For every day these past seven months, Jashim Uddin has been tending the Georgia grass with attention that borders on obsession.
The grass is growing, but against considerable odds: weeks without rain; an unexpected heat wave; colleagues who have never seen a roller or for that matter, a cricket pitch; and most of all, the fact that he is in a nation where few have even heard of his sport.
“It's been a tough road,” the Bangladeshi groundsman said. “But in three weeks' time, it will have been worth all the effort.”
On November 12, the 16th Asian Games will open in this port city. This will be the first ever edition of the Games which features cricket as an event.
For those who have championed the cause of cricket's inclusion in the Olympics, the Asian Games provides a crucial platform for the sport to establish itself as an Olympic event. But officials say the cause has been dealt a blow by the region's most important cricketing nation — India — deciding to skip the event.
India, which has in the past led the Olympic campaign for cricket, will be the only major Asian nation that will not send a team to Guangzhou. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are all participating. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided a prior commitment — a three Test and five one-day international series against New Zealand — was too important to reschedule.
Proposals to send a second-string team — an idea welcomed by many members of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and the Guangzhou officials — also fell through amid differences between the BCCI and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Randhir Singh, IOA secretary, was reported as saying earlier this year that the IOA did not favour India sending a second-string team.
India's absence has drawn criticism from both the OCA officials and those associated with promoting cricket in China.
“We're extremely disappointed,” said an official in Guangzhou. “This was the perfect opportunity to showcase cricket to the Chinese public. For many in China, cricket and India are synonymous. It would have been a major boost to have India's star cricketers here, so it has been a huge let-down.”
India's absence, officials said, would hurt cricket's Olympic hopes. But beyond this, the event is expected to significantly raise the game's profile in China.
Guangzhou has built China's first cricket stadium as part of its Asian Games Town — a 6,532 seat-facility which has room for expansion. The ground has been built near the University Town, and will likely be turned over to local schools and universities. A practice facility with half a dozen training pitches has also been built, where coaching classes will be held to promote the game among university students.
“For a first time effort, the facilities are excellent,” said Mr. Uddin, who is the stadium's curator. He earlier worked at the National Stadium in Dhaka, and has also worked in Singapore and Hong Kong to help set up grounds for annual cricket “sixes” tournaments.
He said India's absence was a disappointment, but a silver lining was the competition could turn out to be more interesting. “Even Bangladesh could pull a surprise,” he said hopefully. He isn't ruling out the home team's chances, either. While the Chinese men's team's chances for a medal aren't admittedly great, the women's team has surprised many with its fast progress. It reached the semi-finals of an Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 tournament last year, though it was only given official sanction three years ago.
Guangzhou will follow the Twenty20 format, given that organisers fear 50 overs would be a hard-sell for the Chinese public. With or without India, the Games will go on.