Since cricket was introduced to Cambodia, children have been intrigued by the historic sport. Marissa Carruthers takes a trip to see Phnom Penh Cricket Club’s junior team practise their ever-strengthening skills. Photography by Charles Fox.

Excitement brims in the eyes of the young batsman as he sends the ball spinning into the air. Completing a run, he secures the match for his team and screams of joy echo across the pitch as enthusiastic youngsters dive on top of him to celebrate their triumphant win.

They may only be aged eight to 16, but Phnom Penh Cricket Club’s junior team harbour a passion for the sport to rival any adult’s. When coach Manish Sharma asks the eager crowd who wants to come back the following week, he is showered with screams of “me.”

Keen to bring the sport to a country where cricket was pretty much unheard of, Sharma — who is based in Hong Kong but spends 20 days a month in the Kingdom — set up Phnom Penh Cricket Club in April 2012, and played an instrumental role in the launch of the Cricket Association of Cambodia in 2011.

“In Hong Kong, I started working with some kids to promote cricket and thought this really needs to go somewhere where no cricket exists. I spoke to a few people in Cambodia and started taking it into some schools,” the Indian cricket fan explains. “Before this, no one really knew about cricket in Cambodia, and that’s a shame because it’s a great sport. “

Cricket’s roots stretch back into the 16th century, with international matches played since 1844. It is believed the game was devised during Saxon or Norman times by youngsters living in woodlands in the English counties of Kent and Sussex.

Records suggest it was played predominantly by children before being taken up by adults at the beginning of the 17th century.  The game has since developed into one of the most popular sports in the western world.

“I have always loved cricket,” Sharma says. “It’s very big in my home country and when I was at school and college I played it. From when I was eight, I’ve been crazy about the sport and I wanted to share that in a country where it’s not traditionally popular.”

Much like in the sport’s early years, Cambodian youth are taking up the bat. Under the Rudrapriya Sports School Cricket Development Programme, Sharma visited 11 schools last year, taking over physical education classes to introduce the game to more than 500 children.

Kimsan Thanakon, aged 11, who joined the club two months ago and plays on grounds near the Australian Embassy, is already hooked.
“I really enjoy it,” she says.
“I like it when I hit the ball.”

“This is the first sport I’ve ever played and I really like it. I like playing as part of a team. It’s exciting and I definitely want to carry on,” adds 11-
year-old teammate Tan Motika.

Along with Phnom Penh’s junior squad, which has 99 percent local members, the capital’s cricket club has an over-16 team. It has proved popular for those wanting to find out more about the game.

Sharma’s passion and drive is already paying off, with a string of club firsts in the planning stages. They intend to become the first Cambodian cricket team to travel to Thailand to play in Chiang Mai, while the junior team is set to travel to Singapore.

“We are currently in the planning stages of arranging for the juniors to travel to take part in tournaments abroad, which would be amazing and very exciting for them,” Sharma says. “In the last year, we have seen amazing developments in cricket in Cambodia. So many Cambodian players joining us shows that they like the sport, and in the future I hope it will be even bigger.”

Phnom Penh Cricket Club juniors train every Saturday morning. Seniors train every Sunday. To find out more about the club and how to join, find the PPCC page on Facebook.