Asia T20 blitz puts Hong Kong on the cricket map

Hong Kong’s T20 Blitz is approaching only its second edition but already it is attracting a number of well-known players, including Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq and hard-hitting all-rounder Shahid Afridi.

Shahid Afridi

Hong Kong T20 Blitz has attracted players like Shahid Afridi.   -  AFP

A burgeoning T20 tournament and growing interest from abroad is turning Hong Kong into one of Asia’s fastest-rising cricketing destinations — and could help the sport make inroads into mainland China.

Hong Kong’s T20 Blitz is approaching only its second edition but already it is attracting a number of well-known players, including Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq and hard-hitting all-rounder Shahid Afridi.

The densely populated city has also been proposed as a possible venue for Australia’s successful Big Bash League, which boasts bumper crowds and TV ratings.

It is a surprising scenario for Hong Kong, given that it has few cricket grounds, only 795 registered senior male players and scant interest in the sport among its ethnic Chinese majority population.

But the former British colony could now make itself a centre in East Asia for T20 cricket, which has already spawned the popular Big Bash, Indian Premier League and similar competitions elsewhere.

Tim Cutler, Cricket Hong Kong’s 34-year-old CEO, takes inspiration from rugby’s Hong Kong Sevens, whose success helped the sport return to the Olympics last year.

“Look at the Hong Kong Sevens,” Cutler said.

“Hong Kong is not known for its sporting prowess but it can run international events. It’s an easy place to get things done. Outside, people are thinking, ‘How can we be part of that?’”

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke came out of retirement to be the sole star player at last year’s inaugural T20 Blitz, but he seems to have blazed a trail for Misbah, Afridi and others.

The next edition from March 8-12 will also feature the West Indies’ two-time World T20-winning captain Darren Sammy, Sri Lanka legends Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakeratne Dilshan, India’s Yusuf Pathan, England’s Tymal Mills and New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder.

“To have that talent playing alongside local players, you can’t buy that kind of experience,” said Cutler.

“We’re the only associate (second-tier ICC member) to launch a franchise-based T20. There are lots of envious cricket federations around the world.”

Swinging into China

Despite its lack of resources, Hong Kong has cricketing pedigree, after rising as high as 10th in the T20 rankings and beating Bangladesh in Chittagong at the 2014 World T20.

Last year, Hong Kong also agreed with China, South Korea and Japan to hold a biennial East Asia Cup, with the first edition played in November. “It’s about carving a niche for us in East Asia,” Cutler said.

The big prize for Hong Kong, and the International Cricket Council, lies in mainland China, whose only cricket ground sits not far across the border in the sprawling city of Guangzhou.

  Dugout videos