Hong Kong's bid to qualify for two major International Cricket Council tournaments over the next six months has received a major boost with 10 of its top players receiving government funding from the Hong Kong Sports Institute which has allocated more than HK$2.5 million for this financial year.
Half of the senior national pool announced yesterday for the ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers in November as well as the ICC World Cup (50 overs) qualifiers in January have been given full-time as well as part-time funding grants until April 2014.
Hong Kong captain Jamie Atkinson is among eight players who receive a full-time monthly grant of HK$9,000. The others are vice-captain Waqas Barkat, Irfan Ahmed, Nadeem Ahmed, Nizakat Khan, Babar Hayat, Aizaz Khan and Daljeet Singh. Two others, Roy Lamsam and Kinchit Shah are on part-time grants of HK$3,500 per month. In addition, the Hong Kong Cricket Association has also received HK$1.5 million for its senior men's and women's teams to facilitate training and competitive schedules.
"This support is absolutely fantastic," said Hong Kong head coach Charlie Burke. "The Sports Institute has noticed our achievements in qualifying for major global tournaments and through the work of the association we were able to get this elite B status.
"In addition to the monthly grants which is really helpful, the players will also benefit and gain a lot from the related support and facilities at the HKSI, mainly through usage of the gym and its strength and conditioning staff, the physio and nutrition care, all of which will allow them to focus on cricket," Burke added.
With cricket being part of the Asian Games - the Twenty20 version became a medal sport for the first time at the 2010 Games in Guangzhou and will continue to be at next year's event in Incheon, South Korea - the Sports Institute has thrown its weight behind the game.
Atkinson, who is playing club cricket in England, welcomed the support and said it would allow the players to focus on strength-conditioning and fitness which has become a crucial aspect of the modern game.
"The HKSI grant is hugely helpful. It allows us to concentrate solely on cricket and it gives the players access to high quality facilities," Atkinson said.
"The gym in particular is very beneficial as the players can use the facilities and have personal trainers. With professional cricketers getting physically stronger these days, it helps us to compete more in all departments," he added.
Like Atkinson, a number of the senior players have been embedded in competitive leagues overseas to gain maximum playing experience at a high level.
When the players return after summer they will train at the HKSI in the run-up to their first assignment, the ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates in November. The 50-over World Cup qualifiers are in New Zealand.
"Obviously we have got to start showing results now that we are in the Sports Institute and we have got to continue to excel and grow," Burke said. "We have a realistic chance of playing in a World Cup [Twenty20] for the first time and this support will help us."