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Cricket could almost have been invented in Mongolia

Sir, You published a letter from me during the 2006 winter Ashes when I was in trouble for carrying a cricket ball up a Baker Street escalator. Your newspaper was sympathetic to my passion for the game, but others dubbed me the “Lethal Weapon Cricketer” and I moved to Ulaanbaatar, escaping infamy and seeking reformation.

However, I must now break my silence to report on the state of play in Mongolia.

Battulga Gombo, cricket’s only Mongolian coach, plans to raise a permanent ground beneath Bogd Khan, the mountain that protects Ulaanbaatar from the Gobi desert. This wonderful country is blessed with vast flat areas, all perfectly mown by goats. If not for lack of willow, cricket would perhaps have been invented here.

Instead, the seeds of horseracing, archery and wrestling flourished. Anthropologists insist these sports are logical given Mongol history, and fit the years of tribal survival, war, empire-building and nomadic pastoralism. No matter the reason, during the late Soviet period, matka, a bat and stone game was very popular on the streets of Ulaanbaatar. Perhaps this was a variant of lapta introduced by the same Russian soldiers that routinely claim the origins of cricket.

Perhaps, however, matka was a first sign of gestation, and thanks to Battulga’s nurture, Mongolia’s first ground will be born next year.

That really would be a time for throat-singing, airag-drinking and eagle-dancing!

Chris Hurd Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

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