A Batting with Bimal Exclusive: Can Hong Kong shine as bright as their skyscrapers during the World T20?

Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo

Can Hong Kong defy the odds during their maiden World Twenty20 tournament?

When asked to picture Hong Kong, most people would conjure up images of bright lights, skyscrapers and delectable dumplings. However, there is more to Hong Kong than jaw-dropping sights and mouth-watering food.

What most people don’t know is that remnants of the dying heritage left behind by Hong Kong’s colonisers has taken root and blossomed into a thriving sub-culture of its own.

Cricket was a legacy of the British that soon became lost in the myriad of the modern era’s newly erected skyscrapers and the lack of space for real estate. However, cricket has once again made a resounding comeback since Hong Kong qualified for the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, which is the first major International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament they will compete in.

Despite many people having doubts about Hong Kong making it past the qualifying round of the World Twenty20, Hong Kong Cricket Association (HKCA) President Rodney Miles believes the team have the potential to surprise everyone, just like they did during the World Twenty20 Qualifiers when they beat Papua New Guinea to claim the final spot in the world renowned tournament.

“We’ve done incredibly well getting into the top sixteen lets be quite realistic about it,” Miles said. “Equally it’s Twenty20. There’s a good chance that we can knock over one or two of the other teams in this developmental first stage, where there’s eight playing to get into the last two. To actually get to be the top two and go into the World Twenty20 is very tough, but it’s a dream, it’s a dream.”

However, Hong Kong’s success has come from years of hard work and a never-give-up attitude combined with the drive to make it to the top.

Hong Kong captain Jamie Atkinson knows all about the struggles the national team have had to endure before they reached the summit.

“Well we thought, after the last World T20 Qualifiers in 2012, we had a few things to work on, particularly our fielding and our fitness,” the 23-year-old said. “We thought those were areas where we could touch up and improve on and areas that would help us in such a long tournament. It’s a long tournament with seventy games next to each other. So we thought those were two key areas that would help us.”

Hong Kong coach Charlie Burke, who left after the national team qualified for the World Twenty20, added that one of the main problems surrounding Hong Kong cricket is the fact that “we don’t play enough quality opposition”.

To remedy this, Burke, who is Australian by nationality, organised tours to his home country as he believes playing “against first-class cricketers on big grounds was crucial” for the national team’s development.

As captain, Atkinson has had his own problems to deal with throughout the World Twenty20 Qualifiers. He admitted that one of the toughest jobs as captain was carrying the weight of an entire country on his shoulders.

“I suppose as captain, the lads are always looking up to you as someone to try and get runs, but also as captain, you have got to look at how to deal with the players,” Atkinson said. “I’ve been lucky, I’ve played with a lot of the Hong Kong guys since Under-15 all the way through to Under-19 and now the senior team. They are my mates now so they are really easy to get on with and that’s a key aspect of captaincy I think, having a good working relationship with your players.”

To make matters worse, Atkinson was sidelined with a dislocated thumb for the match against Papua New Guinea that would determine whether Hong Kong qualified for the 2014 World Twenty20.

“I think I was actually more nervous than I have ever been just watching a game than actually playing in a game because you want to help the side out, but you can’t,” he conceded. “You can’t do anything about it really so it was actually more nerve-racking watching the game, but I was just delighted that they got through in the end.”

With a challenging tournament ahead of them, Hong Kong will face some stiff competition from Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. In order to reach the second phase of the tournament, where they will join Australia, India, Pakistan and the West Indies in Group 2 of the Super 10s, Hong Kong will have to win at least two of their first round matches.

Burke remains realistic about Hong Kong’s chances of making it to the second round and stated that he would be ecstatic if they managed to win two of their matches.

“It will be tough to top the group and go into the second phase, however I think we are good enough to win two games at least,” he said.

Miles put an interesting spin on Hong Kong’s position in the tournament, pointing out that they were the “underdogs” who could go on to defy the odds and show the world that they are a force to be reckoned with.

“You would much rather watch a Holland or a Hong Kong play, and as long as they’re not annihilated, which they shouldn’t be in Twenty20, you’ve got a chance of an underdog winning,” Miles said. It’s much more interesting. That one game [Holland vs England 2009 World Twenty20] justifies everything that I am saying. It can happen.”

But, what exactly does the future hold for Hong Kong cricket? Currently there are no local Chinese players in the national team, which suggests a lack of interest within the local community.

In order for cricket to cement a future in Hong Kong, Miles believes that the local population have to get involved in order for the sport to gain more popularity amongst the locals, which in turn will attract the attention of the local press.

Miles has also established three all-Chinese teams in a bid to give the locals a chance to experience the game firsthand.

“I and other people in the league have now got three all Chinese teams,” he said. “You’ve got to more Chinese involved in it, which will mean the press will expose it more, which means more people will watch it and appreciate they can play, and that’s where I and others are all trying to drive the cricket association forward in Hong Kong.

“At the basic level, you have got to communicate in your own language and it’s wonderful now when I see a whole group of Chinese kids talking in Chinese. That’s where they get the fun from.”

Another stepping stone to Hong Kong’s future success in the sport is the establishment of more cricketing facilities in the city. After witnessing a sharp decline in cricketing facilities, venues and pitches, Burke believes it is time for the government to sit up and “recognise Hong Kong’s most successful sporting team”.

With Hong Kong set to play their first major ICC tournament, Miles and Burke both had words of advice and encouragement for the national team.

“[We] Can’t be afraid of anyone and we showed that most of the time in UAE,” Burke said. “Play the smart game and continue to compete by doing the basics well and we must be five to seven per cent fitter in March.”

Miles had a much more straightforward and clear-cut message, which was: “Be optimistic. Be professional. Be a team.”

Just like the Hong Kong of old where a cricket pitch used to dominate the centre of the financial district, could we soon see the lush green grass, the roar of the crowds and the bright stadium lights make a comeback and coincide amongst the glistening skyscrapers of Hong Kong?

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