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United colours of Hong Kong in this bunch of committed amateur cricketers

cricket Updated: Jan 17, 2010 00:23 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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If cricket, as a sport, was big enough in Hong Kong to attract sponsors, clothing manufacturer Benetton would have stepped up in a jiffy.

Anyone who has seen the united colours advertising campaign would feel an unmistakeable sense of deja vu watching the men from this Chinese outpost. Skipper James Atkinson is of English origin, and has played for a Durham development team.

Mark Chapman, the cherubic 15-year-old who bats at No. 6, has Kiwi roots. Medium-pacer Alex Tucker was born in Melbourne and his father and uncle have more than 100 first-class matches in the Sheffield Shield under their belts. Nizakat Khan, the son of a retired police officer, leads a Pakistani contingent of seven and Ashish Gadhia, one of four Indians in the mix, was only born in Hong Kong because his father moved there after climbing to the top of a shipping firm.

Just to keep the multinational theme going, former Sri Lankan tearaway Rumesh Ratnayake is overseeing the team's Christchurch sojourn, the venue of his 1983 debut. In only his second Test, Ratnayake famously broke John Wright’s nose with a sharp bouncer, and promptly fainted at the sight of blood. Then, as now, Ratnayake defies the stereotype of the big, strong, brainless fast bowler.

“In Hong Kong, you pick the squad of 15 from a realistic pool of about 18 players. In a country like Sri Lanka, where the process of planning for a world cup starts 18 months in advance, you could go through 800 boys before picking 15,” he said.

Hong Kong boasts of two turf wickets and only 450 registered club cricketers. “These are all boys who have come to Hong Kong for different reasons. They all have jobs, and sometimes when practice clashes with work, they have to make tough choices."

For Nizakat Khan, whose 65 powered Hong Kong to 185 against England on Saturday, it’s been a long journey from Attock in Pakistan, where he played tape-ball cricket, to the World Cup. Even with three sisters back in Pakistan, Nizakhat is clear about how he’d feel playing against his home country. “Woh abhi hamare dushman hi hain,” he says, without malice.

While English is the team’s official language, in an effort to be inclusive, Hindi and Urdu are never far away. “Peechche jao,” skipper Atkinson says when he wants his mid-off deeper. Ashish Gadhia, who left Nagpur when he was nine, primarily played badminton. Exorbitant court fees in Hong Kong prompted his parents to nudge him towards cricket. Gadhia was part of the Hong Kong senior squad that played in the Asia Cup in Pakistan in 2008.

“A friend knew Irfan Pathan so we went to the Indian dressing-room after the match and took photos with Sehwag, Dhoni, Yuvraj and all the players,” said Gadhia.

For a team of amateurs, who sacrifice a lot to play cricket, knowing that the game is not a path to fame or riches, this is an oddly committed bunch.