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The Hong Kong T20 Blitz and the H.K. fan

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Hong_Kong_T20_Blitz_CricketBack in the day

Impeccably dressed in school uniform, equipped with a watch built more for utility than style, at a personal desk in the middle of an examination hall, sat a focused, yet impatient, Mahi. Mahi’s focus was anchored to a three-hour exam paper. His impatience stemmed from having to balance academics with his love for a game he would one day go on to conquer. It was this very balancing act that left Mahi with a mere two and a half hours to complete this boring behemoth of a paper. But Mahi kept on writing, checking his watch, and glancing up at the clock located at the front of the hall.

10:29 and 50 seconds. He tucked his notebook under his arm, dropped the paper off at the front of the hall, and sprinted through the school gates, where his mates were waiting like loyal getaway drivers so he could catch the 10:45 into town.

Before you even knew it, he was past the platform and onto the train, where there was plenty of time to grab a change of clothes from his kitbag. As soon as the train arrived, he leapt off and sprinted until he arrived at the ground for training...

…3000 kilometers away, lying amidst an assortment of textbooks and the scattered crumbs of tortilla chips from the night before, was one of Hong Kong’s finest bits and pieces cricketers.

But there was something bothering the next Mitchell Marsh. Was it a shamefully unattractive moustache unique to 16-year old Indian boys? Was it the fact that he ran out of Nacho Cheese and had to settle for Cool Ranch? Was it the pressure of exams?

No, this was serious. India had been knocked out of the 2007 World Cup! Chappell and Ganguly could not get along. A memorable victory against Bermuda was not enough to propel India to the Super-8 stage.

The nightmares were interrupted by an even more horrific morning alarm, waking the boy up as he rolled over, crunching more tortilla chips. He glanced at his phone. It was show time! He took a snooze as was customary, brushed his teeth with surgical precision, and took something resembling a shower.

Before you even knew it, he was past his Indian parents (after agreeing not to drink cold water and to carry a spare jacket) and into the elevator. As soon as the elevator arrived, he ran to the nearby taxi stand, where his friends should have been waiting like punctual teammates to commute to “Mission Road” for the last game of the season.

10 years later

16th February 2017 at Mission Road, also known as the Tin Kwong Road Recreational Ground. Despite the masala added to those stories, the truth was I had not been to the ground or even around the HK cricket scene for nearly ten years. I missed Hong Kong’s first ever First-Class home fixture the previous week but I wasn’t missing these two List A games between Hong Kong and the Netherlands, who were competing for the top spot in the World Cricket League.

The winner of the ongoing 8-team WCL stands to gain promotion to the elite 13-team ODI league, guaranteeing them 36 ODI’s in a three-year cycle starting in 2019. The financial boost that comes with this only added more spice to this Thursday morning fixture.

Feeling fresh from my morning cup of chai, I lit up a cigarette as I observed my surroundings. As I stood in the parking lot I couldn’t help but compare things to how they were back in the day. The facility looked largely the same from the outside and was located in a residential and school neighborhood. There were large trees, still no convenience stores in sight, and construction had been completed on the tall residential buildings, which adorned the skies surrounding Mission Road.

Uh Oh! Upon seeing a Desi Aunty, I stubbed out my cigarette at the top of the trash can and made my way up an incline and through the gates. I found a shaded seat with a great view of the action and settled in for a day of people watching and cricket.

Apart from the two heart-breaking defeats, Anshuman (Anshy) Rath’s 134, the pace of Peter Van Meekeren and Aizaz Khan, it was the loyal ‘Babar Army,’ that caught my attention on both match days. “SHABA BABAR,” a group of 20-odd people screams in encouragement of Hong Kong’s hard-hitting Babar Hayat. The army is mainly composed of members of the Pakistani community, but Indians join in all the time. We can’t help it. Neither could an Aussie sitting next to me. I tried to teach it to a South African but he was struggling. He had it at first. Must’ve choked.

It’s not like a hippy multi-cultural bonfire where we hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but there is a feeling of racial harmony and community among Hong Kong’s fans. But one ethnic group has traditionally been missing from the Hong Kong cricket scene: the local Cantonese.  

It is not easy to engage the local population in cricket. This is not just because they see football and basketball as better options, but also because of a uniquely intense pressure to succeed both academically and professionally. East Asian parents are as demanding as Indian parents in that regard and cricket simply takes up too much time, as far as they are concerned.  

However, I saw something quite incredible on Mission Road that day. Ming Li, a Cantonese leg-spinner, was teaching children from a Cantonese-medium school how to play cricket with instructions (and jokes) in their native tongue of Cantonese. This would not have happened ten years ago.

There are two (just two) practice nets at the ground. But they weren’t there before. These small things are more than just sentimental; rather they are the direct result of the HKCA’s effort to grow the game and promote it locally. 5 ethnically Chinese players were picked up at this year’s HK T20 Blitz auction. Don’t be surprised if you see more of the same in years to come.

The 2nd Hong Kong T20 Blitz - #HKProud

This brings us to the second edition of the annual HK T20 Blitz being held from March 8-12 at The Tin Kwong Recreational Ground in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. Unlike the inaugural edition, which was practically washed out and only featured one big name in Michael Clarke, this year’s 5-day tournament will be played in near perfect weather in the Spring of Hong Kong. 5 franchises are allowed a maximum of four overseas professionals with the rest of the line-ups comprised of local talent.

This is quite possibly the highest standard of cricket ever played in Hong Kong. Aside from names like Darren Sammy, Sangakkara, Misbah, Jesse Ryder, and Chris Jordan, the Blitz has a strong contingent of local talent. Watch out for Anshy Rath (recently signed for Middlesex), Babar Hayat, Nizakat Khan, and Aizaz Khan. And I was trying to keep that list short.

A tournament known as the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes, which was a cricketing exhibition with numerous 5-over games, would often attract names like Wasim Akram, Warne, Jayasuriya, and even Mahi. But 5-overs a side is not real cricket. The tournament, however, may be revived this year itself, allowing the HKCA to make up for a capacity of only 3500 at Mission Road, where tickets for the Blitz have virtually sold out.

This IPL-style tournament gives Hong Kong’s youngsters a unique opportunity to play with, learn from, and possibly even defeat world-class professionals. With the proposed re-structuring of the ICC, the new ODI league, and more equal revenue sharing, it is fair to assume that Hong Kong will, or at least should, enjoy more game time against the big boys.  

Furthermore, just to stir the pot, if India were playing Hong Kong, I’d support the latter. No question. We’re not just some associates you can brush aside. We’re #HKProud.

 

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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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