Like every year, the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes 2012 was a highly anticipated event. The priceless autumn weekend promised a fall of cricketing talents, as international players and commentators were expected to descend onto one of the world’s greatest (non-test) cricket grounds. The recently completed World Twenty20 set the tempo aptly, and the locals were ready for their own live show of shortened and quick games, each filled with twists and thrills.
What they got in the end was, as some would say, a mixed bag. Although they were invited to a genuine glimpse of international cricket, many of the fans felt tricked by the drought of stars that eventually appeared – despite the cloudy conditions.
In pure cricketing lingo, the entire local Indian crowd was bowled out for a golden duck. Most of them, who arrived with eager aspirations to meet some of their national and Indian Premiere League (IPL) heroes, were aghast when instead they saw seven self-proclaimed cricketers. Not a single name from the squad was known to even the most devout of cricket followers, and the fans were left in blues following their team’s early exit. And add to that the fact that the team arrived at the venue straight from the Airport, without any rest.
Vivek Bakshi, their team manager, reasoned that the players who were initially chosen for the event have all recently been selected to play for India’s biggest domestic competition, the Ranji Trophy. Since some of them are also slated to play in India’s international fixtures against England next month, a knee-jerk decision was made to withdraw them all on the basis of fitness precaution. This justification, however, brought no consolation to the local fans, as they expected – and even demanded – better organization from the world’s richest cricket board. Clearly (and understandably) this year’s winner’s prize of (just) US$40,000 wasn’t enough to lure even the fringe Indian players of international cricket.
Immediately, the spark that was expected from an India cricket match was already rusted. The Indian fans didn’t have a clue of which player to cheer for, and their opponents didn’t pay them much respect either. Needless to say, even the ‘India-Pakistan’ clash was relegated to a one-sided affair. The real competition between these two teams, however, was off the field. Like wild cats in a cage, the fans rekindled their stereotypical animosity as they roared their respective ‘Jeete ga bhai jeete ga’ and ‘Zindabad’ slogans. Unlike the contest on the field, this one was indeed a thrilling tiebreaker!
This year’s England team were the only ones who would have sympathized with India. In a similar fashion, and for congruent reasons, their squad comprised of players inexperienced at the International level, and their result was expectedly dismal. They finished in the bottom two, along with India.
The local fans’ angst’s fueled further when they saw the success of teams like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, and South Africa, each of whom brought at least one current international player. The point was loud and clear: South Africa (Colin Ingram, David Miller, & Wayne Parnell) were champions; Pakistan (Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal, & Junaid Khan) were finalists; Sri Lanka (Jehan Mubarak & Chamara Kapugedara) were semifinalists, and Australia (Bradley Hodge) were victors of the Plate prize.
Along with playing for their prizes, the international players also seemed to revel in their experiences of Hong Kong (HK). As this year’s event also coincided with Halloween, Wayne Parnell was gleaming with excitement when he indulged on his team’s nocturnal plans over the weekend (we know where!). The attractions of HK have been such that even international superstars like Anil Kumble, Shahid Afridi, Sanath Jayasuria, and now Umar Akmal have all graced this annual event multiple times. This year’s debutant’s have also stringed hopes of returning next year. The Hong Kong cricket team on the other hand showed a lot of promise with Babar Hayat doing a great job.
The local fans also had their own thrills to feast on this weekend, as the Hong Kong team had a decent run at this year’s competition. Since this was possibly their only opportunity to be tested against the international quality of current cricketers, and play in matches that were being globally broadcasted, they were very keen to make it count. As admitted by their captain, Jamie Atkinson, a number them harbored (far-fetched) dreams of bagging IPL deals, and they knew very well that this was their best stage to perform. Indeed, they started off very well and walked their talk into the semifinals relatively smoothly. Eventually, however, they ran out of steam and tripped when they faced the eventual finalists. The Hong Kong Development team didn’t find as much luck though, as they were left reeling to the hands of China in their one-off exhibition match.
Another pleasant surprise came from the Netherlands, who came with a rather unknown squad of players, and zilch expectations. Being the only foreign associate team of this year’s competition, they probably impressed even themselves when they emerged plate finalists. However it was South Africa in the end who took the cup.
In retrospect, this year’s cricket sixes was played in generally good taste. As Mubarak put it, most of the players were “relaxing and enjoying” themselves while trying to play their best cricket; the spectators too had an outing with much the same flavor. But as a nitpicking critic would point out, it was far from perfect. For next year, one appeals to the forces-that-be for better organization and coordination – particularly with the boards – a greater budget, and more stars.