T20 Blitz or Sixes: Can Hong Kong sustain two big cricket events?

With the national team-based six-a-side tournament set to be revived, the debate is open on whether or not it’s too much for the city

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 11:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 6:28pm

Hong Kong has long stretched the boundaries when it comes to hosting international cricket events. The mindset that such a cosmopolitan city simply must have a marquee cricket tournament – just like the Rugby Sevens – was too powerful to ignore for the then-named Hong Kong Cricket Association in the late ’80s, spawning the international all-rounders competition.

That event, though not new to the world, was embraced by international fans and for tiny Hong Kong it was a huge success. You could not have had bigger names in cricket for that era gathering in one place at the same time – Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Clive Rice, Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee ... these were the true star players of their era and Hong Kong was the centre of the cricketing world.

After a few years, Hong Kong officials realised that they would have to move on. Genuine all-rounders of the Botham and Hadlee level were a dying breed and they needed another event to bring world-class cricket to Hong Kong.

And so they came up with the Hong Kong Sixes, first held in 1992 and which has since become the standard-bearer for six-a-side cricket around the world. The first few events attracted strong squads, with test boards happy to send their best players to Hong Kong.

As such, Hong Kong fans were privileged to watch the likes of Wasim Akram, Phil de Freitas, Sachin Tendulkar and other leading players from the top test teams.

As the tournament progressed, fewer top players were picked as boards preferred to send development sides. Not that the tournament suffered. Crowds were still good and the action was exhilarating.

However, because of funding problems, 2012 was the last edition of the Hong Kong Sixes. Five years on and the city’s cricket governing body, rebranded as Cricket Hong Kong, is to resurrect the tournament in 2017 – a decision that delights the traditionalists in the Hong Kong cricket community but is being met with scepticism by those who feel that we should move on – just like we did more than 20 years ago when the Sixes replaced the all-rounders competition.

CHK president Rodney Miles is confident Hong Kong can sustain two major international tournaments a year, with this week’s T20 Blitz having proved a hit.

“To see all the superstars playing in the Blitz is really remarkable,” said Miles. “And those involved in the tournament should be very proud of what they have done. The Sixes, though, is a pretty unique event. It was unique when we started it. We were not the first but we took it to another level.

“The Sixes is very different to this [T20]. It is more of a national tournament where countries are playing each other but you still get a lot of big stars. The Blitz is a more focused tournament. It is a franchise-based event though numerically probably has more star players.

“It is a different concept and I don’t see any problem in having two big events in a year.”

Others are not convinced. Urvashi Sethi, CEO of T20 franchise Kowloon Cantons, said it would be better for any resources intended for the Sixes be ploughed into making the Blitz even bigger.

“The Sixes was perfect for its time but T20 is the way to go,” she said. “T20 is the format that is played around the world, not Sixes, and I don’t think it is sustainable for Hong Kong to hold two international tournaments in one year.

“It is better to focus all your resources on the Blitz and trying to make it even better than it is already.”

She said efforts should be concentrated on convincing the Hong Kong government to provide a suitable venue for future Blitz tournaments. The Blitz has been held at the Mission Road ground in Tin Kwong Road over its two years of existence but the venue is hampered by limited seating and lack of proper facilities, such as a dedicated cricket scoreboard.

“We need the government to give us a proper ground. We just need one good ground, that’s all it takes to take this event to the next level.”

The Hong Kong Sixes, which is scheduled for October and is likely to rely on sponsorship for funding, is set to be held in its traditional home of Kowloon Cricket Club.

When asked what would the Blitz lose if Hong Kong were to stage the Sixes as well, Sethi said: “Sponsors. There’s not enough to go around.”