US$1 million at stake as Hong Kong cricketers prepare for do-or-die matches against Nepal and PNG
A top-four place in the World Cricket League is crucial if Cricket Hong Kong is to continue receiving high-performance funding from the ICC
Hong Kong players will soon embark on a rigorous five-month training programme knowing that failure could cost the sport more than US$1 million in funding from the world governing body.
Head coach Simon Cook is under no illusions about the task at hand as Hong Kong prepare for their ICC World Cricket League Championship (WCL) clashes against Nepal in October and Papua New Guinea next year.
Hong Kong are third in the standings on 11 points from 10 matches after losing twice to Netherlands at home in February. Nepal are sixth with eight points. The top four teams advance to the 2019 ICC World Cup qualifier while the bottom four are relegated to Division Two and would most likely lose elite funding.
“We are looking for a top-four finish, which would still allow us to secure the high-performance funding that we need,” said Cook. “The games against Netherlands here recently were outstanding games of cricket but unfortunately there were no points for us.
“It means we are on the cusp of fourth place and the bottom line is that we need to win our last two series against Nepal and Papua New Guinea to finish in the top four.”
The International Cricket Council provides annual funding of more than US$1 million for WCL teams plus about US$250,000 a year to cover the costs of hosting teams and travelling to away venues.
Finishing outside the top four in the WCL would deprive Cricket Hong Kong of at least the US$1 million grants.
In contrast, a top-four place would be a major boost with Hong Kong advancing to a 10-team qualifying tournament for the 2019 ICC 50-over World Cup. It would also involve additional funding from the ICC.
Working in Cook’s favour is the fact that Hong Kong have the quality to beat Nepal and second-placed PNG, who they face in the United Arab Emirates next year.
Despite losing to the Netherlands, Hong Kong scored more than 300 runs in both matches and in March the players were able to boost their skills alongside world-class stars in the Hong Kong T20 Blitz.
The Hong Kong players will spend June in the gym working on their strength, fitness and building muscle.
“We are basically taking them away from cricket during that time,” said Cook. “They will be exclusively in the gym 15-18 hours a week. Some will work on weight loss or weight gain, developing lean muscle mass and working with the nutritionist at the Hong Kong Sports Institute to ensure they are on the right diet.”
Cook said Aizaz Khan and Chris Carter will be in the United Kingdom during this time because “they don’t really need strength training quite as much”.
In July the players will start focusing on their cricket technical skills, taking them through to the matches against Nepal on October 13 and 15 at Mission Road.
Hong Kong also take on test hopefuls Afghanistan in a four-day Intercontinental Cup clash from October 20-23 at home. Hong Kong are fifth in the table on 39 points from five matches while the Afghans are top on 81, one point ahead of fellow test candidates Ireland.
Should Hong Kong finish outside the top four in the WCL, they would still have a chance to reach the World Cup qualifier by claiming a top-two place in Division Two. However, whether the ICC would provide the same kind of funding remains doubtful.