EXCLUSIVE: Hong Kong proved that Associate nations can compete with the big boys

Anshuman Rath Nizakat Khan record 174-run partnership Hong Kong India Asia Cup cricket

Hong Kong captain Anshuman Rath (left) and his opening partner Nizakat Khan forged a record-breaking 174-run partnership against India

Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo

They walked into the arena with the crowd awash in blue, waving the Indian flag and rhythmically chanting for India to make quick work of them in entertaining fashion. They faced a foe that was at the top of their game and revered globally. But, despite going up against an ODI powerhouse in India, Hong Kong had a point to prove and refused to go down until they had captured the hearts, minds and spirits of people all over the world.

Hong Kong were looked upon as a warm-up fighter for a gladiator at the top of their game. A small virtually unknown fighter going up against a legend that had already cemented their status as one of the best in the world.

Despite being branded the underdogs and seen as having no chance of toppling the giant that was India, Hong Kong not only put on a show for the crowd in attendance, but nearly achieved what arguably would have been the greatest upset in cricket history.

After being dominated in their Asia Cup opener against Pakistan, Hong Kong were determined to show that they meant business, and that they weren’t the pushovers everyone thought they were. Their never-give-up attitude and resilient spirit captured the hearts of many and earned them a serious amount of respect. Because of what they nearly accomplished, Associate nations all over the world rose up and applauded the grit and determination a small group of players from a bustling metropolitan city showed.

It was a fight to remember, and one of the epic duels that will go down in Hong Kong history, where the players involved can proudly say that they went head to head with one of the best in the business and nearly came out victorious. In many people’s eyes, Hong Kong had won the match, even though the scoreline said India triumphed by 26 runs, as they had given the second-ranked side in the world a serious run for their money and come within touching distance of completing one one of the greatest victories in their history.

In addition to that, Hong Kong had made a serious statement, whereby they proclaimed that Associate nations are capable of competing with the top dogs and, on their given day, slaying the giants that few believed would be possible.

Chris Carter Associate nations need more opportunities to play against higher ranked teams Hong Kong cricket

Chris Carter: “Consistency is what we lack, and a performance like that against India shows that the more we play, the more we will make waves on the world stage”

Image courtesy of: Chris Carter

“I hope that our performance shows the world that we mean business. Opportunities against such highly ranked teams are what we as Associates desire, and it feels good that we were able to put up a performance that we can be proud of,” Hong Kong batsman Chris Carter said in an exclusive interview with Batting with Bimal. “Consistency is what we lack, and a performance like that against India shows that the more we play, the more we will make waves on the world stage.”

Hong Kong wicketkeeper-batsman Scott McKechnie echoed Carter’s sentiments, telling Batting with Bimal: “I think more than anything it reinforced what people have now known for a long time – It is clear for the world to see that those teams ranked 11 to 18 have never been closer to performing at the Full Member level.

“Associate Cricket is without doubt as strong as it has ever been and performances like the one we posed against India last week, paired with our successes against Afghanistan in the World Cup Qualifiers last February and against Bangladesh back in the World T20 in 2014, no longer come as a surprise to many.”

Hong Kong’s awe-inspiring performance against India is not the first instance of an Associate member making their presence felt. People just have to take a trip back to the 2003 World Cup and recall how Kenya caused a series of upsets on the biggest stage of them all.

Kenya qualified for the tournament since they were hosting it with South Africa and Zimbabwe, but even though many thought they would be eliminated in the group stage, the African nation proved otherwise and silenced their critics by advancing to the semi-finals.

Their road to the last four was a bumpy one filled with ups and downs, but their refusal to go down without a fight throughout the tournament shone as a beacon and sent a loud and clear message of what Associate nations are capable of achieving.

On their journey to the semi-finals, Kenya beat Canada, New Zealand, who forfeited the game due to security reasons, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Facing India in the semi-finals, Kenya had the opportunity to play against one of the most formidable sides in the world and could have caused a major upset by progressing to the final. However, the fairytale was not to be as they were defeated by 91 runs.

