Sport in the time of Covid-19 has been difficult on many levels, with teams and athletes all over the world training for events they know may never come, or could be cancelled at the last minute. For Hong Kong’s women cricketers the opposite has been true; after training for more than a year with little indication of when they might play next, there was exactly eight weeks notice that the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup regional qualifiers were going ahead. That they leave for Dubai on Friday full of enthusiasm, and ready to embrace a journey that includes three weeks in quarantine for those coming back to Hong Kong, says much for a team spirit fostered over post-training breakfast and online exercise classes. “What we always tell the girls is, we always have to be ready to play, mentally we always have to think there is a game coming soon,” Kary Chan, the captain, said. “Even with Covid, when we couldn’t train we were exercising at home, so the team is ready for it, even though it was a bit of a shock this time.” With players in different parts of the world, Zoom has played a prominent role in building that sense of togetherness. The coronavirus pandemic means some of those based in Britain have not seen their teammates for almost three years. Chan, though, has no concerns about the players gelling when they arrive in Dubai, with five members of the squad flying in from London. “I think we’re not just a team now, we’re like family,” she said. “We train together, we talk together, some of us have different backgrounds, but we still connect. Cricket brings people together, and that has happened for us. “After training we would go for breakfast together and that has helped the relationship, and that’s why everything has been so tight.” World-class T20 returns to Hong Kong with 2022 women’s event The gap since Hong Kong last played an international tournament, the East Asia Cup in 2019, means several news faces have been added to the side. Heiley Lui and Iqra Sahar are in the squad for the first time, while Natasha Miles, who last represented the city in 2006, returns having spent time playing professionally in England for Middlesex and Lancashire. For Chan, who has been captain for two years, leading a team she considers friends is “a very big honour” and one she is happy to be embrace. “I’m really happy to be part of this team, I’m really happy to lead them,” she said. “I really enjoy the journey with them.” Such a tight-knit group means coach Chris Pickett can focus on other things, such as ensuring his side are ready for their first game, which is against Nepal, the top-ranked women’s team in the regional qualifier. “I have provided the process, the girls have provided the emphasis and the passion for it,” Pickett said “I’ve not really found it a difficult thing to do, I don’t think I’ve had to push anything hard home to get it to happen. I think that’s the nature of the way these girls are.” Only one side from the six competing in Dubai can move on to the next round of qualifying, and Pickett’s side arguably play their two toughest games first – against Nepal, who are ranked 11 places higher at 14th in the world, and UAE (17). The remaining three games, against Kuwait (35), Malaysia (36) and Bhutan (43), should be easier affairs, but these are not normal times, and all the teams are entering the tournament at different stages of preparedness. Domestic helpers team SCC Divas win third straight Hong Kong league title Given that, aside from doing what any team does and aiming to win the whole thing, Pickett has deliberately not set the women any targets for what they want to achieve. “I think as a group they play much better when they are having fun, disciplined fun,” Pickett said. “We had a training session last week and the atmosphere was enjoyment, but serious about what they were doing, and that’s what I want to be happening on the pitch. “I’d rather they were making a mistake trying something, than stepping back because they were frightened of making an error because there was a target in mind.” Hong Kong: Kary Chan (Craigengower CC), Alison Siu (HKCC), Betty Chan (HKCC), Emma Lai (HKCC), Heiley Lui (Craigengower CC), Iqra Sahar (LSWCC), Lemon Cheung (HKCC), Maryam Bibi (LSWCC), Mariko Hill (HKCC), Natasha Miles, Ruchitha Venkatesh (HKCC), Shanzeen Shahzad (LSWCC), Tammy Chu (Craigengower CC), Yasmin Daswani (Spencer CC). Fixtures: (all games 1pm HK time unless stated), vs Nepal, November 22; vs UAE, Nov 23; vs Malaysia, Nov 25; vs Bhutan, Nov 26, 5.10pm; vs Kuwait, Nov 28, 5.10pm.