New and improved
When Sanath Jayasuriya walks out to bat in the first ever international Twenty20 game played on Hong Kong soil on Friday at the Kowloon Cricket Club, he could be heralding a new dawn for the Hong Kong Cricket Association.
The Sri Lankan legend might have one last blast at the Karp Group Hong Kong Sixes next weekend, but in the process he and the rest of the Woodworm All Stars could play a crucial role in cementing Hong Kong as a future destination for international T20 fixtures. All that will depend on how successful the 'extra' game is.
For the first time, the Hong Kong Sixes will feature a Twenty20 match - the All Stars against a Rest of the World outfit - on the opening day of the tournament, which has been expanded to three days and features 12 teams. The HKCA looks at it as an experiment for the future.
'We are sowing the seeds for the future by having this Twenty20 game. If this is well received, we can build on it and take it to the next level where we can perhaps have another tournament [Twenty20] in addition to the Sixes,' said Dinesh Tandon, Hong Kong Cricket Association chairman.
Tandon has visions of Hong Kong one day hosting a proper Twenty20 tournament between national teams, with the ultimate aim being to link it to the game's development in China, something which could gain wide currency among senior officials at the International Cricket Council.
'Yes, this is an experiment. But in no way are we looking at replacing the Hong Kong Sixes with a Twenty20 tournament even though the ICC had initially said they preferred us going down this route,' Tandon said.
'The Sixes is very unique to Hong Kong and is the only tournament of this profile in the world. But having said that, if we can commercialise this event, we can then think of having another tournament, a Twenty20 event, in Hong Kong at some other time of the year,' Tandon added.
Tandon believes in taking small steps and picking up momentum on the way. And the Sixes has taken plenty of steps this year, many of them new, which the HKCA hopes will be successful.
Apart from the Twenty20 game, fans will get the chance to see two new associate countries, Ireland and Scotland, in action for the first time in an expanded Hong Kong Sixes. The event has also received backing - of HK$3.5 million - from the government's Mega Events Fund for the first time. 'We have expanded the tournament to 12 teams and for the first time we will be starting on a Friday. We have invited Ireland and Scotland for the first time. We had also hoped to invite Afghanistan, but because of visa issues we had to put that idea on hold,' Tandon said.
For the first time, the HKCA has also gained access to television distribution rights. Although the Hong Kong Sixes is still not in a position to call the shots to the broadcasters, the association has more control of where the tournament will be shown.
'This year the tournament will be telecast live in India on Star Cricket. Although we won't get any money from it, what we will get is some advertising time slots which we can pass on to our sponsors. This is a small first step, but like I said, we have to start somewhere,' Tandon said.
Indian airline Kingfisher has also come on board and will be offering discounted fares for passengers to Hong Kong. This is a crucial step in the evolution of the Hong Kong Sixes as it could bring in tourists from cricket-crazy India. 'We don't expect hundreds of visitors from India in the first year, but this is an important move, especially now that we have funding from the Mega Events Fund. We can show the government that the Sixes has the potential to draw visitors,' Tandon said.
The fans will turn out to see the big names. And although Jayasuriya is now retired, he might still be a drawcard along with other All Stars like Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, Australian Shaun Tait, South African Herschelle Gibbs and Ryan ten Doeschate of the Netherlands, as well as the others like Ireland's Kevin O'Brien, Kiwi pair Jacob Oram and James Franklin, all of whom will play in the Sixes as well as in the Twenty20 game.
'If it [the Twenty20 game] is a success we can look at the possibility of having a four-team tournament a few years down the line, if not next year, where we can play games in Hong Kong as well as across the border, at the Asian Games Cricket Stadium in Guangzhou,' Tandon said. 'We have put all the pieces in place, and can only hope everything works out.'