Boundaries, bouncers and beer ... it could only be the Sixes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 November, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 November, 2006, 12:00am

Drummers beat their drums while dancing girls grace the pitch during breaks in play, balls whiz overhead at lightning speed, cricket obsessed ball-boys whack water bottle tops with their signed souvenir bats in between games, nationalistic fervour and flag waving is everywhere ... it's the Hong Kong Sixes, the biggest drawcard on the local cricket calendar.

The idea of compressing a cricket match into a five-over flurry dates back to 1985 and a friendly, but competitive, match between the Kowloon Cricket Club and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.

'We simply took the laws of cricket and jiggled them about. We started from the basic premise of six players, five overs and only four fielders,' said tournament director Glyn Davies

'Such a radical change means we still have things happen on the pitch that aren't in the rulebook. When this happens, we simply adapt the rules for the following year. This year we have nine international teams rather than eight which has brought about some new challenges.'

But the appeal of the game was clear, said Davies. 'The international players can really strut their stuff in sixes. There's the basic element of ball, bat and field, but there's only 30 balls. It's fast and it's ultra-competitive.'

This maverick version of the international game was first staged in 1992 when the Hong Kong Sixes was launched.

While many of Hong Kong's organisers have a long history at the sixes, for players like England's Darren Gough sixes is a whole new ball game.

'Although I've played sixes a few times in England, this is my first visit to Hong Kong and I'm very excited about it,' said Gough. 'In sixes, you can bowl well and still go for runs. You can bowl badly and not go for runs. It's daft. You don't necessarily have to be a good batsman, you just have to hit the ball where there are none of the four fielders, and away you go. It's a clever game. I'd say it's a batsmen's game more than a bowler's game.'

Gough is still coming to terms with the fact that he's better known for dancing than cricket these days.

'My mum encouraged me to go on the Celebrity Come Dancing show,' he said. 'I thought, 'Well, it's for charity'. I've become a household name for winning on the show, not for 470 wickets for England. It's a bit weird.'

Clive Howard, chairman of the Hong Kong Cricket Association, knows only too well that it's important to grow cricket from the ground up.

'We have an extensive programme in Chinese primary and secondary schools that's designed to get as many kids as possible playing cricket. The whole reason we host the sixes is to raise the profile of cricket in Hong Kong and China'.

One of the bright local prospects is Mark Chapman, the 12-year-old son of a New Zealander and a Seychelles-Chinese.

He's a left-handed batsman and spin bowler, and is also showing considerable promise as a wicket-keeper.

Mark has toured overseas four times already and competed at international level. He started touring at nine, and has already captained Hong Kong at age group level.

'Cricket gives me confidence. If you do well in a game it boosts you mentally and you come into the next game strong and are more likely to do well,' he said.

Many Chinese mothers are also picking up the game and local girls, too, are making real headway.

Said one coach: 'Not being big is no disadvantage in cricket. Smaller-framed people make great batsmen or spin bowlers, and the smallest, nippiest fielders are often the best.'

Proving that size is no impediment to success is former New Zealand test bowler Danny Morrison, 'Let's face it, I'm vertically challenged,' said 40-year-old Morrison. 'Garden Gnome is one of my more printable nicknames.'

Charged with bringing local youngsters through is Tabarak Dar, the development officer at the Hong Kong Cricket Association. 'We run 24-week programmes in Chinese schools [the Wellcome Primary School Playground League] and from this we can start working with children from under 11 to bring new talent to development squads.'

Dar believes that raising the profile of the game will benefit Hong Kong teams.

'Next weekend, we're taking a group of under-15s to China,' he said.

'For our opponents, it will be the first-ever match with a team from outside mainland China.'


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