Moscow:One can hardly doubt that Russia is a sports superpower. But the existence of a cricket league in a country, where most people can hardly distinguish cricket from croquet, is staggering.
Russia's United Cricket League (RUCL) is conducting an annual national championship with seven clubs, one of which consists of players with Russian citizenship.
Ashvani Chopra, a businessman of Indian origin, who presides over the RUCL, said the game is taking off in the country.
"In India, cricket is not just a game, it's a religion," Chopra said. "I love cricket and I want to make it popular and widely available here. Cricket is a unique game."
"We started playing here in 1995 just for fun. In 2001 we conducted a small tournament, in which three teams -- Australia, India and the selection of the rest of the world -- were playing."
"The tournament was a success and it became the reference point of our league."
Now he is dreaming about the future international successes of the Russian national squad after receiving the approval of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
"We dream of creating a Russian national team," Chopra said.
He added that the league was trying to attract Russian people.
"We decided that every club should have at least one local player in their line-up," he said. "From now on it's an indispensable condition for every one of the league's clubs."
There remain problems, however, for the sport in Russia.
"It's impossible to find cricket bats or the correct balls here in Moscow," Chandra said.
"We have to bring all this stuff from home to play here. But we're ready to overcome any difficulties in the name of the game. Nothing can stop us. For all of us cricket is the biggest passion."
The Asian cricketers even managed to tweak interest in the game with Moscow football fans, shrugging off fears of racism or xenophobia.
"They have never offended us," Chandra said. "Some of them expressed interest in the game and asked for a chance to try their skills with us."
Moscow cricketers have also inspired lovers of the game in other Russian regions, prompting a series of exhibition games.
William Elliott, the British consul-general in Saint Petersburg, recently initiated a cricket showdown in the garden of the city's Russian Museum.
He captained the "Russian" team, which consisted of diplomats, businessmen and students, who resided in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
Their opponents, the "British" team, which united English veterans and showbusiness stars, were skippered by musical producer Sir Tim Rice.