Cricket as an international game feels close to a tipping point. Even in England, where test match cricket regularly sells out stadiums, there is concern about waning interest in the game and its longest format. Ideas such as international league tables for test matches and even shorter matches of 100 deliveries are bandied about.
Emerging playing nations such as Ireland, Afghanistan and Nepal are providing some needed impetus to the international establishment in their respective quests to gain full time one day international and test match status.
Hong Kong are another of these nations making purposeful strides towards the top tier of international cricket. Their efforts are led by young players aged mostly around 24 or younger. 20 year-old wicket keeper- batsman Chris Carter is at the forefront and with his eclectic background and grasp of multiple disciplines outside cricket, he embodies Hong Kong’s unlikely but impressive and brave attempt to climb to the top of the cricketing world.
Carter was born to Zimbabwean parents who moved to Australia to advance their careers as pilots. He went to school in Perth until his parents were stationed in Hong Kong and Chris began splitting time between the two places.
Strangely enough, Chris’ prospects of playing international cricket only became tangible following a mistake with his university application. “Going to university was always the plan,” he said. “I had a place to study Economics and Management at King’s College in 2016, but made an error when filling out my student visa application and hence had my visa denied. This was a huge set back but it allowed me more time to focus on my cricket and enjoy playing for my country on a full-time basis.”
Ultimately, Chris’ goal outside of cricket is to become a pilot like his parents. “It’s always been a childhood dream of mine,” he said. “Thankfully Cathay Pacific has a very good cadet program, which I am in the process of trying to gain entry into. Everything happens for a reason, and I firmly believe that if I didn’t have the setbacks I’ve had in terms of university then I wouldn’t have had the wonderful experiences I’ve had over the last few years playing cricket.”
After putting his university studies on hold, Chris excelled for Kowloon Cricket Club in Hong Kong before making his debut for the national team in 2015 against the UAE. He competes with the veteran wicket keeper-batsman and former captain Jamie Atkinson for the first choice position.
I asked someone who has achieved so much at such a young age how he and other fellow internationals manage to separate themselves from the legion of talented amateur players and make the final step into elite level sport.
“I believe that making that final step up and succeeding is all based on your mental strength and mental toughness,” says Chris. “At the top level it is expected that everyone has a certain amount of ability and skill, but what will set you apart from others is your mental approach. How you deal with pressure and manage your own thoughts will ultimately separate you from the rest, and aid in you being able to perform at your best on a more consistent basis.”
As Hong Kong continue developing their domestic and national game there are plenty of challenges to overcome. “If I compare the game in Australia and Hong Kong there is obviously a lot more depth of talent in Australia,” says Chris. “It is very well funded, and hence strong development pathways are able to be built which in turn have been very successful in developing world class cricketers. Hong Kong has a much smaller playing pool (approximately 600) cricketers.”
The relative dearth of playing talent is matched by a similar shortage of facilities. “We currently have three turf cricket grounds, with a severe lack of practice wickets. Space is more often than not a luxury in Hong Kong, but hopefully with access to more grounds in the future, we will improve on both an International and domestic scale.”
However, the national team has managed to work within their limitations to the very edge of the upper echelon of cricketing nations. “Even from our small pool of players we have been able to develop some very good players. It goes to show that potentially with more funding, we as a country will continue to produce better and better players.”
“The association does very good work with the resources they have. If we progress along the same trajectory, which we have been on over the last few years, the world can expect to see a lot of young talent emanating from Hong Kong. In terms of the national team, all but 2 are under the age of 30, with the majority being around the 23/24 year old mark, so this young talent will hopefully continue to take Cricket Hong Kong to the world, if given opportunities to do so.”
Hong Kong have been an associate cricketing nation, the group of nations outside the elite, since 1969. The long journey to gaining full time One Day International status and subsequently a World Cup place reached a climax two months ago after three years of international fixtures with a deciding match between against Nepal. The winner would achieve a World Cup spot and the loser would not play another ODI for four years. Hong Kong did not make it.
It was a very bitter pill to swallow,” says Chris. “Having ODI status allows an associate nation like us to potentially compete against the best teams in the world, and now that we have lost it, we will be starved of this opportunity in 50 over cricket for the next World Cricket League cycle. We lost it on the premise of one poor tournament, instead of keeping it on the back of 3 years of solid performances.”
Despite the setback, Chris is optimistic about the future prospects of not only his team but the other emerging nations we have seen burst into the consciousness of the cricketing world in recent years. “Granting more teams ODI status will only help in growing the game. I really like what the ICC have done with regards to granting every T20 nation with ‘T20” status, and hopefully one day this manifests into 50 over cricket.”
“I think that we are already seeing how seriously emerging nations should be taken, primarily with the meteoric rise of Afghanistan. I remember watching a documentary on Afghanistan cricket and seeing the British ambassador laugh at the idea of the Afghan team playing test cricket – but here we are, a few weeks away from their test debut against arguably the best team in the world, India.
“I love a good underdog dog story, so am extremely happy for how our former associate brother Afghanistan is doing. In Hong Kong there is a strong belief that we can cause many upsets in the future, if given opportunities to do so. Yes we are coming off a very disappointing qualifiers campaign, but we are rebuilding and focusing on making ourselves a team that can compete against any team. We have upset test nations before, most notably Bangladesh in 2014, and have no doubts about our ability to do it again.”
“Nepal is also developing very nicely, and an added bonus for them is that they are a cricket mad country. They have the support of every citizen, and their passion will no doubt drive the national team on towards more greatness in the future. Both Nepal and ourselves have been successful in implementing global T20 leagues, which have attracted some of the biggest names in the game – but hopefully we will get more opportunities to play against world class nations and provide more upsets for the public to enjoy.”