Absence of both Sharma and Amar give youth a chance to shine A sneak preview of the future is on the cards for Hong Kong as they depart today for Sharjah, the first leg of the ICC Intercontinental Cup, leaving behind two of their most experienced campaigners - Rahul Sharma and Najeeb Amar - through injury. An injured elbow has ruled Sharma out of the first match against the United Arab Emirates (April 24 to 26) in Sharjah. The master batsman is hoped to be fit in time for the second leg of the trip, against Nepal in Kathmandu (April 30 to May 2). All-rounder Najeeb, meanwhile, is out completely having failed to overcome a worrisome shoulder injury which prevents him from bowling, a factor which coach Robin Singh said was crucial if he was to make the team. The absence of both Sharma and Najeeb will offer chances to youngsters like the Ahmed brothers, Nadeem and Irfan, Shkawat Ali, and also Manoj Cheruparambil and Adam Gunthorpe. 'This is a good opportunity for the youngsters to take up the slack and assume responsibility. While we will undoubtedly miss players like Sharma and Najeeb, their absence must be viewed positively,' said manager Krishna Kumar. Captain Tim Smart holds similar views and is looking forward to the challenge of playing against the UAE, without two of his key players. He has called upon the rest of the 14-strong squad to rise to the occasion. 'Injuries are part of cricket. But it gives someone else an opportunity to prove themselves and if we are a good side we should be able to take it in our stride,' he said. The UAE, who defeated Hong Kong in the final of the Fast Track Countries Tournament (FTCT) in February, will be the tougher of the two opponents on this groundbreaking trip where the reward for winning will be the chance to represent Asia in the semi-finals of the International Cricket Council's (ICC) tournament that gives associate members exposure to the longer version of the game. 'The ICC development programme strives to provide new opportunities for non-test playing nations to participate in international cricket competition and this tournament is a prime example,' said Matthew Kennedy, ICC development manager. By finishing in the top three in Asia from last season's FTCT, Hong Kong have booked their berth on merit. All those matches were played at home. Playing away is a sterner test. Bigger grounds, unfamiliar pitches and surroundings will add pressure. And both the UAE and Nepal will hold the upper hand. 'It is a good test for us. We will need to adapt to the conditions quickly. But if we play well, I'm confident that we can beat both the UAE and Nepal,' said opening batsman and wicketkeeper Smart. A lot will depend on the batting. Smart feels the return of Mark Eames - who missed the last game against the UAE - will boost the batting line-up, but has called for everyone to chip in. 'Eames is well suited to the three-day version and his presence in the side will be good. I expect everyone to play their part. If Adam [Gunthorpe] can see out the first 10 minutes, he will be a big boon for us. [Tabarak] Dar is in form while we have yet to see the best from Manoj [Cheruparambil],' he said. The SAR will also look for substantial contributions from Ilyas Gull and Irfan Ahmed, who is at present with the under-15 squad in Dubai. With Najeeb out of the bowling attack, Hong Kong will be able to field both Afzaal Haider and left-arm paceman Khalid Khan. In the past only two of the three could play at any one time due to the rule restricting teams to fielding only two players who fail to meet the four-year residency qualification. Left-arm spinner Nadeem Ahmed will bear the brunt of responsibility in the slow-bowling department. Off-spinner Jawaid Iqbal could miss the UAE leg due to a visa issue. 'We will have to rely on guys like Ilyas [Gull], [Shkawat] Ali and Irfan [Ahmed],' said Smart. Sher Lama will fill in for Sharma and the possible loss of Iqbal. Youngster Courtney Kruger will play this role in Nepal. 'Hong Kong have a lot to play for with the winner qualifying for the semi-finals in Namibia later this year. The guys have put in a lot of effort and we are all quietly confident,' said Kumar. Win or lose, the opening match against the UAE will give the selectors the chance to take a look at the future - and see what life will be like after Sharma. HONG KONG: Tim Smart (captain), Mark Eames (UAE only), Rahul Sharma (Nepal only), Adam Gunthorpe, Tabarak Dar, Nasir Hameed, Manoj Cheruparambil, Irfan Ahmed, Nadeem Ahmed, Khalid Khan, Afzaal Haider, Jawaid Iqbal, Shkawat Ali, Ilyas Gull, Sher Lama (UAE only), Courtney Kruger (Nepal only). Points system for the Intercontinental Cup Teams will receive 14 points for a win plus any bonus points accumulated while teams drawing or losing a match will only receive their bonus points. Only in the event of a tie will teams pick up seven additional points. Bonus points can be accumulated in either innings with a maximum of six batting points per innings awarded on the basis of 0.5 points for every 25 runs scored up to 300 runs. A maximum of five bowling points are available per innings allocated at 0.5 points per wicket taken. To encourage teams to play for a result, the first innings of each side will be restricted to 90 overs unless the team batting first do not utilise their 90 overs in which case the other team can bat for its 90 overs plus the overs not utilised by the team batting first. A minimum of 105 overs to be bowled on the opening two days.