SO by the narrowest of margins, and after one of the most hard-fought election battles in local cricket history, Terry Smith was re-affirmed as president of the Hong Kong Cricket Association (HKCA) this week. In the immediate aftermath of victory at the Kowloon Cricket Club, a relieved Smith expressed his wish to bury the hatchet with his rivals, pull together and look forward to the coming season. 'It's time to put all this behind us and look ahead. It's healthy to exchange opinions and [it's] a sign that Hong Kong cricket is in good shape,' Smith said. In private, Smith will perhaps view the events of the past few weeks as a shot across his bows. Victory over Papu Butani by 114 votes to 113 hardly represents a landslide endorsement of his presidency. Clearly, there is a large sector of local cricket that feels dissatisfied with the present leadership of the HKCA. Any more messy controversies over the course of the next 12 months and Smith and secretary John Cribbin - who also staved off a challenge to his position - will surely be cast out into the cold. On balance, Smith and Cribbin have just about deserved their stay of execution. As the arguments and claims of their challengers were examined in detail at the KCC on Thursday night, it became clear that the dispute was more a question of conflicting personalities as opposed to conflicting agendas. To the neutral observer, style rather than substance appeared to be the key issue. The challengers claimed that development had lost its focus over the past few seasons. Smith responded by pointing out that the SAR now has established sides playing at under-13, under-15, under-19 and under-23 levels. To underscore the point, Smith pointed to the fact that the HKCA has exceeded its targets for recruiting Chinese-speaking coaches as well as setting up two Chinese development clubs. The challengers claimed school cricket had been neglected. KGV were unable to raise a team, they said. Cue Jim Francis, Hong Kong school cricket representative. KGV did not have a team in the Saturday League because they had become the 'Mainlanders'. It was not true to say that KGV had folded, Francis said. One by one, the arguments and grievances of the challengers met with stiff counter-arguments as Smith and Cribbin stripped away the critical hyperbole of their rivals and replaced it with cold fact. Critically, Butani struggled to convince enough supporters that his bid for the president's job was unrelated to the wrangle between his company, Cricket World International, and the HKCA over the Cricket Sixes. Although Butani insisted commercial interests had not motivated his campaign and even offered to resign from CWI if he was successful in his bid, many of the rank and file HKCA membership remained unswayed. 'He's a lovely bloke and there aren't many people who have done more for Hong Kong cricket,' a prominent HKCA member said of Butani. 'But if the Sixes had continued to be successful, and the whole argument with the cricket association had never happened, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be having this election tonight.' That view was a common one at the KCC this week. An equally widespread view was that if Hong Kong is serious about staging an international cricket tournament, then it is best left to men like Butani. 'Why does the HKCA have to be involved in running a tournament?' one member confided. 'If the whole purpose of having a tournament is to raise the profile of the sport locally, then what does it matter whether its eights, sixes or sevens? The important thing is that you get the star names - and when Papu was running the show, that's what we got. 'The fact is, the Sixes were massively successful a few years ago, so who is the association to come in and say 'the ICC believes that eights is the way forward so let's ditch the Sixes and have the eights'? What has happened with the tournament recently is a joke. When people say they are disillusioned with the cricket association leadership, they are really saying they are disappointed that a popular part of Hong Kong cricket has been lost.'