Killing two birds with one stone
Departing Hong Kong cricket coach Charlie Burke says tie-up with IPL franchises would turn Sixes into a money-spinner
It's important to "think outside the box" says Charlie Burke. That's his message for Hong Kong cricket as he prepares to take on a new challenge in Africa. Burke will leave at the end of this month to take up a position with the International Cricket Council in Johannesburg, where he will guide the fortunes of Kenya, Namibia and Uganda - three of the big African associate countries.
Even as the Australian goes on his big-game adventure a piece of his heart will remain here - mainly with the city's team. But Burke also has thoughts for the Hong Kong Sixes, which is the showpiece event of the Hong Kong Cricket Association much like the Sevens is for rugby. Burke feels it is time his soon-to-be former employers take a fresh look at the annual extravaganza and transform it into an Indian Premier League-styled event with franchises involved rather than teams representing national cricket bodies.
He says that as the Hong Kong Sixes is known to everyone in cricket globally and is a brand in itself, why not make it a mini-IPL and franchise-driven. This is a great idea. For instance, the Mumbai Indians have achieved maximum publicity in India, so why not ask them to export their franchise to Hong Kong and take over a team; and the rest of the franchises could do likewise. Instead of playing Twenty20, this mini-IPL would instead play Sixes.
They can bring the same players who feature in the IPL and so guarantee star quality. The HKCA makes money by selling the franchises, which in turn make money from broadcasting rights to a "new" tournament. The HKCA will take all the revenue from local ticket sales, while the franchises get the corporate boxes to wine and dine their guests. It can be a win-win situation for all. There would be no need to look for sponsors or go begging to the government's Mega Events Fund.
When Burke arrived in Hong Kong in May 2010 to take up the job of head coach, the senior team was dominated by a few players with massive egos who felt they could do no wrong. One of the first decisions Burke made was to chip out the deadwood and bring in young blood. Sometimes it is hard to tell a player who has given much for the cause that his shelf life is close to expiry. Burke had no qualms, however. His goal from the outset was to give youth a chance and he was fortunate in that Hong Kong had a group of youngsters who were ready to fill the shoes of their elders.
From being part of the International Cricket Council's Division Three, Hong Kong have today moved up a notch and are in Division Two. As a result, and more importantly, Hong Kong are knocking on the doors of two ICC World Cup tournaments - the ICC World Twenty20 next year in Bangladesh and the ICC World Cup (50 0vers) in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.
It is a shame that Burke will not be around to guide the fortunes of the Jamie Atkinson-led team as they bid to qualify for both these events, beginning in November in the United Arab Emirates (for the Twenty20 showpiece) and next January in New Zealand (for the 50 overs).
But his aura will be felt among the young squad with an average age of only 19 (when he took over the average age was 26). Progress has been made among the women, too, with a younger team, predominantly made up of local Chinese players, which Burke feels is encouraging for the game.
"The future is bright [for Hong Kong]. We have a terrific structure in place, government support and two very young squads. We also have some of the best young spinners coming through," Burke says.
But he cautions that a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure all the progress of the past couple of years in not undone and points to two key areas - focus on spreading the game more among the local Chinese community and more facilities. This will cost money and take up resources, something which the cash-strapped association will find tough to shoulder. This is why we must take to heart Burke's suggestion and explore the possibility of the Hong Kong Sixes evolving into a new format.
That would be the best legacy he leaves behind. HKCA chairman Mike Walsh has said Burke's decision to leave Hong Kong "is a big blow - and we are sad to see him go".
Yet, change is the only constant in life. At the end of the day, how we adapt to change is what matters.