Hong Kong begin their Asia Cup qualifying campaign on Friday, and on the back of a successful series against Scotland, cricket in the territory has reached a pivotal point.
Nestled deep among a jungle of skyscrapers and urban terrain in Hong Kong is the Tin Kwong Recreational Ground, more commonly known as Mission Road.
Between January 21 and 31, history was made at the venue as Hong Kong hosted the first international series in its history against a formidable Scotland team in what was known as the Braidwood Cup.
Unfortunately, things got off to a soggy start with heavy rain wiping out the entire four-day game. However, the weather took a turn for the better in the first ODI as Hong Kong earned their first-ever ODI win on home soil by thrashing Scotland by 109 runs.
The rain returned to wash out the second ODI before the Twenty20 series was drawn 1-1 after the hosts won the weather-affected first match and the Scots secured the second match, leaving Hong Kong to claim the honour of being crowned the first Braidwood Cup winners.
The series was a huge success overall as fans of all ages packed into the ground, sitting in the stands and on the grassy banks around the boundary. During the ODI series, approximately 100 people attended the match that went ahead, and those numbers swelled to almost 500 during the T20 series.
While the spectator numbers may not seem much, it was considered a brilliant turnout in the eyes of the Hong Kong Cricket Association (HKCA) considering the weather and the multitude of other events on the go.
The question that now remains for Hong Kong is: what next?
Despite the sport not being hugely popular among the local Chinese population, Hong Kong has made great strides at international level and made their World Twenty20 debut in 2014. They made their presence felt from the outset, and stunned hosts Bangladesh by two wickets in a nail-biting encounter that will forever be etched in history.
A successful tour to the United Arab Emirates in November last year saw Hong Kong further establish themselves as one of the up and coming nations in Associate cricket.
Scotland captain Preston Mommsen said he was highly impressed with Hong Kong’s performance during the recent series and branded the team “young” and “dynamic”.
“Hong Kong play an exciting brand of cricket, so they have a very bright future ahead,” he told FOX Asia. “They are still relatively new to the international cricketing scene, but they’ve shown in the last couple of years that they are able to compete with the top Associate [nations] and the bottom four [Full Member] teams”.
Hong Kong director of cricket Charlie Burke meanwhile pointed out that Hong Kong should be taking advantage of the fact that they are located so close to a number of Asian countries that play cricket.
“In Asia, you are so close to one another and you’ve got countries such as the Philippines, China and Indonesia, places like that that are starved of any international cricket and we’re right on their doorstep,” he said.
While Hong Kong are on the right track in some areas, Mommsen believes they risk being derailed by the lack of a proper home ground. This problem is not easily solved, with land very precious in a city in the midst of a housing crisis.
“Establishing a home base is going to be a huge step forward for them,” the Scotland skipper said. “Speaking to Tim Cutler (HKCA CEO) and Charlie, about potential plans in the future, I think things look promising. But, until something concrete is decided, finding a home ground remains crucial.”
Burke echoed Mommsen’s sentiments, saying: “Our biggest issue going forward is facilities. The government have been very supportive, there’s some big things in the pipeline as far as facilities go, but certainly in the short term, that’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Burke believes that the two key ingredients to ensuring Hong Kong have a bright cricketing future are finding a home ground and reaching out to the local Chinese community.
Without a home ground, Hong Kong have constantly been on the road, playing matches abroad. However, more series on home soil could become more of a reality if they can secure a home ground that meets international standards.
The second big issue that Hong Kong have to focus on is getting members of the Chinese community involved in the sport. Hong Kong already have a ‘Dragons’ team which consists only of local Chinese players, but while this is a step in the right direction, the Hong Kong government will be more inclined to fund and support cricket if they see more people of Chinese descent showing an interest in it.
Mommsen believes another strong showing on the international stage could be what is required to get more locals involved.
“The major steps are qualifying for and playing in world events, it’s highly significant in increasing the profile of the national team and it’s like a domino effect of what can happen for that growth in interest for the game,” he said.
Hong Kong will look to set those dominos in motion by qualifying for the Asia Cup in February before taking on the game’s top nations at the World Twenty20. A strong showing on T20’s biggest stage will certainly go a long way to raising the national team’s appeal and bolster the popularity of cricket.
Following a highly successful tour of the United Arab Emirates and historic win against Scotland on home soil, the team and HKCA cannot waste this opportunity to break through into the cricketing spotlight. Further wins will lead to greater pressure on the Hong Kong government and may provide the incentive to gain new facilities and spark a cricket revolution in Asia’s World City.
Article by Bimal Mirwani (with editing from Julia Harris)