Miles opens batting in bid to take game into Olympics and China
The HKCA's new president is determined to spread the gospel throughout the mainland
With a name that suggests he is in it for the long run, new Hong Kong Cricket Association president Rodney Miles knows his vision - get the sport into the Olympics and China cracking at the crease - will indeed be a journey of a thousand miles.
The first step was taken last July when Miles met the MCC's world committee, an illustrious and influential body, to make his case.
"I made a presentation at Lord's and it was well received. The next president of the MCC, Mike Gatting, who takes over in October, has promised me he will pursue this, as well as visit China twice over the next year to see what can be done to push these twin goals of getting cricket in the Olympics and galvanising the game in China," said Miles.
While the MCC has no hold over the world governing body of the game, it acts as a complementary body to the International Cricket Council and still carries weight in the corridors of power at Lord's.
It is the custodian of the laws of the game and plays a significant role behind the scenes in shaping the thinking of the powers-that-be. Its world committee is chaired by Mike Brearley and includes Mike Atherton, Steve Waugh, Geoffrey Boycott, Rahul Dravid, Majid Khan, Anil Kumble, Shaun Pollock, Barry Richards, Michael Vaughan, Jimmy Adams, Rodney Marsh and Kumar Sangakkara.
The body meets twice a year, and already moves are afoot to push strongly for Olympics inclusion. At its meeting in Auckland in February, the world committee endorsed the push and decided that, while an Olympic Twenty20 tournament would cost the game financially, it would be beneficial in the long term.
"There will be lot of obstacles towards Twenty20 becoming an Olympic sport, especially from India which will want to safeguard its IPL, and even countries like England and Australia," said Miles. "But we should have an open mind. It doesn't matter what version it is - it can even be sixes - for the important thing is to have cricket at the Olympics." The biggest obstacle will be the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which will want to protect the goose that lays the golden eggs - the Indian Premier League whose massive television rights could be compromised by a rival Twenty20 at the Olympics.
Miles says the same holds for the professional leagues in England and Australia. Another hurdle will be the ICC itself, as there are concerns cricket in the Olympics will clash with the northern hemisphere's season.
"Yet, there is also a groundswell of opinion in the International Olympic Committee that cricket will be suited for the Olympics. We have even had IOC president Jacques Rogge saying so. Now we have to keep pushing and my aim is to link this to the growth of the game in China, for both go hand-in-hand," Miles said.
In 2011, Rogge said: "We would welcome an application. It's an important, popular sport and very powerful on television. It's a sport with a great tradition."
Now with rugby sevens and golf becoming medal sports at the 2016 Rio Games, the ICC is studying the possibility of having Twenty20 at the 2024 Olympics.
Miles points wistfully to the burgeoning influence the inclusion of rugby sevens has had on the mainland. Olympic status has resulted in provinces starting programmes. Earlier this month, 10 teams including the PLA and Hong Kong played for five berths at this summer's China National Games. Beijing won the qualifying event, defeating Hong Kong in the semi-finals, and underlining the important role the capital can play in the growth of a new sport.
"Rugby sevens is now spread across China thanks to the Olympics. For cricket to really catch hold on the mainland, we need the Olympic Games to be the catalyst," Miles says. "The ICC, as well as the Asian Cricket Council, has done yeoman service in spreading the message but we need to galvanise the entire process and the best way to do that is to start from the top, especially in women's cricket."
His focus is on turning women's cricket in China professional and to create three main centres as hubs for development with a twist - from top down rather than grass roots.
"At the moment we have one main centre in Guangzhou. But now we need to push for two more centres, in Beijing and Shanghai. China has just one main coach right now - Rashid Khan - who is doing a great job, but we need more. We need coaches at all three centres.
"And we have to focus at the top end. While it is well and good to nurture cricket in the schools, we have to start looking at the universities and jump-start the game and the fastest way to do it is to concentrate on the women's game," said Miles, who was chairman of the Hong Kong Cricket Club for 10 years before taking on the presidency.
When he was ushered in unopposed at the HKCA's annual general meeting this month, Miles told the local membership his main role would be to push for more grounds in Hong Kong and develop the game on the mainland.
While the former task will involve trying to convince the Hong Kong government, and the public, to shed the image of the game as a minority sport - "how can it be when more than a billion people follow it on television, making it the second-most popular sport in the world behind football?" - Miles hopes his connection with the MCC can ignite the game across the border.
"Hong Kong is a conduit into China as far as the world of business is concerned. Likewise the HKCA must play a big role in promoting the sport in China. If we are successful, there will be a huge spin-off for the local game, too," f Miles said.
"We have to communicate to the world the importance of China to cricket as well the importance of cricket to China. I believe with the MCC leading the way, we can make ground."
This journey of a thousand miles will have many twists and turns. Miles is aware of that and he is not shying away from the challenge.