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.

T20I status for all. Just a few tweaks needed.

Domestic T20 leagues, Olympic inclusion & playing conditions in the spotlight.

From 1 January 2019 all (men’s) international cricket teams – all 104 of them – will have full Twenty20 International (T20I) status. This will mean a first-ever level playing field across all countries in a single format, as well as the creation of cricket’s first truly global rankings system. This will be introduced for men’s and women’s teams.

It was also announced that the 2021 Champions Trophy will now become a World Twenty20, and there also appears to be a renewed vigour around cricket’s inclusion at the Olympics (2028 in LA being the earliest opportunity).

Overall this is great news for the sport’s development. Previously, to play a T20I (or an ODI) both teams had to have the requisite status, and the match had to be played under strict(er) controls that include umpire appointments and prior ground approval, amongst others.

I will be interested to read how the ICC plan on reviewing the playing conditions around T20Is to make it as easy as possible for nations to play these matches. It would not be realistic to expect all countries, in order to play T20Is, to only conduct matches at the current (limited) number of approved grounds available. There is also the questions around the additional costs for ICC appointed match officials as well, and a great number of ICC members do not have immediate access to turf wickets. The ICC cricket department, led by Australian former-first class cricketer Geoff Allardice, had been discussing the feasibility of T20Is being able to be played on synthetics pitches/grounds previously. Considering the just-finishedĀ ICC World T20 Africa A Qualifier was played on a synthetic wicket – and for the sake of the growth of the sport, I hope this line of thought has prevailed.

One of the sticking points with the IOC with Olympic inclusion was that they did not want a format of the sport which would not provide a “pinnacle” in an Olympic event. The introduction of a global rankings system and another global tournament (in place of one in another format) goes a long way to show the IOC that the ICC is serious about T20 cricket – which by all accounts, is the only format being considered for Olympic inclusion.

Besides the current restrictive conditions around grounds and officials, I also hope the ICC consider changing their policy when it comes to the status of domestic T20 tournaments. Despite the calibre of players on show – and that it was played at an approved ODI/T20I venue – the Hong Kong T20 Blitz was classed as “Other T20s” for stats purposes, so no performance will be kept alongside playersā€™ performances in other franchise / domestic leagues hosted by Full Members.

There is a simple solution to this: abolish the current regulation that only Full Member nations can have full “T20” domestic tournaments. This can then be replaced – rather than saying that “any” T20 match anywhere will go towards stats (this would could utter havoc) – but say that every tournament that goes through the ICC approval process (this is a prerequisite step for any tournament wanting to invite overseas players) will be awarded full “T20” status meaning that the stats of HK’s T20 Blitz, and Nepal’s EPL & DPL, for example, would all have the same status as BBL, BPL & IPL matches.

Now, the question of club (i.e. domestic T20 leagues) v country (T20Is) is a complex one, and the ICC is wary of giving these leagues ammunition to sideline international cricket. However, I think that my suggested approval of T20 matches can be managed – alongside amending the approval process for these events, which I will write on another time – and can be another step forward in embracing emerging nations’ plans to hold these domestic events in an event to drive commercial revenue and local interest in cricket. However, it needs to been managed carefully so as not to be luring players away from playing for their countries, and maybe more importantly, not providing breeding grounds for nefarious involvement with respect to spot/match fixing.

Overall though, and echoing ICC CEO David Richardson’sĀ  (pictured above – photo courtesy ICC) comments in the release, this is a great step forward for the sport; the ICC-at-large (especially the Development team, led by Will Glenwright) should be commended.

“Status” has always been a keenly discussed topic and seen by many as an archaic mechanism that is getting in the way of cricket becoming truly “global”. Ours is the only sport I am aware of that puts conditions on it being played, where countries competing – in sometimes the identical conditions as others are not classed the same. This was no more evident at the recent (50 over) Cricket World Cup Qualifiers where two of the ten teams (Nepal & Netherlands) did not have One Day International status, and therefore, every game they played – even against full members – was List A. All other matches in the tournament were ODIs.