Aside from all the excitement and attention that such a tournament brings, Hong Kong are a quietly successful Associate nation. They have generally been in and around the top 10 Associates for the past 30 years, although they did suffer a brief plunge in 2001's ICC Trophy. On the other hand, they have never qualified for a World Cup, and only once qualified for the Intercontinental Cup. They finished bottom of their region and 11th of twelve in the 2005 edition.
On the other hand, Hong Kong has generally dominated at a local level, twice making it into the Asia Cup and playing a total of four (very one-sided) One Day Internationals. In these games, they generally looked like the club cricketers against eleven Test players, although their spinners impressed, particularly in restricting Pakistan's explosive batsmen in an admirable rearguard effort. These days, the focus for the Hong Kong players is more on Twenty20 and Sixes cricket; Sixes because of the exposure and prize money, Twenty20 because that's where the opportunities lie. This suits the talent pool down to the ground, and means that talents like Waqas Barkat and Irfan Ahmed can freely express themselves with the bat,
The Kowloon Cricket Club couldn't be more spectacular.
The young and talented spin attack of Nadeem Ahmed, Mark Chapman and Nizakat Khan follows in the footsteps of Munir Dar, who so strangled the batsmen of his native Pakistan in the Asia Cup over seven years ago. They will hope to complement a rising seam attack that features native born Aizaz and Asif Khan to progress through the rungs of Associate cricket largely by strangling opposition batsmen into mistakes. Nizakat and Chapman are also highly talented batsmen, and with Nadeem Ahmed complete a trio of all-rounders that balance the team out into a well-balanced unit with lots of options.
The batting department, while high on talent and power, is somewhat low on patience. Waqas Barkat, despite being richly talented and dominating the recent Asian T20 qualifying tournament, has a List A batting average of under 10 which hints at a lack of patience early in the innings. That said, those List A matches were over two years ago, but it is a trend that is seen also in Irfan Ahmed, Roy Lamsam, Courtney Kruger and Jamie Atkinson not having a List A or First Class half-century between them. If the future really is twenty overs long, though, I don't think this deficiency will overly worry the Hong Kong powers that be.
One of a rich new generation of players, Irfan Ahmed is able to contribute tellingly with both bat and ball. His talents have led to him being of interest at two Bangladesh Premier League auctions, although no franchise has yet taken the bold step of selecting a player from such a perceived backwater. He was, though, brutal at the 2012 Qualifier, belting 292 runs from the top of the order at an average of over 40 and strike rate of 120. His brisk seamers also collected seven scalps, and he was an extremely dominant force in the competition.
The system that takes talented cricketers and provides them with a path to the national team must be sound. Otherwise, why would the Hong Kong national team now be as young and as strong as it has ever been? Jamie Atkinson, Mark Chapman, Irfan Ahmed, Babar Hayat, Max Tucker, Mark Chapman, Courtney Kruger, Aizaz Khan, Asif Khan, Waqas Barkat, Li Kai Ming, Nadeem Ahmed, Kinchit Shah and Daljeet Singh. They make up almost the entire national squad (Roy Lamsam aside) and they are all young, and have all graduated through the age-group set-up. Some have not yet made national team places quite their own, but not everyone can be a success.
Normally this is the part where I prattle on about the ICC, but I think their choice to focus on Twenty20 really suits Hong Kong. With six qualifying slots available, there is the outside chance we could see them at the next World Twenty20. The biggest threat I see for Hong Kong is their education system. It essentially takes young adults (for they are no longer children) away from the real world for a year, force-feeds them learning and revision 20 hours a day, and at the end of it, more will fail than will pass. It also takes a year out of the cricketing lives of players right at the most crucial point of their development. That is why we won't be seeing much of Daljeet Singh or Kinchit Shah for a while, and why Mark Chapman didn't pick up a bat for a year.
Well, the future looks bright for Hong Kong. Next week will see the conclusion to the Associate Road Trip, and see me focus more on the health of Associate and Affiliate cricket on the whole. I will see you next week for one last instalment.