New coach, new attitude and new hope for HK

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 May, 2010, 12:00am

His first name is Charles, but he prefers Charlie. It is a reflection of the easy-going nature of Hong Kong's new cricket coach, Charlie Burke, who has been brought in mainly to develop the game at grass roots.

But if the national team expect life to be laid-back, they are in for a shock. They will be expected to play the role of proud flag bearers, says Burke, and the players will have to prove themselves all over again.

The Australian, who at 30 is young enough to be playing in the team, took charge this week and will start with no preconceptions and a clean slate.

'I have no doubt the players will be motivated by knowing that what's happened in the past is in the past, and we will be looking forward to moving along,' Burke says. 'It will be hard work for everyone. I'm not interested in the past history of players, whether they have scored a hundred and scored the most runs, or taken five wickets and a hat-trick. They all start on the same level and I will start from scratch.'

The former Western Australian Warriors' fielding coach was picked from a large number of applicants, many more senior and illustrious, including the likes of former test players Colin Croft, Gary Kirsten and Rashid Latif.

The Hong Kong Cricket Association plumped for Burke simply because he had a strong background in development, which is the magic word. And they hope Burke can wave the magic wand.

'Our number one priority now is to push the game even more in the Chinese community. We need more locals playing the game and this will be his main task,' HKCA president Shahzada Saleem says.

While acknowledging the fact that development at grass roots plays a huge role the world over, Burke believes for it to take root, the game has to mainly flourish at the highest level - on which he says he will be ultimately judged.

'At the end of the day, people will judge you on the national team's performances. Grass-roots development is important, but it is also important we have excellent results at elite level, the national men's and women's teams as well as at the Under-19 level. We have to make sure we are competitive and keep performing on the world stage. It is important to retain a high profile,' says Burke, who will be taking over from Aftab Habib, the ex-England international who resigned last year.

'Performance doesn't necessarily mean we have to keep winning trophies all the time. Instead, what we need is to be consistent. One of my main tasks is to bring in a never-say-die attitude,' says Burke, an all-rounder in his playing days.

Such an approach is commonplace with Australian teams in cricket, as well as in most other sports. It will be a huge challenge for Burke to instil it in the local team, who have seen more off days than good. Last month, the Hong Kong men's team failed to defend their ACC Trophy, finishing third.

'I'm a very honest and up-front person and this will be my approach with the players. I will back them and hope I get the same in return. That relationship will take a little time to develop, but I have no doubt the players will be motivated by knowing that what's happened in the past is in the past.

'I want commitment and respect for who you are playing for, respect for who you are as a person, playing for Hong Kong, and respect for your local club. Those are the values I live by and I certainly hope the players have an understanding of that. If they do we will be moving forward,' Burke says.

Hong Kong will offer Burke his first big challenge as a national coach. After a playing career with premier league clubs in Western Australia and Melbourne - Burke also played for Australian Schools in 1995 - he took up coaching and worked in elite player programmes with Western Australia at state and junior levels, as well as being the fielding coach for the Warriors.

'From there, I got a position with the ICC in 2008 and was involved with development work in East Asia,' Burke recounts.

The cricketing world is carved into various spheres by the world governing body, and there are 10 countries in East Asia, four associates (Japan, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Fiji) and the rest affiliates.

'I spent a lot of time with Papua New Guinea, setting up programmes from grass roots to under-17 and under-19 levels. I learned a lot about things that worked, as well as things that didn't work. This is the strength I bring to Hong Kong, having had that hands-on experience.'

Despite more than 100 years of cricket history in Hong Kong, Burke realises he faces a huge challenge.

'It is going to be massive hurdle. The game has been around in Hong Kong for a while so it's got its advantages and calling it a developing sport in Hong Kong is probably under-selling it a little bit.

'We need Chinese players. But not just players. We need coaches, men and women, to make sure the game grows. There is a lot of hard work in front of us.'