In Focus – Braidwood Cup : A landmark in Hong Kong cricket history

  In ‘A History of Craigengower Cricket Club 1894-2012’, readers are informed about William Drew Braidwood, the Scot headmaster of the Victoria English School who arrived in Hong Kong in the early 1890s.

  In 1894, after initially having to make do with a turfed piece of ground bordering an old cemetry, he selected an area in the northeast corner of Happy Valley – which consisted of large open spaces – for his new cricket club to encourage his students to play the game.

  Thus Braidwood was instrumental in the establishment of the Craigengower Cricket Club – Hong Kong’s second oldest cricket club. Craigengower was the name of the home he left in Scotland. Much more than a century later, Braidwood’s legacy is set to be honoured on a historic occassion for Hong Kong cricket.

  For the next few days till the end of the month, Hong Kong will play host to the visiting Scottish team in what has been christened as the Braidwood Cup. The series will follow a points system similar to the Women’s Ashes and will include the Intercontinental Cup fixture, two ODI matches as part of the World Cricket League and two T20 internationals.

  All five matches will be played at the Mission Road Ground in Mong Kok, a ground which Hong Kong aim at making their home of cricket. While the four-day match is classified as first-class, the opening ODI on January 26 will be the first ever ‘full’ international on Hong Kong soil.

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      Mission Road will become the first ground in Hong Kong to host an international match when the hosts take on Scotland (source – twitter.com/hkcricketassociation)

  The last couple of years point to the fact that Hong Kong have earned the right to belong to the top tier of Associate nations. They secured ODI status for four years when they finished fifth in the World Cup Qualifier in 2014, missing a berth in the premier tournament by a whisker.

  Much of their success has however come in the T20 format, where they have grown to be a productive unit. After having qualified for the 2014 World T20, Hong Kong repeated the feat for the 2016 edition as well. Wins over Bangladesh in 2014 and over Afghanistan in 2015 showed that they cannot be taken lightly.

  Hong Kong are currently placed fourth in the eight-team table of the Intercontinental Cup, behind Ireland, Netherlands and Afghanistan. After losing to Namibia in their opening game, they bounced back with a convincing win over UAE. Babar Hayat was the star of that match, top-scoring in both innings with 113 and 73 respectively.

  As far as the World Cricket League is concerned, Hong Kong are currently on top of the table due to a superior net run rate. While the series against Namibia was drawn 1-1, Hong Kong comfortably secured a 2-0 success against UAE, with the talented Mark Chapman scoring 124* on his ODI debut in the first game.

  Captain Tanvir Afzal himself played a remarkable role in the second game against UAE, first scoring a stunning 73 off 33 balls – studded with seven sixes – after coming in at 159/6, and then taking 3/31. The visiting Scots would do well to be wary of Chapman and Afzal, as both can be game-changers in any format.

  Scotland’s fortunes too have been on the up in the recent past, as they qualified for the 2015 World Cup by virtue of winning the qualifying tournament. In the tournament proper, they came within a wicket of recording their first World Cup win, against Afghanistan. After missing out on the 2014 World T20, they have ensured passage into this year’s edition.

  Led by Preston Mommsen, the Scots began their WCL campaign with twin wins over Nepal before both their matches against Netherlands were rained off. They have so far had a ordinary outing in the Intercontinental Cup, and sit seventh on the table after two games – a draw against Afghanistan and a defeat to Netherlands.

  The T20 games, though not part of any championship, also assume signifance as the World Twenty20 draws near. With international fixtures few and far between, both teams would be desperate to get a few wins under their belt.

25 July 2015; Hong Kong's Mark Chapman is bowled out by Scotland's Safyaan Sharif. ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2015 Semi-Final, Scotland v Hong Kong. Malahide, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / ICC / SPORTSFILE

         Hong Kong’s Mark Chapman is bowled by Scotland’s Safyaan Sharif during the ICC World T20 Qualifier semifinal at Malahide in 2015 (source – espncricinfo.com/icc)

  While the ICC continues to stifle the development of the game through various means, the Braidwood Cup comes as a breath of fresh air on the Associate scene. It is an apt tribute to the man who laid the foundation of cricket connections between the two countries and has the potential of evolving into an exciting rivalry.

  The Braidwood Cup is a step in the right direction for the Hong Kong cricket fraternity, as it strives to popularise the game among the locals. Tim Cutler, the dynamic Australian CEO of the Hong Kong Cricket Association, has been instrumental in preparing the Mission Road ground up to international standards.

  Cutler’s dedication, coupled with the team’s on-field returns, bodes well for Hong Kong’s cricketing future in spite of the hurdles. At a time when the Associate nations are all but shut out from qualifying for premier tournaments – what with the shambolic ten-team ‘World Cup’ and the false notion of a ’16-team’ World T20 – it becomes all the more important to instill belief among the populace.

  Until now, the ‘mainstream’ cricket fans have associated Hong Kong primarily with the popular Sixes tournament, the latest edition of which was in 2012. With the advent of the Braidwood Cup, the stage is set for the introduction of top-level action to cricket lovers in Hong Kong.

  More than half of the present squad have been born in Hong Kong or leant their cricket there. Furthermore, two local players – Mariko Hill and Ming Li – were called up by Australia’s Big Bash T20 League for trials last year. Recently, Hong Kong broke into the top twelve T20 nations in the world – higher than the likes of Zimbabwe and Ireland.

  It is disappointing that since earning ODI status two years ago, Hong Kong have not played a single ‘recognised’ international against a Test nation. There is a strong case for Hong Kong to be reincluded in the Asia Cup – they had last played in the tournament back in 2008. It is a no-brainer that a team can grow only by playing stronger teams on a regular basis.

  For now, it is a moment to celebrate as Mission Road readies itself for a path-breaking cricketing event. Here’s hoping that the Braidwood Cup paves the way towards a promising future for Hong Kong cricket.

Braidwood Cup fixtures:

ICC Intercontinental Cup third round – January 21-24

ICC World Cricket League first ODI – January 26

World Cricket League second ODI – January 28

First T20I – January 30

Second T20I – January 31

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