• Thu
  • Jul 24, 2014
  • Updated: 8:14pm

Age just a number for HK

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am

You can't but help smile inwardly as Jamie Atkinson gushes about Hong Kong, referring to the team as the 'boys'. It is quite appropriate terminology because the majority of the 14-strong squad are just that: boys. And he is one of them.

Only 21, Atkinson is the captain of the young Hong Kong squad which on Saturday begin their campaign against hosts Nepal at the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20. The 10-team tournament in Kathmandu will decide which three Asian sides join Afghanistan in the world qualifiers next March for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. With all the confidence of youth, Atkinson is dead certain that Hong Kong will be one of the three who take the first step towards joining the big boys of world cricket next year in Sri Lanka.

'I'm really excited and confident of doing well and winning this tournament and going to Dubai next March,' says Atkinson, one of HK's youngest ever captains.

With an average age of just 21.8 years, Atkinson is at the helm of the youngest team in international cricket. Hong Kong are ranked 20th in the world based on the ICC's World Cricket League structure.

The retirement of a few senior players over the past few months, including 38-year-old skipper Najeeb Amar, and the unavailability of others like Hussain Butt, could be viewed in two ways: (a) this squad is wet-behind-the-ears and lacks experience; or (b) being young, they will be fearless. Atkinson obviously subscribes to the latter view and pooh-poohs suggestions that his charges are a bunch of greenhorns.

'Yes, we are young and fearless. But at the same time all the boys have played a lot of cricket for a number of years and it is exciting to see youth coming through. A lot of the boys have performed at the highest level already. There is no fear at all, we are ready for Nepal,' says Atkinson, a wicketkeeper-batsman.

Hong Kong born and bred, the South Island School old boy knows he has big shoes to fill. His dad, Steve, represented the Netherlands and Hong Kong in the '80s and early '90s and has played a huge part in shaping young Jamie.

'I look up to him a lot and he has supported me all along. He is excited too and is happy that I'm captain. But he does not get too involved. If he thinks I need some advice, he would tell me,' says Atkinson with a grin.

Atkinson senior was a member of the selection panel in recent months, but once Jamie came into the picture, he chose to resign so that no accusations of favouritism could be levelled at him. Hong Kong head coach Charlie Burke believes Atkinson is made of the right stuff.

'Jamie is regarded very highly by this group of guys. He speaks well to them and he will certainly lead from the front. I expect the guys to perform well above what their age shows. The biggest thing is that there is a very positive vibe around this team and that bodes well,' says Burke.

The search for a successor to Najeeb has seen a number of names thrown into the selectors' hat, among them guys like Courtney Kruger (who was vice-captain at one stage), Nizakat Khan and Roy Lamsam. But in the end it was decided to go with Atkinson, a player who could hold his place in the team, and who had the support and backing of a diverse bunch of players.

'I know a lot of these boys well and have been playing with them for a long time. There is a good gel in the side,' said Atkinson who has come up through the age groups before representing Hong Kong at senior level when he was only 16.

'I'm really grateful for being given the opportunity to captain. Of course, I've always had ambitions of being captain, the only thing is that I didn't expect it so soon,' added Atkinson who has been playing A grade cricket for the past couple of months down in Fremantle, Australia after graduating from Durham University.

The squad's average age would have gone down even further if New Zealand-based Mark Chapman had been available. The talented left-handed batsman, 17, was forced to pull out after his boarding school, King's College in Auckland, qualified for the National Championships. Chapman has been replaced by 21-year-old Asif Khan, a medium-pace bowler who is expected to do well on the slow and low tracks in Nepal.

The babies of the side are Daljeet Singh and Kinchit Shah, both 16. The latter is an adventurous batsman while Vagabonds medium-fast bowler Singh is being looked at as a possibility to open the bowling. At the other end of the age spectrum are veteran Munir Dar, 37, Lamsam, 30, and Mark Ferguson, 30.

Ferguson is one of three glovemen in the squad, and is one of four players winning their first caps for Hong Kong, the others being the two 16-year-olds and Babar Hayat. Although just 18, Hayat has already caught the limelight with his batting exploits at last month's Hong Kong Sixes. The strapping teenager is a clean hitter and embodies the positivity within the squad. Hong Kong expect Hayat to set Kathmandu alight with his powerful batting. If he does that, Atkinson can rest assured of a winning debut as captain.

