Threat to territory's Cup hopes

HONGKONG'S dreams of playing in the 1995 World Cup in Asia will be in ruins if a controversial proposal to tighten up a residency rule is passed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in July.

The leading three teams in next year's ICC Trophy - which will be played in Kenya and contested by 20 non-Test playing nations - will qualify for the 1995 World Cup in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

The ICC's rules regarding player eligibility are very strict to prevent smaller cricketing nations from importing players from other countries to strengthen their side.

The rules state that a player must have lived in the country he wishes to represent for eight months in each of the previous four years leading up to the tournament.

At a recent meeting of the ICC in London, however, 1994 Trophy hosts Kenya proposed extending the residency rule from four years to seven, which would rule out many in the Hongkong squad being assembled.

John Cribbin, the secretary of the Hongkong Cricket Association, said last night: ''It was put forward by Kenya and seemed to have a lot of support from other countries.

''With three places available in the next World Cup the stakes are bigger and there are fears that people might stack their sides with players from other countries.

''Obviously, I spoke out strongly against it because it would make life very difficult for Hongkong.'' The proposal will be put to the vote at the annual meeting of the ICC in July and Cribbin said there would be some ''hard lobbying'' among the associate members before the meeting.

''There was a general consensus that the residency rule should go back to five years but any tightening up of the rules would be to our disadvantage,'' added Cribbin.

Even now the four-year residency rule restricts Hongkong selection, such is the turnover of people in the territory.

Despite being unable to call on several of the territory's leading players for the 1990 ICC Trophy in the Netherlands, Hongkong still won four of their seven matches.

And for next year's event in Kenya they would have been among the six strongest nations with the inclusion of players of the quality of Steve Atkinson, Pat Fordham, Stewart Brew, Steve Foster, Leigh Beaman, David Crowe and, if available, Ross Greer. The selectors are also checking on the availability of Hongkong Cricket Club's South African fast bowler, Warren Symcox, who has returned to the territory temporarily from Antwerp, Belgium.

The next ICC Trophy will take place in Nairobi from February 12 to March 6, 1994.

Organisers have said they would not be able to cope with more than 20 teams, meaning there may be no room for Scotland, Thailand and Nepal, all of whom have applied for associate membership. Ireland, however, have been promised a place in the line-up.

The 20 teams will be divided into five groups of four, with the leading two teams in each group progressing to two new groups. The top two teams in each group would qualify for the semi-finals, with the winners of a third-place play-off on March 5 joiningthe two finalists in the 1995 World Cup alongside defending champions Pakistan, 1992 runners-up England and the rest of the Test-playing nations.

Hongkong captain Pat Fordham, who missed qualification for the 1990 ICC Trophy by a matter of months, said: ''I think it would be very unfair if they changed the rules six months before the competition.

''It does not affect most countries but obviously applies to us because cricket here depends on expatriates.

''I'm sure we would lose a couple of players if they expanded it from four to five years.

It would be a bad step if they did and we'll have to wait and see.'' Meanwhile, Eastern football star Greer has been cleared by his club to play cricket for Hongkong in the four-nation Tuanku Ja'Afar Cup in Bangkok from February 26-28.