As India batter Smriti Mandhana went about constructing her 45-ball 46 in the women’s cricket final against Sri Lanka on a stuffy Monday evening, Wei Junyu drew curious glances from the media and a handful of Indian fans at the Pingfeng Campus Cricket Field. The reason, besides his vociferous cheering for the stylish Indian southpaw, was Wei’s placard with an endearing message — ‘Mandhana The Goddess’ — written in English.
Although cricket development work has happened in China for at least a decade and a half, it is far from a popular sport in the country. Cricket’s inclusion in the Hangzhou Asian Games has drawn some locals towards the sport. However, they say that there are no shops in the bustling metropolis that sell basic cricket equipment and the game is never telecast on cable.
Given all that, a Chinese fan expressing admiration for an Indian cricketer came across as unusual. Within minutes, the 25-year-old was mobbed by the Indian press.
“I love Smriti Mandhana as a cricketer. She is a strong player and great to watch when in rhythm. I am here to watch her bat live,” Wei said.
A student of geology at the Chinese University of Geoscience, Wei took an overnight journey from Beijing and bought a match-day ticket for 100 yuan to watch his favourite cricketer in action.
“I came today (Monday) morning and will take the overnight train back after the match. I don’t mind travelling as long as I can watch Mandhana play.”
Wei started following cricket four years back after chancing upon the highlights of the 2019 ODI World Cup that England won in the Super Over against New Zealand. His fascination with women’s cricket began two years later after he watched a tri-series between India, Australia and England. That is when he first spotted Mandhana.
“I liked the way she batted. She became my favourite cricketer instantly. Since then, I have keenly followed the game,” Wei said. The Games organisers held classroom sessions for the venue volunteers to help them understand the basics of the game.
“It looks quite interesting. They taught us to swing the bat which was quite cool,” a Lebanese national studying in Hangzhou and volunteering at the cricket venue, said.