In­side ‘cut-throat world’ of game’s min­nows

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Elite cricket is a tough game but spare a thought for the sport’s min­nows, who have to con­tend with makeshift fa­cil­i­ties, scant fund­ing and the chronic threat of fi­nan­cial ruin. At a small ground in the heart of bustling Hong Kong, the sooth­ing sight of an af­ter­noon’s play belies the very real risks fac­ing cricket’s associate, or sec­ond-tier, na­tions.

Hong Kong have risen as high as 10th in the world in Twenty20 cricket and in 2014 they beat hosts Bangladesh in front of a stunned Chit­tagong Sta­dium at the World T20. Yet just a cou­ple of un­timely de­feats could cost them hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil fund­ing, set­ting them back years. Tim Cut­ler, Cricket Hong Kong’s 34-year-old CEO from Aus­tralia, is painfully aware that a run of poor form by the na­tional team could mean the end of his job. “It’s such a cut-throat world, associate cricket,” Cut­ler said, as Hong Kong played Pa­pua New Guinea ear­lier this month. “There’s huge pres­sure on games of cricket.”

Hong Kong play in the tier be­low the Test na­tions, but rel­e­ga­tion to the next di­vi­sion could cost $750,000 in fund­ing, plus other sup­port for tours and train­ing, Cut­ler said.

It gives games be­tween associate na­tions an edge not found at Test level, with a team’s future and the liveli­hoods of play­ers and of­fi­cials sometimes at stake.

Kenya, Canada, the Nether­lands and Ber­muda have all felt the pain of re­duced cir­cum­stances af­ter los­ing their ODI sta­tus and find­ing them­selves un­able to win it back.

‘TOUGH OLD WORLD’

“If you drop the ball, you can see the ef­fect it’s had on teams like Canada and Kenya, Ber­muda as well,” Cut­ler said.

“So it’s a tough old world, associate cricket. I know if we don’t stay up in the World Cricket League then my job’s in jeop­ardy as well... there’s a lot of fund­ing linked to some sin­gle, tough, on-field tar­gets. “Sport’s a game, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Gen­er­ally busi­ness (is)... very rarely linked in­trin­si­cally to sometimes sin­gle re­sults.”

Hong Kong’s bat­tle to sur­vive and thrive is not helped by the scarcity of cricket grounds in a densely pop­u­lated city with some of the world’s high­est prop­erty prices.

Their three-match se­ries against Pa­pua New Guinea was played at Mis­sion Road, close to the heart of the teem­ing Mong Kok district and skirted by a high-rise apart­ment block. The for­mer Bri­tish colony’s crick­eters of­ten play on cramped fields be­long­ing to schools and the police force, where they use ar­ti­fi­cial or roll-out wick­ets.

“Some of those grounds we can only play from one end, just be­cause of how small the grounds are,” Cut­ler said. Cricket Hong Kong re­cently took over the lease at a for­mer land­fill site at Gin Drinkers Bay, whose Can­tonese name trans­lates as “Rub­bish Bay”.

“It’s an ex-land­fill so it will be quite con­vex. So we won’t be play­ing high-class cricket on there,” dead-panned the CEO.

Such con­di­tions pose prob­lems when Hong Kong play abroad: not used to big­ger fields, their bats­men have to hit harder than usual to reach the bound­ary. “It sometimes does play on our minds with the small bound­aries, es­pe­cially when we play in­ter­na­tional games with the bound­aries being much big­ger,” said Hong Kong bats­man An­shu­man Rath. “We tend to get away with it here be­cause of the small bound­ary... just 45 me­tres (49 yards), hit­ting sixes all day long.”

Low wages can also make play­ers vul­ner­a­ble, as seen when Hong Kong all-rounder Ir­fan Ahmed was banned for 30 months this year for fail­ing to report match-fix­ing ap­proaches. Cut­ler, who was ap­pointed last year, is work­ing to es­tab­lish new rev­enue streams with tour­na­ments such as the Hong Kong Sixes or the T20 Blitz, which fea­tured exAus­tralia cap­tain Michael Clarke in its in­au­gu­ral edi­tion in May.

Even as those tour­na­ments take root, with the hugely suc­cess­ful Hong Kong Sevens rugby tour­na­ment as their model, Cut­ler says he wishes cricket had more gov­ern­ment sup­port in semi-au­ton­mous Hong Kong, a Chi­nese “Special Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion” of seven mil­lion peo­ple. “We have a Hong Kong side that’s per­form­ing at the high­est level. We’re ranked 14th in the world in one-day cricket, we’ve been ranked as high as 10 in T20 cricket,” he said.

“It’s some­thing for Hong Kong to be proud of, and we should cel­e­brate it.” At least Cricket Hong Kong isn’t hav­ing to pay for any smashed win­dows.

At the Mis­sion Road ground, the apart­ment block flank­ing the bound­ary has so far re­mained un­scathed. “I don’t think any­one can hit it that far,” said Rath. — AFP

MOHALI: In­dia’s Parthiv Pa­tel plays a shot for a bound­ary on the fourth day of the third cricket Test match against Eng­land, in Mohali, In­dia, yes­ter­day. — AP

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