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 sport?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!)
If the first game of the Asia Cup 2018 against Pakistan wasn?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 Kong?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 ? who took a pair of smart catches two nights ago to complete HK?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 ? 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 ? and where they can ? 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 ?Top Bar?) of the Hong Kong Cricket Club. After two poor showings against Nepal and Afghanistan, there had been a few chuckles during then-skipper Jamie Atkinson?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!
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