Exit the old master, Rahul Sharma. Welcome the new one - Hussain Butt. This summed up Hong Kong cricket in 2006. Did we say exit? Sharma, at 46, refuses to acknowledge that age is a factor and continues to play the dominant role - a factor which helped Hong Kong to reach the final at the Asian Cricket Council Trophy in Kuala Lumpur. This result also secured the future for Hong Kong cricket with the Hong Kong Cricket Association ensured of their annual development grant from the International Cricket Council and the ACC which runs to HK$3 million. Sharma, who topped the batting averages, played crucial knocks in three most-important games - against Kuwait (deciding group game), Singapore (quarter-final) and Afghanistan (semi-finals). It meant Hong Kong qualifyed for the Third Division in the World Cricket League, the 2008 Asia Cup, and also stayed on course of for the 2011 World Cup. By qualifying for the 2008 Asia Cup, Hong Kong are also guaranteed a bumper payout from the ACC, which is conservatively estimated at a couple of millions dollars. 'This was easily my best tournament in my whole career. I had a wonderful time out there,' said Sharma after his feats in Malaysia. 'It would have been a disaster if we had failed to reach the final. That would have been very hard to swallow.' Hong Kong had their fair share of luck earlier in the tournament. The difference between success and failure was a miniscule 0.03 runs - the margin of victory over Kuwait in a game which was tied. Hong Kong edged Kuwait into the knockout stages on a superior run-rate - by 0.03. Butt, who had earlier just qualified to play for Hong Kong under the four-year residency ruling, proved his worth by playing a superb supporting role to Sharma. His ability to score freely, also helped Hong Kong immensely. But Butt fell victim to his outspoken ways. He criticised Hong Kong captain Tim Smart for his selection policies and, as a result, was banned for five weeks from all matches. It saw him miss the Hong Kong Sixes where Hong Kong performed well. However, on his comeback, Butt proved how valuable an asset he is when he smacked a double century against the United Arab Emirates in the ACC Premier League three-day competition. But despite his heroics, rain interrupted the game played in Sharjah, and Hong Kong lost their chance of forcing a victory to end a winless drought this season having lost to Singapore and Nepal, and drawn against Malaysia. It was against Malaysia that fast bowler Afzaal Haider passed a personal landmark when he became the first local bowler to take 50 wickets in the Premier League. Sharma, Haider and Butt are all getting on. But the presence of the Ahmed brothers, Irfan and Nadeem, and others like Jamie Atkinson, Courtney Kruger and a crop of other youngsters, bodes well for the future. And with their finances secured, Hong Kong cricket can only look forward to it.