Arbitration panel holds Hong Kong's trump card
Hong Kong's growing reputation as a competitive international side could backfire on the territory's bid to get three of their top cricketers eligible for the ICC Trophy next year, senior cricket official Peter Slack said.
All-rounder Rahul Sharma, batsman Martin Lever and fast bowler Mohammed Zubair are all under a qualification cloud. Their future depends on the Hong Kong Cricket Association (HKCA) being successful in their bid to get them exempted.
But the HKCA's case has been weakened by the growing perception overseas that the territory are genuine contenders to grab one of three World Cup spots available to associate members.
According to HKCA chairman Slack, the territory cannot expect any favours from the ICC's arbitration panel - made up of five associate members - who will decide whether Sharma, Zubair and Lever are eligible.
'I got the impression at Lord's that the others are quite scared of Hong Kong. They think we are capable of qualifying for the World Cup,' said Slack, who attended the ICC meeting at Lord's last month.
To make matters worse, three of the five countries - Malaysia, Kenya and Bermuda - who are on the arbitration panel, strongly back a locals-only policy.
Slack, who is not hoping for much, said: 'I don't expect any sympathy from them. All three cricketers are genuine cases and I hope they are passed. Their presence will make a huge difference in the strength of the team.' The ICC has ruled that at next year's tournament, all teams must start with seven local-born players or citizens, with the rest qualifying under a five-year rule.
At the 1994 ICC Trophy in Kenya, Hong Kong finished in the top eight - their highest-ever finish. But the current side is regarded as better than the 1994 squad and there is cautious optimism in local cricket circles that the territory can improve on that finish.
But that is provided players like Sharma and company are found to be exempt from the residency qualification. All three are borderline cases, having been in and out of the territory over the past few years - thus raising the question whether they fulfil the required 240 days per year a player has to stay in the country he wants to represent.
Already, the HKCA have met with little success at Lords. Fast bowler Adrian Ashman and all-rounder Rowan McGregor were rejected by Lord's last month and another former local player of repute, Simon Myles, who the HKCA had put forward to test the water, was also rejected.
'Ashman was unfortunate as he missed out by just a matter of a few days. The same with McGregor. Myles has not lived in Hong Kong for the past five years but he is a local product. They turned him down,' Slack said.
The HKCA have been asked to register all their players with the ICC. All documentation to support the case of Sharma and company will be sent to the ICC for clearance.
The ICC Trophy is contested by 22 associate member nations and territories, and will be played from March 30-April 14 in Kuala Lumpur. Kenya, Holland and the United Arab Emirates qualified from the last ICC Trophy for this year's World Cup in the sub-continent.