July 17, 2019
While cricket may inspire devotion bordering on the religious from much of its fan base, it’s another bat-and-ball sport that is set to take centre stage this week, as the 2019 West Asia Baseball Cup gets underway from 15-20 July at the Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Baseball Ground in Diyagama.
Primarily serving as a platform to showcase the sport and grow its popularity in the region, the tournament will see Sri Lanka defend the title it won in 2017 against teams from Pakistan, Iran, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. But more crucially, it will be a shop window for talent spotters from countries such as Japan and the USA, where baseball is hugely popular, to scout up and coming talent.
“It really is a corridor of opportunity,” explains Akalanka Ranasinghe, the manager and former captain of the Sri Lankan baseball team. “One of our players has been scouted by the MLB, and two more have been selected to play in the Japanese league. Going forward there’s great potential to be had in this sport.
“I feel if we keep going in the right upward trajectory baseball can be more of a draw to young players than even cricket in the next 20 years or so.”
That said, ensuring a consistent talent production line is the main challenge, not just for Sri Lanka, but for the five other nations taking part in this year’s tournament as well – each of whom have their own tales of enthusiasm for the sport not being reciprocated by their respective governments.
In Bangladesh, for example, it was only in 2018 that the Bangladesh Olympic Association (BOA) officially recognised the Bangladesh Baseball-Softball Association, while the Nepal Baseball and Softball Association was established just 10 years ago in 2009. In Iran the sport has been gradually gaining traction but lags far behind the likes of football, basketball and even handball, while for India, growing the sport’s popularity has been particularly difficult, in large part thanks to the wide shadow cast by the country’s love affair with cricket. However in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, two nations irrevocably entwined with cricket, a path to grabbing the attention of the next generation seems to be taking shape.
Pakistan is ranked 5th in Asia and 24th in the world, while Sri Lanka are 10th and 41st respectively. But despite their rankings gap, Pakistan and Sri Lanka share many similarities, namely minimal domestic resources and difficulty acquiring equipment. While Pakistan have struggled, despite their success, to get adequate government backing, Ranasinghe is more confident of Sri Lanka Baseball’s (SLB) ability to execute its vision in the long run.
“I think right now they [SLB] have a brilliant plan in their head in terms of developing the game. So it’s just a matter of execution; if you do it in a successful way I think there will be a very bright future for Sri Lankan baseball, and also baseball in the region.
“I feel, with proper planning, there’s huge potential for us to move into even the top 15 in the world rankings. My message to the next generation is to help us achieve that target. If we get together and make Sri Lanka a baseball nation, we can definitely be in and amongst the big boys.”
Baseball Federation of Asia (President Tom Peng, Taiwan) is fully supportive of Sri Lanka Baseball both financially and for smooth tournament operations. BFA related officials include the following:
Japan: YAMANAKA Masatake (BFA VP), KOYAMA Katsuhito (Umpires Director)