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Cricket fever taking root across Asia

KARACHI, May 24, 2006 (AFP) - Just a few years ago it was hard to imagine cricket taking root in conservative societies like China and Afghanistan.

But the passion shown in countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka has spread like an epidemic, prompting the caretakers of the sport in the region to fast track its development in these unlikely nations.

"China is our main focus and we think China can become a big market. In the same breath, cricket is also flourishing in Afghanistan," Sultan Rana, development manager of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), told AFP.

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The ACC, formed in 1983, now has 21 members and the number is increasing every year with Myanmar a recent addition that is set to feature in the ACC Trophy in Kuala Lumpur in August this year.

By holding events like the Asia Cup, due in 2008 in Pakistan, the ACC is able to raise the necessary funds to spend on developing the game in the nascent countries.

It is estimated that the next tournament will generate around 16.5 million dollars from television rights and sales.

Rana, a former first class cricketer in Pakistan and younger brother of well-known former umpire Shakoo

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