Supporters of the likes of Virat Kohli and James Anderson can now follow homegrown players such as Nizakat Khan and Anshuman Rath
After Asia Cup, Hong Kong cricket fans can look up to their own stars
When Nizakat Khan returns to work in the coming days he might find the 9- and 10-year-olds he is coaching more attentive than usual.
Listen up, he might say, and I’ll show you how to how to lace a drive straight back past the leading wicket-taker in last year’s Indian Premier League. Or how to launch an 84-metre six.
“I love cricket,” said Nizakat, the star of Hong Kong’s heroic, though ultimately thwarted, run-chase against India on Tuesday night.
“I am helping youngsters, and I want to give my experience to them. This was a great experience for me, and now I am going to share with them how I played and prepared.
“I am sure they will be very proud of me, that I am their coach and have played against a top team in the world, and performed.”
As a paid employee of Hong Kong Cricket Club, when he is not representing the national team Nizakat coaches the country’s next generation of aspiring players, from Under 11 to U19 level.
The 26-year-old batsman was born in Pakistan, but went to live with his family in Hong Kong four months later. He learnt cricket there in childhood and, after a brief time back in Pakistan, returned to Hong Kong and forged a career in the game there, playing and coaching.
He acknowledges that most of the kids he coaches want to be like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, or Joe Root and James Anderson. Given the multicultural make-up of Hong Kong, it is perhaps understandable the youngsters want to copy the players most visible to them.
“Most of them follow the players of their country, so the Indians like the Indian players, the English follow the England players,” Nizakat said.
But after Tuesday night, they have a few more options for role models, too.
Instead they might now aspire to hit a square-drive as exquisitely as Anshuman Rath, the 20-year-old captain who gave up an economics degree to devote himself to an uncertain future in cricket. Or hit a straight-six as far as Babar Hayat, or reverse-sweep like Scott McKechnie.
Perhaps they might want to bowl like Ehsan Khan. His off-spin did, after all, account for the world’s No 2, 4 and 16 ranked batsmen during the Asia Cup. Oh, and MS Dhoni, too.
To say Hong Kong left an impression at the Asia Cup understates the point. Way off the pace in the opening, eight-wicket loss to Pakistan, they proved they are cricketers of substance in their narrow loss to India in Dubai. A precious win was beyond them, but respect was earned.
“When me and ’Kat were out there, I could tell the Indian players were getting anxious,” Rath said, having shared a 174-run opening stand with Nizakat.
“Shikhar-bhai [Dhawan] walked past and said to Dhoni, ‘280 might not be enough here, we should have scored 350.’
“They are heroes. The respect we have earned is commendable. But it is a bittersweet feeling. We should have finished that game.”
At one point in his innings of 92, Nizakat hit a six off Shardul Thakur into the stand at mid-wicket. Had he hit one a similar distance – 84m - in a domestic match at the Tin Kwong Road Recreation in Hong Kong, it would have endangered tennis players on neighbouring courts, or cars on the adjacent intersection.
“The ground sizes in Hong Kong are very small,” Nizakat said. “We are very lucky to get to play in tournaments like this and learn, against top sides in the world, on grounds this size.
"We know this is real cricket. We are young, still learning.”
The Cricket Pod, Episode 1: Listen to Anshuman Rath talk about Hong Kong's progress
Soon all this will be a hazy memory for the Hong Kong players. On the day of the Asia Cup final, September 28, they are due to set off to Papua New Guinea, for a set of bilateral matches.
Exposure there will be minuscule to what they were afforded in UAE, but Nizakat says they made the most of the window afforded to them at the Asia Cup.
“We chatted before about the fact this was a great opportunity for us to show to the world how good we are,” Nizakat said.
“We did really well in Malaysia to win the tournament [to qualify to play at the Asia Cup]. We have such talented players, but we are young. We are not that experienced but we are getting in to it.
“The chat was that we should enjoy the game and we have nothing to lose. We know they were a big team, but if we played to our potential we could win it. We showed the world we can beat any team.”
The Cricket Pod, Episode 2