Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2011, 12:00am

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Why New Zealand? That is the joke doing the rounds in cricketing circles after it emerged this week that three Black Caps - Scott Styris, Nathan McCullum and Daryl Tuffey - might have been the target of gambling syndicates bent on fixing matches.

Like South Africa, the Kiwis always flatter but never really win anything big on the world cricketing stage. The just-concluded World Cup is an example. New Zealand looked one of the better teams in the early rounds, but they reverted to form and bowed out tamely in the semi-finals.

But jokes aside, the revelation that a 'Middle Eastern diamond dealer' approached the Kiwi trio at a private dinner during last year's Hong Kong Cricket Sixes and offered them gifts is a worrying sign. The International Cricket Council's anti-corruption unit and the Hong Kong Cricket Association are in the process of investigating if there is any substance to fears this was a credible attempt to corrupt the annual tournament.

I don't know whether to be outraged that the Sixes has been targeted as easy pickings by gambling syndicates - you have to admit that for spot-fixers, this format is a dream - or chuffed that little Hong Kong has joined the big time.

What this proves is that cricket is truly global - and the Hong Kong Sixes is widely followed. New Zealand Cricket officials say it is time the ICC seriously looks at running its anti-corruption ruler over events like this, which are not a bilateral series or an ICC tournament but simply 'festival' events.

With the tournament shown live to millions of people on the subcontinent, it is possible it could be targeted. We are not saying the Middle Eastern diamond dealer - a stereotype if there ever was one - was a crook; maybe he genuinely wanted to share a meal with Styris and company.

But with the Sixes being short and sweet, it is tailor-made for betting - be it spot-fixing or match-fixing. That last over in the final between Australia and Pakistan, where Imran Nazir gave away 48 runs, raises the match-fixing spectre again.

True or false, what is certain is that this story has raised the profile of the tournament. It first broke on popular website Cricinfo before we followed it up in this newspaper. That story was then picked up by the wire services and flashed all around the world.

So in this modern day of instant dissemination of news, the image of the Hong Kong Sixes has grown manifold. Just by association with the tournament, the city, too, will benefit. Cricket fans all around the world - and there are hundreds of millions of them - now know more about Hong Kong and the Sixes. Perhaps one day they might even come here to watch it.

There is nothing negative about the publicity. In fact, the phrase 'negative publicity' is an oxymoron. One always benefits from publicity. Seen in this light, it's a shame the Hong Kong government has turned a deaf ear to pleas for more cricketing facilities. Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing, replying to a question from the Civic Party's Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, said there were no plans to provide more facilities and grounds for the game on Hong Kong Island or the New Territories.

According to the HKCA, as well as public concern groups, there is a crying need for more grounds with larger expatriate communities from the subcontinent as well as Australia, New Zealand and England equating to a rising demand. Even in the local community, cricket is catching on, especially among the women.

On the international scene, the Hong Kong men's team have reached rarefied levels, being in the world's top 20. True, they have had the luck of the devil, to finish fourth at the recent ICC World Cricket League Division Two tournament in Dubai and secure annual funding of US$350,000 for the next two to three years.

The HKCA points out that no other team sport in Hong Kong has such a high ranking on the world stage. So shouldn't the government or the Sports Institute be providing all the help it can? Shouldn't these bodies be obliged to do so?

Sadly, it has always been an uphill battle for the game's local administrators as they pitch for support, not only from the authorities, but also from sponsors.

This could all change in the next decade with China keen to grow the game on the mainland. Our cousins up north have somehow become fixated with the leather and willow. Having seen how fellow Asian nations like India (twice), Pakistan and Sri Lanka have won the World Cup, they want to follow suit.

Cricket in China is still in is infancy, but rapid steps are being taken, one being the state-of-the-art cricket stadium in Guangzhou which was used for the Asian Games. It proved how serious the Chinese are about learning the game.

So our advice to the HKCA is to keep pushing the government for help but also fix your star to that of China's. The ICC looks at Hong Kong as the gateway to the mainland and all its riches - which it hopes will one day be a massive market similar to cricket-crazy India.

Hong Kong cricket is very much in the news these days. Make the most of it.

 

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