Hong Kong cricket has an Everest-sized headache. And this is no mere hangover having just returned from a visit to Nepal, a country at the roof of the world, but an ever-persistent symptom that underscores the deep malaise at the core of the local game. The visits to the United Arab Emirates and Nepal for the ICC Intercontinental Cup this past fortnight has once again highlighted the meagre run-making ability of Hong Kong's batsmen who, especially in Kathmandu, failed to be inspired by the scenic mountain views surrounding the ground, and plumbed to the lowest depths imaginable. 'They played like novices. I think even the Hong Kong Under-15s could have batted better,' was coach Robin Singh's most cutting comment after Hong Kong were bowled out for 91 against Nepal in the first innings of the three-day match. While the bowling attack - Khalid Khan and Ilyas Gull excelling in Sharjah, and Afzaal Haider in Kathmandu with teenager Nadeem Ahmed showing a lot of promise - kept Hong Kong competitive (and well supported by good fielding), the batting let us down time and again. A few days before, in Sharjah, Hong Kong were dismissed for 127 and 184 as the UAE scored a seven-wicket victory and all but sealed their ticket to Namibia as Asia's representative in the semi-finals of this tournament (now in its second year) which the International Cricket Council hopes will help its associate members to get attuned to the longer version of the game. If this is the avowed goal, Hong Kong failed miserably, for in all three completed innings the SAR failed to bat out two full sessions. Against the UAE, they were bowled out twice in 66 overs. Against Nepal, they were bundled out in 39.3 overs after being put into bat on a lively wicket with plenty of movement. A quick-pick excuse has always been that local batsmen get found out when they go overseas and play on turf tracks with nasty bounce, lateral movement or vicious spin. The pleas for a pardon can also range from umpiring decisions to the toss of the coin having played a big role. Singh rubbished the first set of excuses when he said the wicket at the Hong Kong Cricket Club was quite tricky and one where batsmen who earned their spurs would have done well. As for the second set of excuses, being out to a dubious decision or the luck of the toss, is all part and parcel of the game. In the end, it perhaps all boils down to having the right temperament and approach to batting. The inability to occupy the crease for any length of time was probably one reason for the downfall. Poor shot selection was another. It would be highly alarming if we were to say that a lack of technique also contributed to the batsmen flopping. Statistics can reveal a damning story. In the four innings played, the batsmen were dismissed 26 times before entering double figures. Three completed innings equates to 33 batsmen, add five more from the incomplete innings and you have a total of 38 batsmen walking out to bat. For 26 of them to be out without scoring more than 10 runs is diabolical. And this is not to say that the others made huge scores - the highest score by a Hong Kong batsman in the two matches was Adam Gunthorpe's 46 in the second innings against the UAE. 'All that the batsmen needed to do was to stay at the crease. They had 90 overs to bat in the first innings and there was no need to hurry. If they had just pushed the singles and scored two or three runs an over, we would have had enough runs,' said Singh after the UAE game. 'If a batsman is out of form, all he needs is to stay at the wicket. Even Sachin Tendulkar goes through a bad patch and he comes out of it by batting himself back into form.' Little did he know that a few days later, even a score of 127 would take on elephantine proportions when compared to the chaos in Kathmandu where it took a last-wicket partnership of 38, between Nasir Hameed (who was originally not to play) and last man Khalid Khan, to lift Hong Kong to 91 all out. This sorry performance has not been a one-off phenomenon. In recent years, Hong Kong's batting, or rather lack of it, has led to the SAR failing to qualify for the ICC Trophy (which will be played this summer in Ireland and is the qualifying tournament for the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean) and also for the next Asia Cup limited overs tournament against the region's test-playing nations. The lessons learned in Sharjah and Kathmandu must now be put to good use. It is time now to start preparing for the next ICC Trophy, which with all due apologies to the Intercontinental Cup and the Fast Track Countries Tournament, must remain as Hong Kong's holy grail. To start with, it is time that Hong Kong cricket looks to its youngsters and beyond the veterans like Rahul Sharma, Mark Eames, Jawaid Iqbal and Sher Lama. All of them have contributed a lot, but their presence is turning into an inhibiting factor. Take Sharma, for instance. He is a batsman of class. But perhaps his mere presence in the lineup may be resulting in the others leaving all the responsibility to him. When he gets out, it is virtually a body blow to the spirit of the entire team. Sharma, 44, made his Hong Kong debut in 1993. He has had a good run. But it is now time for the selectors to look ahead and take the next step. Eames, Iqbal and Lama should also step away gracefully and make room for teenagers like Courtney Kruger, Shkawat Ali and Jamie Atkinson. The latter was not on tour, but much is expected of the 14-year-old whose dad, Steve, played for Holland and Hong Kong at the ICC Trophy. Kruger, was flown into Nepal but did not get a chance to play. But he made his presence felt off the field, being the most popular member of the local squad, besides Singh, with the crowds who dubbed him the 'Brett Lee' of Hong Kong. The KGV student's charm offensive even won him plaudits when the Hong Kong squad were stranded for nine hours at Kathmandu's airport while Nepal Airlines mechanics struggled to fix the aircraft that was due to fly the team home. Kruger picked up the mike in the waiting lounge and announced that Nepal Airlines had been awarded the prize for the 'world's best airline for the fourth year in a row'. It raised a cheer from the angry and frustrated passengers. Now if that confidence can be translated on to the pitch, Hong Kong cricket will benefit. But for this to happen, Kruger and other youngsters must be given the opportunity to play outside Hong Kong.