Crucial 18 months as HK weigh up cash options
The next 18 months will prove decisive for Hong Kong, who are sizing up how best to use the International Cricket Council's annual high-performance grant to prepare the national squad for a 10-team qualifying tournament in Scotland in 2013, when the four associates to play at the 2015 World Cup will be decided.
Head coach Charlie Burke has suggested the best way to attain this goal would be to send six of the best and most committed players overseas, placing them in clubs in Australia, England or India, to train and play at a higher level so that they can form the backbone of the team in 2013.
'The reality is that unless we have secure and sustainable funding, we won't be able to contract players full-time to just stay and train in Hong Kong,' Burke said.
The Australian is mindful that the US$350,000 annual funding guaranteed from the ICC until 2013 is not a huge sum of money. In an ideal world such funds would give all 19 players in the senior national squad a contract. Hong Kong's fourth-place finish at the ICC World Cricket League Division Two in Dubai in April ensured they fell into the high-performance category.
'The best-case scenario for Hong Kong would be to pick six players who are committed, who will then be sent overseas to train and play with clubs over the next 18 months as we look forward to 2013,' Burke said.
Among the candidates are Nizakat Khan and Aizaz Khan (no relation). It is most likely that if six players are named, they will be all picked from the 15 locally based players as the four overseas-based players - Mark Chapman, Jamie Atkinson, Max Tucker and Alex Smith - are all studying.
'I have already spoken to the clubs and they are willing to take the players. It is now up to the executive committee to decide what to do,' Burke added.
The ICC's decision to overlook Hong Kong for the Intercontinental Cup - four-day games played against the top six teams in the ICC World Cricket League Division One - was one reason why the Hong Kong Cricket Association was averse to handing out contracts to the players.
'Missing out on that tournament meant we didn't have too many international commitments. Our next big assignments for the senior squad are Nepal in December for the ACC Twenty20 and 2013 in Scotland. So it was hard to build a case for contracts for the players especially when we have other pressing needs like facilities and equipment,' Burke said.
The ICC high-performance grant can only be spent on the national squad, and includes money spent on equipment and facilities.
For the first time in its history, the HKCA has been able to afford two bowling machines which they will have delivered from Australia before the end of this month.
'In the past we had to borrow the bowling machines from the two clubs - HKCC and KCC - but now we have our own. We are also getting more nets facilities at Kai Tak and KGV with the latter also having lights which means players can train in the evening,' Burke said.
'It is all about weighing the benefits of one against the other. But I hope the executive can look at ways to support the players buy giving them allowances.
'I'm also a firm believer in incentives for performances and I believe the executive is looking at these issues closely.'