How one man can make a difference
They say you make your own luck. Yet, Charlie Burke has been a talisman for Hong Kong cricket. Just look at the evidence. Ever since the Australian came on board as national coach, Hong Kong have gone from strength to strength on the international scene.
We are ranked 20th in the world in one-day cricket if you take the International Cricket Council's World Cricket League structure as the barometer. Hong Kong won the Division Three crown in a tournament that was hosted here before finishing fourth in Division Two. If you take the 10 test-playing nations and the top six in Division One, it amounts to Hong Kong being ranked 20th. This is the highest ranking ever by Hong Kong in team sports on the international stage. And who engineered it? None other than Burke.
Now he has taken Hong Kong into uncharted waters once again with the senior team reaching the final qualifiers for the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka next September. The tournament is a relatively new one on the world scene. This is the furthest Hong Kong have gone towards qualifying for that event.
The Asian qualifying campaign began badly when hosts Nepal defeated Hong Kong, scampering to the winning run on the last ball. But one of the biggest strengths of Burke is that he does not panic and is a superb motivator. His calm approach helped put Hong Kong back on track and subsequent wins over Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman helped the team reach today's final of the Asian tournament.
The goal was to finish in the top four in Kathmandu and Hong Kong have done that. The Jamie Atkinson-led side will now travel to the UAE in March to play in the 16-team world qualifiers and will come up against the likes of Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and Canada - the big boys of the associate world of cricket.
Unfortunately, only two will qualify from this tournament for Sri Lanka. The ICC had originally planned to have a 16-team World Twenty20 that would have meant room for six associate countries. But having been forced to go back on the decision to make the World Cup (50 overs) a 10-team tournament - only for the full members - and instead revert to a 14-team event, the ICC hit back by reducing the teams for the World Twenty20.
It's a pity, as Hong Kong would have fancied their chances if six teams, instead of two, progressed next March. Yet, anything can happen in sport and, right now, Hong Kong can savour the satisfaction of being in the thick of another major international event.
The importance of being in the world limelight has no bounds. The ICC already backs the Hong Kong Cricket Association to the tune of US$350,000 annually - at least until 2013 - for being part of its high-performance programme. This is the reward for finishing fourth in the Division Two World Cricket League.
By ensuring that Hong Kong will be in the fray at the final qualifiers for the World Twenty20, we have proven we are one of the top sides from among the associate countries in Asia. This consistency is crucial as Hong Kong continue their odyssey to one day qualify for a major international tournament.
The best thing about the success story in Nepal this past week has been that we are fielding a young side and that bodes well for the future. With an average age of 21.8, Hong Kong boast the youngest team on the international scene.
Atkinson, who is just 21, has made a winning debut to the start of his tenure as captain. He has led from the front, both with his on-field strategies - no doubt shaped by Burke - and his own performances. His unbeaten 41 against Kuwait in the final pool game guided the team to victory. Atkinson knew runs had to be scored quickly and he did it with plenty of help from veteran Munir Dar.
Atkinson's deputy, Nizakat Khan, is 19. The all-rounder has tremendous potential as a leader, and also struts his stuff with both bat and ball. Irfan Ahmed, 22, and Babar Hayat, 18, the two openers, ooze talent. Aizaz Khan, 18, is the spearhead in the bowling department, while Waqas Barkat, 20, is a wicketkeeper-batsman of quality. This core of young and stylish players will be the bedrock in the future.
This talent has been brought together by Burke, who has welded a tight unit since taking up the job in May last year.
Australian Burke said at the time: 'I want commitment and respect for who you are playing for, respect for who you are as a person, respect for your local club and Hong Kong.
'Those are the values I live by and I certainly hope the players have an understanding of that. If they do, we will be moving forward.'
This philosophy has worked superbly.