|HK cricket yearns for attention in horse racing mad city
Hong Kong's cricketers made history by qualifying for next year's World Twenty20 tournament in Bangladesh, but when the news reached the city's Chinese population, it was greeted with a collective shrug.
Meanwhile, there are concerns over violence in turmoil-ridden Bangladesh, where the tournament is played. The West Indies recently pulled out after a bomb exploded, AFP reports.
Hong Kong placed sixth out of 16 teams at recent qualifiers in the United Araba Emirates, ensuring the former colony will be represented at a major international cricket tournament for the first time.
But all-rounder Roy Lamsam, the squad's only current player of Chinese origin, says reaction in Hong Kong has been muted.
“Obviously, Hong Kong's made history. But I don't think we got the recognition that we deserved. I don't know whether Hong Kongers are really happy or overjoyed at that,'' he told AFP.
The 33-year-old, who made his debut for the side in 1996 after making his way up through an all-Chinese school team, said the sport still struggles to make headway.
The biggest game in town is horse racing where billions are wagered.
Cricket was brought to Hong Kong when the British colonised the island in 1841.
Samson Lam, a 33-year-old league cricketer who took up the sport three years ago and now plays in an all-Chinese team, blames a lack of local media interest but hopes Hong Kong's recent success can change that.
“Cricket is the best sport of Hong Kong and being able to make a World Cup final is something unique,'' said Lam.
“Hopefully [qualifying] would attract more Chinese. The problem from what I see is there isn't enough coverage.
“Two days after Hong Kong qualified, we started seeing some news in local newspapers – two or three sentences max. It's not enough to get local people to understand it.''
The team is led by Jamie Atkinson, a former Durham University player who finished the qualifier tournament in UAE with 241 runs at a strong average of 30.12, while slow left-armer Munir Dar's 17 wickets at 13.05 apiece placed him second on the leading bowlers' list.
Rather than Chinese players, the squad is made up mainly of South Asians like 23-year-old vice-captain Waqas Barkat, a hard-hitting middle order batsman.
Barkat, the son of Pakistani immigrants who is fluent in Cantonese, is optimistic about the team's trajectory given the relative youth of its core players.
“In the coming four to five years Hong Kong is going to go big. Our age average is 22 or 23. In the next five years guys are going to be very senior and will have more experience playing this group,'' he says.