Hong Kong target victory at Cricket Sixes
Watch out for Hong Kong - that is the upbeat message from the hosts as the rest of the teams at the Karp Group Hong Kong Sixes start to trickle in for this weekend's tournament at Kowloon Cricket Club.
"We really believe this is our year and that we can win it for the first time," said Hong Kong coach Charlie Burke. His confidence stems from the fact the home side will field one of their strongest teams in recent years, and also welcome back 2010 Player of the Tournament Irfan Ahmed.
Irfan, 22, was banned from last year's Hong Kong Sixes on disciplinary grounds following his failure to turn up for practice. But that is behind him and Burke says the versatile all-rounder is keen to make up for lost time.
"Irfan has learned his lesson and is now one of the most committed players in the squad. He is hungry for Hong Kong to win this tournament. It is all about team success for him and that is what is driving him on," Burke said.
In 2009, Irfan spearheaded Hong Kong's passage to the Cup final where they lost to South Africa. The following year he starred with the bat and finished as top player at the tournament even though Hong Kong didn't fare as well. Last year, despite his absence, Hong Kong still did well, reaching the Cup semi-finals where they lost to eventual winners Pakistan.
Big-hitting batsman Babar Hayat made up for Irfan's absence last year and the two are likely to open the batting for Hong Kong.
With others such as all-rounders Munir Dar and Tanvir Afzal, and skipper and wicketkeeper Jamie Atkinson, who is making his Sixes debut, waiting to follow, Hong Kong are bristling with confidence.
"Tanvir is a smart cricketer. He showed he is a more than useful bat with his century at the ACC Elite Trophy. But he is also a superb seam bowler. Munir is like a bottle of red wine, getting better and better with age. Jamie will bat at number five and I know he is very keen to make his mark at his first Sixes," Burke said.
"We have a very good side, stronger than last year when we reached the semi-finals. Our first game against Australia on Saturday [the opening game of the tournament] will be crucial. We must win this to gain momentum. This tournament is all about momentum."
Hong Kong are pooled with Australia, England and South Africa in the preliminaries. The other pool comprises Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.