Upbeat Habib aims to take HK closer to World Cup with glory in Tanzania

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 October, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong will be one of six teams who will try and take a step closer to the 2011 World Cup at the ICC World Cricket League division four tournament, which gets under way in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, tomorrow.

Hong Kong, winners of this year's ACC Trophy for associate members, are one of the favourites to clinch the two berths available in the ICC WCL division three, but will be pushed all the way by Italy - who they meet in the opening game tomorrow - Fiji and Afghanistan. The other teams are hosts Tanzania and Jersey.

'We are ready for the challenge. Expectations are high in the camp as well as back at home, especially after we won the ACC Trophy, and we are determined to do well,' Hong Kong coach Aftab Habib said.

Ever since Habib, a former England batsman, took over the reins a year ago, Hong Kong have quietly gone about the task of building a side mixed with youthful flair as well as mature guile.

Habib has pushed for youngsters, but it was the experience of Najeeb Amar which lifted Hong Kong to their first-ever triumph on the Asian scene when they defeated long-time rivals United Arab Emirates in the final of the ACC Trophy earlier this summer. Najeeb's match-winning century in the final has lifted the team's stocks so high that they are being tipped to win the division four tournament.

'The ACC Trophy is history. It is over. My task now is to get Hong Kong into the third division in the ICC World Cricket League and closer to the 2011 World Cup,' Habib said.

The two finalists in Dar-es-Salaam will qualify for division three to be played in January in Argentina. The two top sides from this group will progress to the ICC Trophy in April next year after which the four top teams will join the 10 test nations at the 2011 World Cup.

For the moment, all the focus is on the dusty and slow tracks in Tanzania's capital.

'I expect to see an exciting and closely contested event in Dar-es-Salaam,' said ICC president David Morgan, pleased with the level of interest and passion shown by the associate members.

It will be a tough road for Hong Kong to travel. First-up opponents Italy, who defeated the Netherlands at this year's European championships, will be a serious threat as they will field a number of Australians and Sri Lankans.

Fiji will be without the inspirational all-rounder Neil Maxwell, who had to pull out at the last minute through injury. But despite the absence of the former Australia A player, the islanders will still be a danger.

Jersey, coached by former South Africa test batsman Peter Kirsten, are another team who can cause problems.

Tanzania will be hoping to use home-ground conditions to advantage, while the blow-hot, blow-cold Afghans cannot be underestimated.

'It is our dream to qualify for the 2011 World Cup,' said Afghanistan fast bowler Hamid Hassan, who can reputedly bowl in excess of 140km/h.

Passion will not be in short supply in Dar-es-Salaam for the next week. But it will be the team who keep their cool who are likely to prevail. And in this instance, Hong Kong have an advantage with Habib's calming presence having already shown results.

Eyeing a rise

Aftab Habib's (pictured) men will go all out in Tanzania with hopes of being promoted to division: 3