HK's openers practise big hitting in Pakistan
Big-hitters Irfan Ahmed and Babar Hayat will be given a quick-fire dose of training in Pakistan on the finer arts of power hitting, as Hong Kong build up to the ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers next month in the United Arab Emirates.
The Hong Kong openers are among five players in Lahore undergoing an intensive seven-day training camp, where the main focus is on batting. The other three are Nizakat Khan, Waqas Barkat and Aizaz Khan. Accompanying them is batting coach Lou Vincent.
'We are quite fortunate in that we received money from the ICC's high-performance grant,' said Dinesh Tandon, Hong Kong Cricket Association chairman. 'It was decided the best way to use some of it would be to send these players to Pakistan.
'With batting such an important part of Twenty20 cricket, we picked these key players.'
A lot will depend on Irfan and Hayat, both explosive batsmen, as Hong Kong valiantly bid for one of two berths in this September's ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. They have to finish in the top two at the 16-team world qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates, from March 13-24.
'There was a bit of an element of availability which came into consideration when we were deciding which players to send,' Tandon said. 'But we feel these guys are crucial to our campaign. They will train and play against quality opposition in Pakistan and hopefully it will help them.'
Vincent, a former New Zealand test and one-day player, has promised to improve Hong Kong's batting skills so the team can regularly post scores of 140-plus. This would make them competitive in a tournament where Ireland and Afghanistan are favourites to clinch the two spots available to associate countries.
Irfan and Hayat performed creditably in the Asian qualifiers in December in Nepal, giving Hong Kong some good starts. Vincent will be hoping to build on that foundation and will be looking at middle and lower order batsmen Nizakat, Waqas and Aizaz to add the finishing touches. Two other top-order batsmen, skipper Jamie Atkinson and Mark Chapman, are both overseas, and are expected to join the squad later this month.
'We are hoping to go on a pre-tournament tour to Sri Lanka,' Tandon said. 'This will be an ideal warm-up.'
Hong Kong are drawn with Nepal, Bermuda, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Denmark, Afghanistan and the Netherlands in the preliminary round of the world qualifiers. They have to finish in the top two to stand a chance of making it to the finals.