Hong Kong's history-making cricketers vie for Chinese fans
Hong Kong cricketer Roy Lamsam -- the team's only current player of Chinese origin -- is run out in a match against India in 2008
The former British colony placed sixth out of 16 teams at recent qualifiers in the UAE, ensuring the city will be represented at a major international cricket tournament for the first time.
It's a major leap forward for a territory that has been playing international cricket since 1866. But all-rounder Roy Lamsam, the squad's only current player of Chinese origin, says reaction in Hong Kong has been muted.
"Obviously, Hong Kong's made history. But I don't think we got the recognition that we deserved. I don't know whether Hong Kongers are really happy or overjoyed at that," he told AFP.
The 33-year-old, who made his debut for the side in 1996 after making his way up through an all-Chinese school team, said the sport still struggles to make headway in a city where field space is hard to come by and football and basketball are far more popular.
Cricket was brought to Hong Kong when the British colonised the island in 1841. Once played in predominantly white clubs, it grew to depend on short-term, mainly Western expatriates passing through on work contracts.
That situation has changed over the past decade with the requirements that nearly all players be permanent residents or nationals, ending the cyclical nature of the squad and placing the team on firmer ground.
"We've reached a stage where people can't pretend we're not there. They have to take us seriously'" said chairman Mike Walsh, who oversaw the team's transition from amateur to professional in April this year.
Today, the wealthy, semi-autonomous southern Chinese city of 7 million receives generous government and ICC funding that pays for top-class facilities including ball-tracking technology Hawk Eye, outreach programmes into 50 schools and weekend leagues involving roughly 500 players.
However, it remains hard for cricket to gain traction in the Chinese community, Hong Kong's dominant ethnic group.
Samson Lam, a 33-year-old league cricketer who took up the sport three years ago and now plays in an all-Chinese team, blames a lack of local media interest but hopes Hong Kong's recent success can change that.
"Cricket is the best sport of Hong Kong and being able to make a World Cup final is something unique," said Lam.
"Hopefully (qualifying) would attract more Chinese. The problem from what I see is there isn't enough coverage.
"Two days after Hong Kong qualified, we started seeing some news in local newspapers -- two or three sentences max. It's not enough to get local people to understand it."
The team is led by Jamie Atkinson, a former Durham University player who finished the qualifier tournament in UAE with 241 runs at a strong average of 30.12, while slow left-armer Munir Dar’s 17 wickets at 13.05 apiece placed him second on the leading bowlers’ list.
Rather than Chinese players, the squad is made up mainly of South Asians like 23-year-old vice-captain Waqas Barkat, a hard-hitting middle order batsman.
Barkat, the son of Pakistani immigrants who is fluent in Cantonese, is optimistic about the team's trajectory given the relative youth of its core players.
"In the coming four to five years Hong Kong is going to go big. Our age average is 22 or 23. In the next five years guys are going to be very senior and will have more experience playing this group," he says.
Atkinson, a qualified teacher whose father also played for Hong Kong, says the side has taken great strides, especially since the advent of professional contracts.
But if the team is to develop further, Walsh says Chinese involvement is crucial. He adds that the eventual aim is to help the sport grow across the border in mainland China.
"We have quite a few youngsters coming through. We have 100 percent Chinese teams playing in the leagues," says Walsh.
"Our avowed aim is to grow the game and we say part of our onus is to grow it that way -- by that way I mean north over those hills into China," he adds, gesturing beyond the verdant ground of the city's historic Hong Kong Cricket Club.
This currently looks like a distant prospect, and with Lamsam aiming for retirement next year, there are no other Chinese players on the verge of selection.
But he hopes the team's recent success can elevate its profile.
"It's difficult, but there is still hope," says the part-time interior designer.
"You cannot deny the fact we've accomplished something that no one has done before. Despite not being very popular at the moment it's there for people to understand to enjoy, get their curiosity satisfied.
"Qualifying for the World Cup can only be a positive thing."
- Filipino UN peacekeepers in Golan clash with Syrian rebels: govt
- Filipino UN peacekeepers in Golan clash with Syrian rebels: govt.
- Lesotho military seize control of police HQ, jam radio stations
- Lesotho military seize control of police HQ, jam radio stations: minister
- 20 miners rescued alive in Nicaragua collapse: official
- Leave that iguana in the jungle, expert tells Costa Rica
- Dramatic Papua New Guinea volcano quietens
- Panasonic, Tata join hands in water treatment: report
- Taiwan to spend US$2.5 billion on anti-missile systems
- New Zealand minister quits as email leaks rock election campaign
- Why punish 6,000 MAS staff over Putrajaya’;s incompetence, asks Anwar
- Money to save MAS can be used to benefit the public, says veteran journo
- PAS will lose big if it leaves Pakatan, says Mat Taib
- Patrol squad has not strayed from its objectives, says Guan Eng
- Why two sets of crime stats, DAP asks Putrajaya
- New harmony laws being drafted, Putrajaya says in defence of sedition charges
- Colonial past still alive and well, says Kit Siang in Merdeka note
- MAS will be back in the black in 3 years, says Utusan
- Najib to deliver Merdeka message live – Bernama
- Selangor MB crisis can be resolved in emergency sitting, says retired judge
- Dr M’;s criticism not about Umno, but Putrajaya
- Indonesian woman says she will remain in Malaysia despite khalwat ordeal
- We will arrest PPS members if they continue activities, says top cop – Bernama
- PAS’;s Selangor move to prove independence from PKR, DAP, says Khalid Samad
- Selangor PAS to discuss candidate for Selangor MB – Bernama