Cricket’s love affair with Hong Kong reached a crescendo as the third edition of T20 Blitz attracted a plethora of international and local stars showcasing their skills across six action packed days. With the on-field coverage beamed live to 150 million households, this was HK’s first tryst with a globalized cricket audience of that magnitude. Although the on-field action was impeccable, I feel an opportunity was missed in furthering the game. This article is a means to bring some of those ideas to the forefront and urge for more grass-root development, more financial support and more government involvement in growing the game.
Hong Kong’s local stars shine on the big stage
The T20 Blitz tournament delivered on its excitement, culminating in a nail-biting finale, where local talent held their own, and even usurped the class of established international superstars. The eventual victors were Hung Hom JD Jaguars who defeated Galaxy Gladiators Lantau by 6 runs. Hong Kong’s Nizakat Khan invigorated the final with his swashbuckling knock of 93 runs, while Kyle Christie’s pace and bounce troubled even Player of the Tournament, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara. Success translated to the grassroots of the game, as 14-year old Aarush Bhagwat became the youngest squad champion, with the teenager soaking in the “amazing experience in learning from legends of the game”.
For me, seeing Sangakkara lose a 2nd final live – after the 2011 World Cup in Mumbai – was a bitter pill to swallow. Sangakkara, though remained positive about HK’s cricket future,
“I really enjoyed my visit. It has been a great tournament and I am very impressed with the local talent, especially guys like Haroon Arshad, Imran Arif, Arshad Mohammad and Nizakat Khan.”
On being pressed about ways to spread the game, Sanga mentioned the need to invest time and money – taking cricket to schools, making the sport an economically feasible option for locals, and organising tournaments across all age groups. All of this will require sizeable investment from Cricket Hong Kong (CHK) and unequivocal support from the HKSAR government.
A long journey ahead
Though Cricket HK must be lauded for successfully growing cricket’ reach beyond our shores – securing broadcast rights with Sunset+Vine and NEO Cricket was an amazing achievement – the empty seats at Mission Road meant a lot needs to be done before cricket can become a part of HKSAR’s sports ecosystem. This extends to financial and infrastructural help, which is currently beyond the current scope of CHK’s limited budget. While increased corporate involvement will help balance CHK’s books, its near-term future remains heavily reliant on financial support from the government. Support will also have to extend in the development of international standard grounds, with the Kai Tak Sports Park offering a golden opportunity to spread the game to locals.
Though cricket remains in its nascent stage in HK, tournaments like T20 Blitz and HK Sixes have the ability to catapult the sport to the forefront of people’s imagination, much like Rugby 7s. With a global audience size of half a billion, investment in cricket has long odds of paying out in multiple ways – least of all in driving sports tourism within the city state. The author believes Hong Kong has the ability to earmark itself as a multi-discipline sports tourism destination, much like Melbourne has.
This strategy offers tremendous long term economic and employment benefits for Hong Kong’s economy, with major boosts to the service industry, as evidenced during the Rugby 7s. Cricket also offers a great way to embrace the multi-cultural fabric that defines our city state, and has at its core a unifying ability that transcends boundaries. Many pieces of this intricate cricket puzzle have come together – as evidenced in the growth of the sport over the past 5 years – now, we await the biggest stakeholder to take strike. Over to you, Hong Kong Government.
All photographs by Saima Hz Photography