Hong Kong bullish of making Asia Cup stint count

Hong Kong had lost its ODI status in March, but the ICC on Sunday decided to grant the side ODI status for its matches against India and Pakistan in the upcoming Asia Cup.

The Hong Kong side will come into the tournament high on confidence after having toppled Nepal by three wickets to qualify for the Asia Cup on September 4.   -  [email protected]fzal

The International Cricket Council (ICC), on Sunday, decided to grant One-Day International status to Hong Kong’s matches against India and Pakistan in the upcoming Asia Cup, starting September 15.

Hong Kong had lost its ODI status in March, after losing in a World Cup Qualifier play-off to The Netherlands. However, the side is high on confidence after having toppled Nepal by three wickets to qualify for the Asia Cup on September 4.

When a cricketing nation is devoid of an ODI status, its matches are not counted as official one-dayers. However, on Sunday, a senior BCCI official told PTI, “The ICC has agreed to our (BCCI and the Asian Cricket Council's) request of according ODI status to both India vs Hong Kong and Pakistan vs Hong Kong games. If you remember during women’s Asia Cup T20, India vs Thailand match wasn’t counted as an official T20. But this time, there’s been an exception.”

Former Hong Kong skipper, Tanwir Afzal, who is still an integral part of the squad said he was not sure about how this move was going to help the team. Speaking to Sportstar, the all-rounder said, “Does it really make a difference? Our ODI status is not coming back. Only thing is that it adds two more ODIs to our tally. I am not sure about what financial implications this decision has though.”

“Losing the ODI status in March was when the players were hit the hardest. It was very disappointing. The problems are aplenty,” he added.

 

Hong Kong has been a team of fighters, putting up with adversities calling on its way. An associate member of the ICC since 1969, the nation played its first ODI in Sri Lanka in 2004 at the Asia Cup. The team's next big achievement came in 2014 when it was accorded ODI status for finishing third in the Cricket World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand.

What was it that hindered a growth akin to that of Afghanistan? The war-stricken nation, an associate member in 2013, drew itself up the rungs to qualify as a Test playing nation in a matter of just four years.

“Hong Kong is a very expensive country with people more inclined towards studies and mainstream professions which fetch money. When it comes to cricket, we hardly have facilities to facilitate growth. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has programs to boost cricketing quality among youngsters, most of them locals,” said the thirty-year-old cricketer who was born in Punjab in Pakistan.

Ground reality

A majority of the Hong Kong team consists of players of either Pakistani or Indian origin. “Most of the players have their families here and are settled for good. They are inducted into the national side mostly from local leagues, and many have been here since their U-13 or U-11 years. The association tries hard to train local players because the funding would increase. They are provided special coaches and even are a part of a special team in the leagues,” he said.

Afzal also remarked that the grounds are not the best. “The grounds are not that big and are mostly owned by private cricket clubs. We do have good pitches... turfs... but a huge problem is the short 45-50 yards boundary. It takes a toll on the nature of the player. The cricketers do not value controlled shots and are hardly seen running singles or doubles. Most of the players assume an aggressive outlook and go for big shots,” he said.

Hong Kong made it to the Asia Cup after defeating Nepal by three wickets on September 4.   -  ACC

 

Afzal is among the few players with a full-time contract. “The whole cricketing community is divided into four categories namely, A, B, C and D. Except D which comprises of students, who train only part-time, all the other groups have professionals. Some 12-15 players have been contracted full-time in the last three years now. With the ODI status gone, salaries have reduced to half. The ICC funding is also gone, and the government, which had been supportive even two years back has stopped supporting us now. Survival at times seems difficult but passion is what drives you on,” he asserted.

Foreign support

Cricket Australia has also played its part in supporting Hong Kong Cricket. “We have often had our national team going on practice tours to Australia. We have also played with Big Bash League (BBL) franchises and managed to put up a good fight. Practice matches like these act as confidence boosters. Here we hardly face genuine pacers who can bowl at speeds above 140kmph. With tours like these, we can subdue the fear of facing pacers,” he said.

Afzal, who captained the national side during the 2015 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers felt that the best thing the side possess of its own is the Hong Kong Sixes Tournament. “It has been quite successful. People put in hard work to get drafted into sides playing in the Sixes. Although there is close to little sponsorship, a decent enough crowd of five to six thousand come to watch the matches. Also, since the tournament is televised it becomes all the more appealing. However, the emergence of the T20 Blitz has been more helpful. Players like Kumar Sangakkara, Michael Clarke, Darren Sammy, Wahab Riaz, and Kamran Akmal have featured in the tournament. That adds to our advantages.”

Former Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke speaks to the press during a media event at the Kowloon cricket club as he prepared for a comeback at the Hong Kong T20 Blitz on May 27, 2016.   -  AFP

 

Looking ahead

Commenting on the World Cup, he said, “The World Cup is a good thing to fight for. But unfortunately, making it a 10-team affair has seen the excitement subside. Even good cricketing sides like Zimbabwe and Ireland are missing the showpiece tournament. The ICC should make provisions to make it a 14 to 16-team affair again. We would have something to work hard for. It helps with the funding too.”

With his side making it to the Asia Cup, Afzal could not be happier. “A poor start to the World Cup qualifying campaign saw us head homewards. But bygones are bygones! After the Asia Cup, our next main aim will be the T20 World Cup qualifiers. Rest we also have the Sixes and T20 Blitz coming up,” he said.

Hong Kong, which flies to UAE for the Asia Cup on Tuesday, is scheduled to play Pakistan on September 16 followed by India on September 18.