The 2017 Hong Kong Blitz came to a close last weekend with Kowloon Cantons clinching the trophy with victory over City Kaitak in Mong Kok.
It brought to an end the week-long second edition of the tournament which was an undeniable success.
Crowds were strong at all matches, resulting in sell-outs at most games and the tournament exceeded all expectations with its digital footprint.
Cricket Hong Kong CEO Tim Cutler targeted one million viewers across the live streams of each game at the start of the competition but was rewarded with over three million across five days on its YouTube and highlight packages.
For Associate Cricket, that is a quite remarkable figure.
The presence of global stars such as Darren Sammy, Misbah-ul-Haq, Ian Bell and Chris Jordan was always going to elevate the status of the Hong Kong Blitz. It did that and then some.
It will also have a lasting impression on the domestic players of an emerging nation that will surely reap the benefits of its cricket board’s ambition.
By pushing the envelope and setting the bar high, Cricket Hong Kong gave its players the platform to star alongside these established, household names and even outperform them.
You need only look at Babar Hayat’s 76* in the final that saw him lift the trophy as Kowloon skipper for an example of how much the native players embraced the stage they were given.
The 121* from Nizakat Khan and 19-year-old Tanveer Ahmed ending up fifth highest wicket-taker further the evidence, Nadeem Ahmed and the uncapped Ashley Caddy also substantiating claims with their six wickets apiece in the tournament.
For any Associate Nation looking on, it was a clear example of the possibilities now open to them, just a year on from facing a rather bleak future in a world of reduced World Cups.
UAE cricket is no different and the Emirates Cricket Board will do well to seek out the advice of their counterparts to the East and look to the lessons they learnt from a breakthrough Blitz.
Here, the domestic scene is struggling and the immense potential of the country still untapped.
The facilities are unrivalled, the team a mixture of experience and raw talent just waiting for every ounce of its ability to be squeezed out of it.
But the days of foreign international imports, largely from Pakistan, coming to ply their trade here and strengthen the players around them are long gone.
Granted, it’s unlikely they would be able to pack the Dubai International Stadium with a UAE equivalent but held over the course of three or five days at somewhere more intimate like ICC Academy would engage an already active audience.
Next week the Emirates T20 tournament hopes to do just that at Sports City, when PSL teams Peshawar Zalmi and Lahore Qalandars are joined by English outfits Birmingham Bears and Lancashire Lightning, as well as an MCC Emerging England XI.
Unlike last year, it will not feature the UAE national side, but it will show just what is possible in terms of putting on these short, easily digestible competitions.
Such a tournament can be more easily contained and managed in once place, while the destination of both the Academy and the country highly attractive to cricketers.
Over 3 million viewers across 5 days of Hong Kong T20 Blitz - a great effort, and reminder of how T20 can drive cricket's growth— Tim (@timwig) March 12, 2017
Finding sponsors and securing finances to support the teams and bring players over would be more tricky but you can bet local businessman would be keen to get involved and lend their support for teams carrying their names.
Throw in the immense reach of digital media across live coverage of the games and on-site advertising, food and beverage and you get a feel for how it could work.
And if it benefits the national team, then surely any investment from the ECB would be well worth it, especially considering the team’s recent struggles.
It is not something to be thrown together on a whim but the Hong Kong Blitz, and even the Desert T20 held in the UAE, are examples of the interest that the game still garners outside of its major territories.
It is also hugely ambitious, but that ambition would be great to see from the ECB.
Running from February 12 to 16, children of all abilities can learn the basics or enhance their skills in the state-of-the-art indoor facilty at Dubai Sports City.
Budding Tendulkars as young as three can join the Cricket Cubs camp, allowing them to get a taste of what is required in playing cricket; hand-eye coordination, balance, agility and catching.
On top of that, those aged 7-12, can sign up for the Warriors programme, where they will learn specialist batting techniques, bowling skills, fielding as well as playing against their peers in fun and interactive games.
There will also be a special appearance from an international cricketer, who will be taking time out from his training schedule to meet the stars of tomorrow.
“Since launching our cricket programmes at the ICC Academy, they have been very successful,” said Will Kitchen, general manager at the ICC Academy. “The great thing about cricket is that it has so many different aspects, various kinds of bowlers, fielding positions, batting positions, game formats… there’s genuinely something for everyone.
“Our team of dedicated coaches will help develop those skills and teach players the fundamentals of the game which will be done in fun but interactive way.
“The children will love engaging in the variety of challenges that cricket has to offer and it’s a fantastic opportunity for them.”
The Cricket Cubs programme runs from 08:00 to 08:45, costing Dh500 for the full five days. The Warriors camp is from 09:00 to 12:00, and costs Dh500, including lunch. Given the volume of of international teams who visit the venue regularly, Kitchen insists there’s plenty of positives for those who sign up.
“There really is no other facility like ICC Academy in the world – the combination of our world-class facilities plus our expert coaches means the learning environment at ICC Academy is incomparable,” he added. “We want to make sure children this mid-term have fun but also stay active and this is a great way to learn new skills, meet new friends and have a great time.”
The Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) have yet to officially confirm the appointment with officials unavailable for comment but the former Warwickshire supremo was introduced to the UAE players ahead of their six-wicket victory over Hong Kong in Thursday’s ODI in Dubai.
According to sources, he will be offered a three-month deal which will see the 47-year-old, who left the English county in October after 27 years, in charge of their ICC Intercontinental Cup and World Cricket League encounters against Papua New Guinea in April.
Dougie, who played for England and Scotland during his 18-year career, will get a chance to see his new squad when they report back for training on February 6 after being given a week off.
For Mustafa, he is looking forward of developing his game with the former Namibia coach.
“I think he will be good for us to help us develop as a team,” said the 28-year-old all-rounder. “It’s quite hard to change the coaches all the time but he has played for England and Scotland and coached Warwickshire to success, so he has a lot of experience which he can pass on to us.”
Dougie will replace ex-England international Owais Shah, whose three-month deal expires on Tuesday having taken the helm since October as a caretaker.
In his short stint, Shah oversaw three wins in his 12 matches but the results was a far reflection from how he worked with the players.
“What I saw of him, he was always hard working,” said Mustafa. “He was very good and there was always energy in him which I believe was good for the team. He was a lot different to Aaqib Javed and constantly made his point known and I have to give credit to him.
“I believe I’ve improved a lot under him. He has taught me a lot of things and my performances were good under him.”
For Shah, who was given a farewell dinner on Wednesday with the UAE squad and ECB officials, was disappointed not to have his contract extended but “thoroughly enjoyed” his time.
“I have surprised myself how much I enjoyed it,” he said, who began his association with the ECB as a temporary batting consultant. “I loved working with the players and coaching team. There are certain fields where they need to make big strides in but I just tried to bring elements on what is required of being a professional cricketer through my own experiences.”
Getting better Mustafa believes the UAE are beginning to rediscover their form after their tri-nations victory over Hong Kong. During the win on Thursday, leg-spinner Imran Haider claimed another four-wicket haul as the Asian side were all out for 174 at the Dubai Stadium.
Shaiman Anwar smashed a half-century, while Mustafa (42) and Mohammed Qasim (41) also made valuable contributions.
“It was a very good win for us especially after beating Scotland on Tuesday,” he said. “I think this was an important result and it will give us momentum. Before the confidence was not there. Inshallah we will now start winning.
“If you want to win a match, you need to have four or five performing as a team. The Hong Kong game showed we can now win as a team.”