Tough draw for Hong Kong as World Cup berth beckons
Hong Kong will have to travel a long and hard road at next June's ICC Trophy tournament in Canada after they were drawn with second seeds Ireland, Denmark, Bermuda, the United States and Papua New Guinea in Group B in the preliminary round of Division One.
Cricket's mini-World Cup - for the International Cricket Council's associate members - has drawn a record 24 countries who will be vying for three qualifying berths to play alongside the 10 Test nations and Kenya at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
Due to the large number of teams, the ICC has split the June 28 to July 17 tournament into two divisions. The top division will comprise 12 countries divided into two groups. A similar scenario will occur in the bottom division. Top seeds Scotland lead Group A in Division One, featuring Holland, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Fiji and Singapore.
The top three teams at the end of the preliminary round robin competition in each of the two groups in Division One will qualify for the next stage which is a Super League.
Hong Kong's first goal is to be among these top teams. Failing which, a fourth place would still keep their hopes alive, for the fourth-placed team in each of the two groups in Division One will play in an eliminator against the winners of the two groups from Division Two to fill the final places in the Super Leagues.
The Super Leagues will comprise two groups of four teams. Each team in one group will play against the teams in the other group. The top two teams at the end of this round will enter the final. The two second-placed teams will play-off for the third place which also books a ticket to the 2003 World Cup.
'It is a complicated format. But this is the best way of doing it,' said Anil Kalaver, secretary of the Asian Cricket Council. 'This will be the last time that the ICC Trophy is played in this format. In future, qualification for the World Cup will be done on a regional basis.'
Kalaver said the top seven countries at the ICC Trophy will be placed on a development fast-track by the ICC who will pump in funds and technical assistance to raise the standards to firstly one-day international status and then Test status.
'There is a lot riding on the next ICC Trophy for the top sides. The top three qualify for the 2003 World Cup and they and the next four teams will be given assistance to further develop their game,' said Kalaver.
Hong Kong, who are seeded sixth in the competition, will begin their campaign by coming up against the two strongest sides in the group, Denmark who are seeded third and Ireland (two). That will be followed by matches against Papua New Guinea (11), USA (10) and Bermuda (seven).
Flushed with the success at last month's ACC Trophy in Sharjah where they qualified for April's Asia Cup, the Hong Kong squad has disbanded and will only get together after the holiday break in January.
'Everyone will have a break and there won't be any squad training until January. We will then start preparing,' said Hong Kong captain Stewart Brew.