The return of the Ahmed brothers to the senior side will also be a huge boost. Both left-arm spinner Nadeem and all-rounder Irfan had been sidelined on disciplinary grounds due to poor attitude.

'It is great to have them back ability-wise,' said Burke. 'So far they have done everything right in the last month and it will be a fresh start for them under a new captain.'

And if they need a sympathetic shoulder to vent their frustrations, the Ahmed brothers can also rely on Little Sai Wan teammate Nizakat Khan. The 19-year-old all-rounder has been one of the most consistent players over the past year and that has been rewarded with the vice-captaincy role.

Young and hungry, Hong Kong will embark on a journey of discovery in Kathmandu. Whether the boys will come back as men remains to be seen.

HONG KONG SQUAD

JAMIE ATKINSON (Captain)
Age 21
Club KCC
Style RHB and Wicketkeeper
Jamie is one of the youngest captains Hong Kong has ever had and the youngest captain in the upcoming ACC T20. Hard hitting top order batsman and confident gloveman

NIZAKAT KHAN (Vice Captain)
Age 19
Club Little Sai Wan
Style RHB and RA Leg Spinner
Nizakat has been the most consistent player for Hong Kong over the past 12 months with both bat and ball, his hard hitting and very attacking style of spin will be a huge asset for the team in Nepal

MARK FERGUSON
Age 30
Club HKCC
Style Wicketkeeper and RHB
A promising gloveman who is rated one of the best in Hong Kong, strong middle order batsman who is very strong straight down the ground

COURTNEY KRUGER
Age 23
Club HKCC
Style RHB
Former vice captain has been a regular player at senior level and will want to improve on a disappointing ICC WCL Div 2; will bat in the top four or five

ROY LAMSAM
Age 31
Club KCC
Style RHB and RAM
One of the few senior players left in the squad, Roy is an attacking top order batsman and handy swing bowler

ASIF KHAN
Age 21
Club Little Sai Wan
Style RAM
Replaced Mark Chapman but is well known in the squad with plenty of experience with Hong Kong. A skiddy medium pace bowler who can keep it tight and will be useful on the low, slower wickets expected in Nepal

WAQAS BARKAT
Age 20
Club KCC
Style WK and RHB
The first-choice wicketkeeper batsman in the squad will be out to prove a point after a disappointing World Cricket League in Dubai. Considered to be a very good keeper although a little lazy at times and is a very useful top order batsman

IRFAN AHMED
Age 22
Club Little Sai Wan
Style RAMF and RHB
Will open the batting for Hong Kong in the upcoming T20 and is one of Hong Kong's most promising players with his quick bowling and big hitting

BABAR HAYAT
Age 18
Club KCC
Style RHB and RAM
One of the most exciting cricketers who has just qualified for Hong Kong, this hard hitting young batsman is one for the future and could well be a big name after this upcoming T20

NADEEM AHMED
Age 24
Club Little Sai Wan
Style LAOS
One of the best spinners in Asia and once took a four-wicket haul against Pakistan; will need to take some more responsibility now that Najeeb Amar has retired

AIZAZ KHAN
Age 18
Club Pakistan Association
Style RAMF and RHB
The promising allrounder will again take the new ball in the T20s and lead a very young pace attack at just 18 years of age

DALJEET SINGH
Age 16
Club Vagabonds Cricket Club
Style RAMF
Could possibly take the new ball in the T20; one of the form bowlers going into the tournament. Has a consistent action and bowls great line and length with variation

MONER DAR
Age 37
Club Little Sai Wan
Style LAOS and LHB
The oldest in the group and a match-winner at his best, his clever spin bowling with plenty of variation and his hard hitting in the middle order will be much needed if Hong Kong are to qualify

KINCHIT SHAH
Age 16
Club KCC
Style LHB and RAOS
One of two 16-year-olds travelling with the squad, Kinchit will get his opportunity to bat in the middle order with his clever stroke play and willingness to take on the bowlers with his strong drives

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