Hong Kong Cricket. Upsets. Riots, helicopters & unpaid leave. David & Goliath.

During the ICC World T20 2014, a cricketing nation with around 750 (male and female) senior cricketers pulled off the upset of all upsets. Hosts Bangladesh, a cricket mad nation with a population around 160 million, were beaten by Hong Kong, on home soil no less. Furthermore, the players and staff were ready to leave everything behind and evacuate in military helicopters as security personnel were very afraid of a riot at the ground. I had been in Hong Kong for six months – working in marine insurance – and found myself in tears watching the match, and even moreso afterwards. What an amazing story. I play against these guys on the weekends. Where have they come from? How do I get more involved? Just over a year later, I was lucky enough to become the sportā€™s first CEO in Hong Kong. Not long after, in the confines of the CEO’s office, three (work) mates came up with the idea of a franchised T20 event. This year, the HK T20 Blitz was beamed to almost 200 million homes. But, this is not about me. Just. Watch.. (The ICC Video is here but won’t embed!)
https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1ioa7s
If the first game of the Asia Cup 2018 against Pakistan wasnā€™t imposing enough, tonight, the cricket team representing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, takes on the might of India. Hundreds of millions of cricket fans. Media rights income approaching a billion dollars a year. Cricket Hong Kongā€™s income for 2016/17 was just over $3m. MS Dhoni (according to a quick search) has a net worth of between 100-170 million US dollars. The Hong Kong wicket-keeper, Scott McKechnie ā€“ who took a pair of smart catches two nights ago to complete HKā€™s only dismissals – is not contracted due to his full-time job with Kowloon Cricket Club. He has taken unpaid leave from his role as KCC Head Coach to play in the qualifiers in Malaysia, and extend his leave to cover his time in the UAE. Players can claim loss-of-income from Cricket Hong Kong when they are not contracted and are selected to tour ā€“ but this generally does not cover the full amount they are forgoing by representing HK. Does this fact demean the level of commitment? Absolutely not. Are the HK squad run like a professional team. Of course they are. They are supported by coaches, physios, analysts, and other technical staff. They train as much as they can ā€“ and where they can ā€“ depending where administrators can afford to prepare for them, or to take them to. The majority of the team have either been born in Hong Kong or have learnt the sport here. Family roots throughout the squad spread across the globe. From Pakistan to India, Australia, England, Zimbabwe & New Zealand, their names or families may be from, or their birthplaces be – but this is very much the Hong Kong Cricket team. On that fateful night, the 20th March 2014, a small group of us gathered in the Chater Tavern (or ā€œTop Barā€) of the Hong Kong Cricket Club. After two poor showings against Nepal and Afghanistan, there had been a few chuckles during then-skipper Jamie Atkinsonā€™s press conference a day earlier, when he imagined a Hong Kong victory against the Test playing, Full Member hosts, in the final game of Group A. Not many hours later the Hong Kong team management was being prepped to be taken by military helicopters from the middle of the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong. After bowling out the hosts for 108 in under 17 overs, if the visitors chased down the target in 13.1 overs or less, Nepal would leapfrog Bangladesh on NRR and progress to the main group. If so, the helicopters would be called in. After a typically (you never get used to them) chaotic HK chase, the total was reeled in. A one-handed six over wide mid-off by the opening bowler no less. Nepal fans were surely disappointed it had taken Hong Kong all but two balls of their allotted twenty overs to reach the target. The coaching staff and players however, were very relieved they would not have to leave their cricket gear behind and evacuate the predicted riot. A win was a win. And it was massive. No helicopters. Just a very happy Jamie Atkinson. Crowds are highly unlikely to react similarly if there is another upset tonight in Dubai, but there will indeed be many a tear shed by the faithful back here in the +852. Many of us will be back at HKCC tonight, watching. Cheering. COME ON HONG KONG!

The Asia Cup – a window to better global events?

The ACC’s Unimoni Asia Cup 2018Ā starts tomorrow. It is a six team, ODI event – including one Associate Member – played over fourteen days. The two teams who contest the final will have played six games, those who do not progress past the pool stage will complete two matches each.

