Heat is on in Dubai for Hong Kong team
The heat is on Hong Kong. And it is not the stifling 39 degrees Celsius variety which engulfs this desert sheikhdom but rather the pressure of knowing that a lot is riding on a successful campaign at the ICC World Cricket League Division Two tournament.
Hong Kong get the ball rolling today against Uganda, perhaps one of the weaker teams in the six-team round-robin competition.
Getting off to a winning start in a tournament like this is always important, and even more so now, considering that Namibia and Bermuda, the two pre-tournament favourites, have already beaten Hong Kong in trial matches.
'It will make a huge difference if we win first-up,' said Hong Kong head coach Charlie Burke. 'Not only will we get some momentum going forward but it will also give the guys a confidence boost.'
Burke said the key to winning would be the batting and has called for the batsmen to take an aggressive approach. He had earlier said a par score in this tournament, which is using three grounds at the ICC Global Cricket Academy, was around 270.
'The batsmen will need faith and have to back themselves with the bat. These pitches are made for batting and once you are in, you can get yourself out only with a poor shot. We have to be a bit more aggressive with our shot selections,' Burke said.
A lot will depend on the top four - openers Roy Lamsam and Courtney Kruger, Hussain Butt and Mark Chapman - who will set the tone of the innings. Burke said Hong Kong would opt to bat first if they won the toss.
While winning this competition would be good, the target strangely is simply to finish in the top four and thus become eligible for next year's ICC High Performance programme. Hong Kong Cricket Association president Shahzada Saleem had disclosed previously that this would be worth around US$300,000 to local cricket. The heat is on Najeeb Amar and his men to deliver.
But there is one more goal, which is making it to the top four and being in a position to be picked for the ICC Intercontinental Cup against the top six ODI teams - Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada, Kenya (all of whom played in the recent World Cup), Afghanistan and Scotland.
'Two teams, not necessarily the two finalists, from the top four in this competition will be picked for the ICC Intercontinental Cup,' said Lucy Benjamin, ICC media officer. 'They will figure in home or away, four-day games and play each other once.'
Benjamin revealed that the ICC development committee would decide which two teams should join the big boys of the associate world in the Intercontinental Cup.
'We know how important it is to do well here,' Burke added. 'There will be more opportunities to play international cricket. At the end of the day, if we are good enough, we will get there.'
The other two teams are Papua New Guinea, losing finalists to Hong Kong in the Division Three tournament in January, and hosts United Arab Emirates.
The last time Hong Kong met Uganda - a couple of years ago in Division Three - they lost by one run. Burke feels that, this time, Najeeb and his men have got the measure of their opponents.
'They are quite an aggressive batting side and like most teams here, will have a good bowling unit too. But I feel they might struggle against spin,' said Burke.
One player who will be missing from the line-up is left-arm spinner Munir Dar. 'There was a delay in getting his new passport and visa. He is expected to join us today,' said Burke.
The HK team has been offered an incentive to excel in Dubai that's worth, in US dollars, $300,000