Monday, November 23, 2020

Uzbekistan Becomes the Newest Addition to the ‘Stan’ Cricket Family

Some years ago Uzbek Journeys posted an article on cricket in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It proved surprisingly popular. Cricket fans will now be delighted to learn about cricket in Uzbekistan. It has become a sport for girls as well as boys.

An  article on this topic, written by Shounak Sarkar, appeared on 16 November in Emerging Cricket. Uzbek Journeys has received permission to publish this abridged version.

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Uzbekistan Cricket Federation President Aziz Mihliev, 2nd from Right

Afghanistan’s fairytale ascension from obscurity to World Cup participation and Full Membership is well known to cricket fans. It is an enthralling and heart-warming story which has been covered extensively by major media publications worldwide. However, it is not just the established cricket nations that are sitting up and taking notice. Afghanistan’s cricket successes are also causing its Central Asian neighbours to take the sport seriously and plant the first seeds of cricket in virgin soils.

One such country is Uzbekistan, where the Justice Ministry confirmed the registration of the "Cricket Federation of Uzbekistan" entity in December 2019. As per the Federation President Mr. Aziz Mihliev, its organisational goals are clear. Mihliev states that in his view starting a cricket chapter in the country can open Uzbekistan up to new opportunities:

"Since cricket is a popular sport in many parts of the world, we also decided to develop this sport as we believe that our youth are very competent and have shown great results in different types of championships. Cricket can bring new opportunities, new insights, and new goals to our country."

Furthermore, Mihliev admits that he also has a personal motive. He fondly remembers his college years in India, where he was awed by the sheer passion and joy that locals expressed towards the game. He couldn’t help but catch the cricket bug and eventually this led to Uzbekistan registering a cricket federation, becoming the second country in Central Asia to do so.

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A moment during the ANFA Tashkent T20 Tournament held in October 2020

Most people would not associate cricket with the ex-Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. The country is well known for its majestic mosques, gleaming mausoleums and other historical sites associated with the Silk Road. However, the sport has been played there since 1997, when Indian employees of an Indo-Uzbek healthcare company, Core Pharmsanoat, began organising regular cricket games among themselves.

The first notable cricket event took place in 1999, when a British Embassy Team played against a motley crew of players from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia, appropriately nicknamed the ‘Commonwealth XI’. Unfortunately, these fixtures were restricted exclusively to the expatriate community, with the native Uzbek population taking very little interest.

Present Day

Since the registration of the cricket federation, momentum has built rapidly. Currently, the federation has Indian-trained coaches at its disposal who are sharing their knowledge with other trainers. Participation is also increasing steadily. 

"At present we have more than 280 freshman players learning basic game techniques at various districts of our country and two more or less ready teams," Mihliev explains.

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Cricket training for girls and boys in Uzbekistan

The two cricket teams that Mihliev alludes to above are called "Barlos" and "Afrosiyob". Earlier this month they squared off against each other in the ANFA Tashkent T20 Tournament. This was a historic moment for the sport in the country: it the first time that an officially sanctioned tournament took place with indigenous Uzbek participation.

The importance of this tournament cannot be stressed enough. The games were played under the watchful eye of the National Olympic Committee leadership, along with representatives of the Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports and the Uzbekistan Cricket Federation. It also made national news.


Uzbekistan is collaborating with its Central Asian neighbours.  Chief Coach Mr. Farkhod Najmiddinov visited Tajikistan last year to meet with the Tajikistan Cricket Federation board members. In his mission, he closely got acquainted with their team and they shared their knowledge about cricket.

During the visit, the Tajiks presented Najmiddinov with some cricket equipment as a sign of goodwill. They gifted one ball, one pair of gloves, one pair of leg pads, one bat, one helmet, stumps and keeping gloves. 

cricket in uzbekistan, uzbek sports, central asian cricket
Coach Farkhod Najmiddinov with Asadullah Khan (Tajikistan Cricket Federation)

On future strategy, the Federation is quite clear on what it wants to aim for. Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and International Cricket Council (ICC) membership are firmly on the agenda, because as Mihliev states "They would give us a hand as they are developers of this wonderful game." 

Additionally, Mihliev advised that they have already spoken to ICC about the start of organised cricket in Uzbekistan. "When our President went to Dubai, he visited ICC personally and met (ICC Asia Development Officer) Mr. Mohammad Iqbal Sikander. He gave our President tonnes of information about the rules and regulations of ACC and ICC Membership. Moreover, Mr. Mohammed Iqbal gave us his coaching materials, which are greatly helping us to form up our Federation".

Also, a talent hunt is underway and the Federation is looking to increase participation levels by organising an annual eight-team domestic league which is one of the criteria for ICC membership. Long term, Mihliev has ambitious plans. "In the long run, our goal is to become internationally competitive! Our desire is to be champions in World Championships of any form of cricket tournaments," he adds.

Uzbekistan is a crowded sports market - promoting a new sport is a tough job. But the Federation is working closely with partner countries for support. It is speaking regularly with the National TV and Radio distributors so that cricket can be popularized through coverage on News and Sports Channels.

Mihliev adds "At present, the Ministry of Sports has given us a ground to launch our activities. We are undertaking some maintenance work now, so it allows us to train outside if the weather is ok.  If there is heavy rain or snow falling, we can rent closed stadiums."

A New Cricket Rivalry?

It is quite possible that with the mutual development of Tajik, Uzbek and Kazakh cricket, we might start seeing Central Asian cricket derbies become a regular occurrence in the next decade or so. That is a wonderfully exciting prospect and could be the start of a flourishing new cricket rivalry, in one of the unlikeliest regions in the world from a cricketing perspective.

How does watching a T20 tri-series between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan at Tashkent or Dushanbe sound?

Related posts:

Cricket in Afghanistan and Tajikistan
Skateistan - Empowerng Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding 
Uzbekistan Cricket Federation Facebook page
Emerging Cricket website