Whole new ball game for HK

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 12:00am

'The return of three-day cricket is good for the game in this region,' says Vachha

Having been weaned on one-day cricket, it will be an entirely new experience for Hong Kong when they walk out today to meet Singapore in a three-day encounter at the Kowloon Cricket Club.

'Only two players in this team - Rahul Sharma and Mark Eames - have played three-day cricket for Hong Kong previously. For the rest it is a whole new ball game and something entirely novel. But I'm confident that they will adapt to the different needs and requirements,' said Hong Kong manager Yarman Vachha.

The last time Hong Kong played an official three-day match was back in 1987 when Vachha captained the Colony XI against Singapore. Those were one-off encounters when it was up to the individual boards to decide it was time for a meeting. Today, the world has changed. The Asian Cricket Council, which runs the show in this region, has decided to fast-track certain countries and Hong Kong is one of them.

'The return of three-day cricket is good for the game in this region. It is a great thing with players getting used to playing the longer version and more traditional form of the game. While anything can happen in one-day cricket, in this form it is generally the better side that wins,' said Vachha.

Today's encounter is the latest in the ACC Fast Track Countries Tournament. Apart from Hong Kong and Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal and Malaysia are also included.

The UAE leads the standings having garnered 31 points after they defeated Singapore earlier. Singapore (27.5 points) and Nepal are second and third, both having played two matches, while Malaysia are fourth (10.5) after drawing against Nepal.

Apart from it being Hong Kong's first three-day international in nearly 17 years, there is added significance in that the senior side will be captained for the first time by Tim Smart. The wicketkeeper-batsman has taken over from Sharma who announced last week that he was stepping down as captain.

'Rahul is happy to play a batsman's role. He has had a lot of pressure on his shoulders and it has obviously affected his performance. Hopefully the burden will be less now and he can concentrate on his batting,' said Vachha.

Sharma, who struggled to find his touch at the ACC Trophy and the Asia Cup this summer, will open the innings with left-handed Eames. Hopefully the extended version will give the SAR's premier batsman enough time to play himself in and get back his old form.

But there will be some restrictions. Teams can only bat 90 overs in the first innings. However, if they are able to bowl out the opposition in under 90 overs, they can then acquire those remaining overs to their own innings.

'If we bowl Singapore out in 60 overs, we can add 30 overs to our innings,' said Vachha. Other variations include the awarding of batting and bowling points - half a point is given for every 50 runs scored with a maximum of six batting points (300 runs) while half-a-point is given for every wicket taken with a maximum of five bowling points. These points are only valid for the first 90 overs in both innings.

With ICC eligibility rules applying, teams can only field two players under the five-year residency law. All others have to be citizens. This has resulted in fast bowler Afzaal Haider being left on the sidelines as Hong Kong has gone with left-arm spinner Najeeb Amar and fast bowler Khalid Khan.

'Najeeb is the vice-captain while Khalid is perhaps bowling better than Afzaal at the moment and gives us more options as he is left-arm,' said Vachha.

Youngster Mustafa Iqbal will open the attack with Khalid. Iqbal and Eames are the only two new faces from the team that last represented Hong Kong at the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka.

Hong Kong: Tim Smart (captain), Najeeb Amar (vice-captain), Rahul Sharma, Mark Eames, Tabarak Dar, Manoj Cheruparambil, Ilyas Gull, Roy Lamsam, Nadeem Ahmed, Mustafa Iqbal, Khalid Khan. 12th man: Courtney Kruger.