Hong Kong’s cricketers made history by qualifying for next year’s World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, but when the news reached the city’s Chinese population, it was greeted with a collective shrug.
The former British colony placed sixth out of 16 teams at recent qualifiers in the UAE, ensuring the city will be represented at a major international cricket tournament for the first time. It is a major leap forward for a territory that has been playing international cricket since 1866.
However, 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 said.
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 in a city where field space is hard to come by and soccer and basketball are far more popular.
Cricket was brought to Hong Kong when the British colonized it in 1841. Once played in predominantly white clubs, it grew to depend on short-term, mainly Western expatriates passing through on work contracts.
That situation has changed over the past decade with the requirements that nearly all players be permanent residents or nationals, ending the cyclical nature of the squad and placing the team on firmer ground.
“We’ve reached a stage where people can’t pretend we’re not there. They have to take us seriously,” said chairman Mike Walsh, who oversaw the team’s transition from amateur to professional in April this year.
Today, Hong Kong receives generous government and International Cricket Council funding that pays for top-class facilities including ball-tracking technology Hawk Eye, outreach programs into 50 schools and weekend leagues involving roughly 500 players.
However, it remains difficult for cricket to gain traction in the Chinese community, Hong Kong’s dominant ethnic group.