Sharma eyes major honours
The 'busiest and biggest' month in the history of Hong Kong cricket lies in store for the senior squad in July with the Asian Cricket Council scheduling both the ACC Trophy and the oft-postponed Asia Cup this summer.
'It will be high-quality cricket and I'm excited at the prospect of playing in both these tournaments,' said Hong Kong captain Rahul Sharma. 'It will be the busiest and biggest month in the history of Hong Kong cricket. For any Hong Kong player who aspires to play top cricket, you cannot get anything better than this.'
The biennial ACC Trophy will be played from July 2-11 in Kuala Lumpur. The winners and runners-up will earn a berth in the 2005 ICC Trophy in Ireland, a qualifier for the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.
The Asia Cup will be played from July 15-August 1 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates qualified back in 2000. But the chance to play against Asia's Test nations in the one-day Asia Cup series has never materialised in the past couple of years because of the political tension between India and Pakistan over divided Kashmir.
But with the recent warming of relationship between the two countries and with India and Pakistan due to resume their cricket rivalry in March, the ACC has gone ahead and set the dates for the oft-postponed Asia Cup in the latter half of July. Along with the sub-continent giants, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will also participate in the six-team tournament in Colombo.
'The ACC has scheduled the ACC Trophy before the Asia Cup so as to give both Hong Kong and the UAE a perfect build-up to their big date with international cricket,' said Sharma.
A record 16 teams will take part in the ACC Trophy. Hong Kong have been grouped with Bahrain, Oman and Afghanistan in Group C. The top two teams advance into the second round. If Hong Kong win the pool, they are likely to meet the runners-up from Group D (Nepal, Bhutan, Brunei and Iran) to decide who goes into the semi-finals.
'I believe we can win this tournament. Our chances are extremely high this time. Our preliminary pool is relatively easy and our quarter-final game should also be easy. I won't be surprised if we go on to win the tournament,' said Sharma.
Sharma's hopes are based on the fact that two leading Sunday League players, paceman Afzaal Haider and left-arm spinner Najeeb Amar, will soon become eligible under the ICC's four-year residency qualification. 'Their eligibility will raise the competitiveness of the team. We had a good side which played at the last Tuanku Ja'afar Trophy and the presence of Afzaal and Najeeb will certainly strengthen the side,' said Sharma.
For the Asia Cup, Hong Kong officials are likely to ask the ACC for special dispensation to field exciting all-rounder Hussain Butt. Butt has played for the past three seasons in Hong Kong but plies his trade overseas during the off-season.
Initial discussions with ICC official Sunil Gavaskar on fielding a couple of players who are committed to Hong Kong long-term but do not fall within ICC eligibility qualifications were positive and the chances of Butt representing Hong Kong look good.
The Hong Kong squad will undergo an intensive one-month training session with ACC regional development manager Rumesh Ratnayake next month.
ACC TROPHY DRAW, ROUND ONE
Group A: UAE, Singapore, Thailand, Qatar.
Group B: Malaysia, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait.
Group C: Hong Kong, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan.
Group D: Nepal, Bhutan, Brunei, Iran.