What UAE can learn from the Hong Kong Blitz

Barnaby Read 14:09 14/03/2017
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Darren Sammy was one of the foreign stars taking part in the Blitz.

    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.

    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.