Everyone for cricket
Cricket- once widely regarded by Hong Kong's Chinese population as a man's sport played by foreigners- has been successfully beating stereotypes among teenagers in the city.
In recent years, the Hong Kong Cricket Association has promoted the sport within the local community and attracted more Chinese players. Craigengower Cricket Club introduced an all-Chinese men's squad last year and is expected to have an all-Chinese squad for women this season.
Members of Hong Kong's Under-19 girls' cricket squad have demonstrated how the sport can successfully break down cultural differences and language barriers.
Annie Ho Hung-ying, 18, a student at the Vocational Training Council Youth College in Kwai Chung, began to play cricket when she was in Primary Three. 'My school taught us cricket in PE lessons,' she says. 'I thought the sport was a lot of fun. But I stopped training for a while because I lost direction, before starting again. Now I'm doing well in the team.
'Most of the players in the team are native English speakers, but my English is not so good, so I was quite worried that I couldn't communicate with the others.'
However, Annie found that many of her teammates were able to help to translate for her and other players that cannot speak English fluently. She also realised that facial and hand gestures and other body language also help to ease communication.
Her Chinese teammate, Kiki Kan Hoi-ki, 17, a Year 12 student at Victoria Shanghai School in Aberdeen, says: 'When we all get onto the field of play, we use one universal language - cricket - to help us find out about each other. It is very effective form of communication. We all have the same goal: to improve our skills and tactics together.'
Some of the team grew up with cricket in their blood. Southeast Asian nations, such as India and Pakistan, are fanatical about the sport and Ruchitha Venkatesh's family are Indian.
Ruchitha, 14, a Year 10 student at Discovery College, is shy and less talkative compared to some of her teammates. But whenever the subject of cricket comes into the conversation, her face lights up.
'Cricket is a very popular sport in my home country, but none of my Indian friends play,' she says. 'So it's so nice that I can play with other girls who also love the sport with the squad in Hong Kong.'
Mariko Hill, 15, an Island School student who is half English and half Japanese, has played the sport for more than four years and represented Hong Kong at several tournaments.
She says the team have a great bond and always have fun together.
'We watch movies sometimes and hang out for the whole tour when we go overseas, says Mariko, who has earned the nickname 'Rocket' from teammates because she is the team's fastest bowler. 'We are good friends and teammates- both on and off the cricket field.'
Annie says: 'We usually have 13 girls going on a single overseas tour, but when the squad meets up for training we can have up to 40 or 50 girls practising together.
'We all need to show that we can play at a high level to secure a place in the team. But, at the same time, we have another important goal - to be relaxed and enjoy the game with our teammates, even if we are competing for a place.'
All the girls enjoy the friendship and camaraderie that comes with belonging to the Hong Kong squad. New players from different clubs that join the squad always receive a warm welcome.
The close bond between the girls has built up slowly during training and competitions. Annie, Kiki, Ruchitha and Mariko all played together at the Asian Cricket Council's U-19 Championships in Thailand last year. They were narrowly beaten by Bhutan in the semi-finals - losing by only four runs.
'That was a really disappointing defeat,' says Kiki. 'However, the sport is not only about playing matches. We also enjoy other occasions - activities such as banquets or parties before and after the tournaments- where we can meet cricket lovers of the same age from other teams.'
Visit www.crick-kid.com to find out more about youth cricket