks through, I foresee the total global revenues for cricket increasing by up to 30 to 40 percent."
He forecast China would have a team capable of challenging someone like Hong Kong within 10 years and within 20 years, they could be playing in World Cups.
"Already we are impressed by the diligence, energy and strategic thinking of their administrators as well as the raw material which we are hoping to shape into cricketers," he said.