Despite this, their campaign is something many Associate countries can draw inspiration from as Kenya proved it is possible for a nation, considered to be an underdog, to pull off a series of stunning victories.

“I hope the ICC embraces the chance to grow the game worldwide. It’s been stated that they see T20 International cricket as the ideal way to do so, so why not give associates more games against Test playing nations? And further to this, why make Associates effectively ‘re-qualify’ for the World Cup by virtue of having to progress through to the super sixes? Carter questioned. “Unfortunately Associates lack consistency due to their lack of experience, and hence this deprives them of the opportunity to cause upsets against the big teams in a World Cup.”

Like Carter, McKechnie wants to see Hong Kong test their might against the top-ranked sides in the world. But, he admitted the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) decision to shrink the number of teams in the World Cup will serve as a major roadblock not only for Hong Kong, but all the other Associate nations who are hungry for intense competition against the best of the best.

“Extending T20I status to all nations, to create a global pathway and ranking structure is a great start and all formats need addressing with this same holistic approach,” McKechnie said. “We have seen that the performance void between the Full Members and Associate Members is shrinking rapidly.

“From a World T20 perspective, I feel here that the first round of the World T20 should combine all teams including Full Members, in a 4 by 4 structure with a drive to expand to 20 and 24 teams across the next two iterations. Only then will a truly global showcase have been created and this will, without a doubt, vehicle cricket to new and exciting markets.

“As far as the 50 over World Cup goes, there has to be strong consideration to return to the 2015 structure in the 2023 World Cup. If the event can run with two games daily in the group stage, the event can be shorter than the 2019 tournament and include 20 countries. It’s what the fans want and it’s what the game needs.”

But, while Hong Kong and Kenya are just two examples of Associate nations achieving great things against some of the sport’s powerhouses, the ICC have come in and squashed the spirit of many Associate sides like a big fly swatter.

Next year’s World Cup in England and Wales will only feature 10 teams and acts as nothing more than a glorified version of the Champions Trophy that was held in England last year.

No doubt its good to see Afghanistan, who were bestowed with the honour of becoming a Full Member nation in June last year, participating in the 2019 World Cup. However, people all over the world want to see more Associate nations like Hong Kong, Nepal and Scotland go up against top-ranked sides and pen their own legends should they cut their opponents down and stand tall in the arena on the greatest and grandest stage of them all.

“I think the ten team World Cup is a major step back in the development of the game,” a frustrated Carter said. “Having done that, why not make it up in another tournament and give Associates a chance elsewhere like the World T20. Again, it takes away the chances for Associates to win over fans and their hearts by defeating the likes of England and India in front of millions of people.”

McKechnie feels that the ICC will rue their decision in the long run as the global cricketing body has cut off many fans that want to see their nations compete at the quadrennial event.

Scott McKechnie frustrated ICC cuts down number of teams in 2019 World Cup Hong Kong cricket

Scott McKechnie was less than impressed with the ICC’s decision to trim down the number of teams in next year’s World Cup

Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo

“I feel the ICC will reflect on that situation as something that could have been managed a huge amount better,” he said. “It felt wrong, impulsive and cricket lovers across the globe stood in protest.

“The talent pool at the Associate level is presenting itself quite obviously to the world – be it your trio of world class Afghanistan spinners who have only just transitioned to the Full Member level, be it your Anshuman Rath’s and Babar Hayat’s of Hong Kong, your Sandeep Lamichhane’s of Nepal or your Kyle Coetzer’s of Scotland.

“The world needs to see these players, the world needs the ICC to continue to ‘Grow the Game’ and look beyond the current model to ensure that more in the way of opportunity is presented to those competing at a world class level within the current Associate nation structure.”

People want to see history rewritten, but it won’t happen if Associate nations aren’t given the chance to clash with superior opponents. While some may feel it’s a waste of time for the world’s best to go head to head with weaker sides as there won’t be much competition, the truth of the matter is that there is no way to tell if this will be the case unless the two sides walk out into the arena and put their mettle to the test.

Feature written by Bimal Mirwani

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