Its format gets the balance just right. It fits nicely into an ever-cramped international schedule (despite some initial concerns as to India’s fixtures), providing a coveted place for one of the Associate Members in Asia while doing its best to present maximum value for broadcasters. Short, sharp, contextual, inclusive. I can’t wait.

Earlier this year, there was a lot of noise about the next ICC Cricket World Cup. Much has already been said, written, and tweeted. The long and short of it is that it is a ten team, single round robin event. After an amazing qualifying tournament, the sport’s current pinnacle event will be without two of its Test nations, nor will it feature an Associate Member.

The ICC has said this format – last utilised in 1992 – was used so that it could squeeze as much money as possible out of the media rights to its 2015-23 global events. These were sold to Star for ~$2bn. The same network also won the tender for the Asia Cups held from 2016-23.Ā 

However, despite having the same network owning its rights, with a deal that was announced only a day after the ICC contract, the ACC have not followed suit – and have employed a six-team, two pool event. Now, “if” a tweaked single round-robin ICC model was employed (let’s say for the Asian Full Members only) it would’ve been:

  • Five-team single round-robin (nine matches / one per day)
  • IPL-style semi-finals (three matches / one per day)
  • Final (13 matches total)

This format would’ve guaranteed each team a minimum of four ODIs with a maximum possible of seven.

Instead, the ACC have included one emerging team and used:

  • Two pools of three single round-robin (six matches / one per day)
  • Top two into a “Super Four” (six matches / two per day)
  • Final (13 matches in total)

Now, this only guaranteed each team a minimum of two ODIs, but in exactly the same number of matches and fewer days, achieved by playing two games per day during the Super Four round, a particular feature in the 20-team World Cup format devised by Russ Degnan:

In this format, the Asia Cricket Council (ACC) has provided a more inclusive Asia Cup than what would’ve been possible with a single-round robin league/cup. To me this provides a better model for not only showcasing the region’s best teams, but also one that recognises the developmental value in providing a berth for an Associate team.

That team, Hong Kong, came through a typical close-fought qualifying tournamentĀ – ironically played at the same time as the 2018 Asian Games; which should have had cricket in itĀ – to snare that sixth spot, winning all three games against the only Asian Associate ODI nations, Nepal & UAE.

The final of the qualifying tournament in Malaysia was produced for Star and broadcast across the world*.Ā 

Furthermore, the last 50 over Asia Cup in 2014 (won by Sri Lanka) had only five teams – the four FMs plus qualifier Afghanistan, who was an Associate at the time. This year sees an additional FM spot for Afghanistan – and the emerging nation place retained.

Big green ticks to ACC.

Conversely, the number of teams awarded ODI status by the ICC has remained at 16 for many years, despite there being two recently-promoted Full Members. Although, a recent media release may indicate this total number “may” be under review by the ICC. Potentially positive news to come.

The matches in the UAE start tomorrow with six consecutive day / night ODIs. Group A includes Hong Kong, India, Pakistan & Group B is Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka.

The top two then from each group form a “Super Four” who play each other once, and the top two will then meet in the final on Friday 28 September, completed a crisp 14-day event.

Star TV – currently owned by Fox, and soon to be handed over to Disney/ESPN – currently holds the rights for the BCCI (including IPL), the ICC, and whose parent also has a controlling stake in Sky, who have the ECB broadcast deal, too.

Not to be outdone, Fox is also the majority partner in Cricket Australia’s new media contract too. I talk about the big three’s deals here.

(Apologies for the extended delay since my last piece – who would’ve thought full time employment would take up so much of my spare time…)

BONUS TITBIT: In partnership with the ECB, the ICC continues to churn out various content for the 2019 World Cup. Ticket ballots, comedians, and seemingly the theme for #CWC19 have all hit our feeds – and there were over 2.5m tickets requested in the lottery-based system. Things have definitely come a very long way since the last time the 50-over global event was hosted in the UK. When teams came from all over the world to play.

And…. COME ON HONG KONG!

*Correction – the original article erroneously stated no matches of 2016 Asia Cup qualifier were broadcast.