PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 9:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 9:28pm

Hong Kong cricket led the way in 2013

Sport gets my vote for top team of the year, but now they need a ground to play in - and the government seems ready to listen


Alvin Sallay was a Sunday columnist with the paper for more than 10 years and reported on the Hong Kong sports scene for the last 25 years. Through his columns he covered four Olympic Games and one soccer World Cup. A long-time Asia expert, he has also been to seven consecutive Asian Games.

Rugby sevens is once again favourite to win the best team category in the annual Sport Stars Awards, which celebrates the best of local sport for 2013, but sorry guys, my vote goes to cricket this year.

Organisers are polling the media and the public for their choices and in the team sports category, two of my favourite sports are in the running - cricket and rugby sevens.

Rugby sevens has won for the past few years in a row, but last year wasn't all that memorable by their own high standards.

McKinley has one word of advice for the HKCA - come up with a blueprint for a ground and the government will build it
Alvin Sallay

Hong Kong failed to win the Asian Sevens Series, being pipped by Japan. At the China National Games we had to settle for the silver medal - thanks to a whistle-happy referee - and probably the only moment of any real importance came off the field with sevens being inducted into the Hong Kong Sports Institute as an elite sport.

Cricket made fantastic strides. Jamie Atkinson and his young team went where no other Hong Kong team has ever gone by qualifying for the final stages of the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in March.

If the International Cricket Council hadn't moved the goalposts and decided that the six associate countries who qualified will have to play another round of competition, we could have seen Hong Kong rubbing shoulders with the likes of Australia and India.

But getting to Bangladesh itself is a massive feat (Hong Kong will now play in another qualifier against Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and if they top this group will go through to the World Cup proper), so hats off to them.

And the good news is that the party hasn't stopped for Atkinson and his men who are currently making waves in New Zealand where they are trying to qualify for the 50-overs World Cup. They have done well so far having made it to the Super Sixes after beating Scotland, Canada and Nepal.

By making it into the Super Sixes - with Scotland, United Arab Emirates, Namibia, Kenya and Papua New Guinea - we have reached a watershed.

The only ground that barely meets them is Mission Road, but it doesn't have any other facilities - such as dressing rooms - which meet international standards
Alvin Sallay

Even if Hong Kong don't go on and win one of the two remaining berths for associate members at the 2015 World Cup, they have forced their way into the limelight by becoming eligible to play in the World Cricket League Championship, which is four-day cricket played by the top eight associate member nations on a home-and-away basis.

This will mean more financial support from the ICC - to the tune of US$350,000 annually - which will be a massive boost for the game. But there is a catch as we will have to be able to host the other seven countries.

To do that Hong Kong needs an international-sized ground and we lack one with all the necessary support facilities.

Hong Kong Cricket Association chairman Mike Walsh is right when he asks what happened to promises of an international-standard ground, promises made by the government more than two years ago.

In 2011, Hong Kong hosted the ICC annual conference at which then Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had his ear bent by the then ICC president, resulting in the Home Affairs Bureau promising to provide a ground.

Two years have gone by in a flash and now Hong Kong is among the top of the pile in the associate world. But we still don't have a facility to host an international cricket match.

A few years ago, the ICC banned Hong Kong from holding international matches as Hong Kong Cricket Club and Kowloon Cricket Club failed to meet the required dimensions.

The only ground that barely meets them is Mission Road, but it doesn't have any other facilities - such as dressing rooms - which meet international standards.

The government says it is looking at a site in Kwai Chung. But then they have looked at many sites in the past. Places like Whitehead detention centre, Penny's Bay and Tseung Kwan O have all been mentioned, but nothing has come of it.

But this time there is a difference. Some people in the government - well at least one, Jonathan McKinley - were actually abuzz with the performances of the Hong Kong team, first in Abu Dhabi and now in New Zealand.

And if the deputy secretary of Home Affairs is excited, there must be some hope. McKinley has one word of advice for the HKCA - come up with a blueprint for a ground and the government will build it. So the ball is back in cricket's court and it seems that someone other than me would vote for cricket too.

Sorry rugby sevens. Go and win the gold medal at the Asian Games this September, and you will have my wholehearted backing again.


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