In Focus – Braidwood Cup : A landmark in Hong Kong cricket history

  In ‘A History of Craigengower Cricket Club 1894-2012’, readers are informed about William Drew Braidwood, the Scot headmaster of the Victoria English School who arrived in Hong Kong in the early 1890s.

  In 1894, after initially having to make do with a turfed piece of ground bordering an old cemetry, he selected an area in the northeast corner of Happy Valley – which consisted of large open spaces – for his new cricket club to encourage his students to play the game.

  Thus Braidwood was instrumental in the establishment of the Craigengower Cricket Club – Hong Kong’s second oldest cricket club. Craigengower was the name of the home he left in Scotland. Much more than a century later, Braidwood’s legacy is set to be honoured on a historic occassion for Hong Kong cricket.

  For the next few days till the end of the month, Hong Kong will play host to the visiting Scottish team in what has been christened as the Braidwood Cup. The series will follow a points system similar to the Women’s Ashes and will include the Intercontinental Cup fixture, two ODI matches as part of the World Cricket League and two T20 internationals.

  All five matches will be played at the Mission Road Ground in Mong Kok, a ground which Hong Kong aim at making their home of cricket. While the four-day match is classified as first-class, the opening ODI on January 26 will be the first ever ‘full’ international on Hong Kong soil.

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      Mission Road will become the first ground in Hong Kong to host an international match when the hosts take on Scotland (source – twitter.com/hkcricketassociation)

  The last couple of years point to the fact that Hong Kong have earned the right to belong to the top tier of Associate nations. They secured ODI status for four years when they finished fifth in the World Cup Qualifier in 2014, missing a berth in the premier tournament by a whisker.

  Much of their success has however come in the T20 format, where they have grown to be a productive unit. After having qualified for the 2014 World T20, Hong Kong repeated the feat for the 2016 edition as well. Wins over Bangladesh in 2014 and over Afghanistan in 2015 showed that they cannot be taken lightly.

  Hong Kong are currently placed fourth in the eight-team table of the Intercontinental Cup, behind Ireland, Netherlands and Afghanistan. After losing to Namibia in their opening game, they bounced back with a convincing win over UAE. Babar Hayat was the star of that match, top-scoring in both innings with 113 and 73 respectively.

  As far as the World Cricket League is concerned, Hong Kong are currently on top of the table due to a superior net run rate. While the series against Namibia was drawn 1-1, Hong Kong comfortably secured a 2-0 success against UAE, with the talented Mark Chapman scoring 124* on his ODI debut in the first game.

  Captain Tanvir Afzal himself played a remarkable role in the second game against UAE, first scoring a stunning 73 off 33 balls – studded with seven sixes – after coming in at 159/6, and then taking 3/31. The visiting Scots would do well to be wary of Chapman and Afzal, as both can be game-changers in any format.

  Scotland’s fortunes too have been on the up in the recent past, as they qualified for the 2015 World Cup by virtue of winning the qualifying tournament. In the tournament proper, they came within a wicket of recording their first World Cup win, against Afghanistan. After missing out on the 2014 World T20, they have ensured passage into this year’s edition.

  Led by Preston Mommsen, the Scots began their WCL campaign with twin wins over Nepal before both their matches against Netherlands were rained off. They have so far had a ordinary outing in the Intercontinental Cup, and sit seventh on the table after two games – a draw against Afghanistan and a defeat to Netherlands.

  The T20 games, though not part of any championship, also assume signifance as the World Twenty20 draws near. With international fixtures few and far between, both teams would be desperate to get a few wins under their belt.

25 July 2015; Hong Kong's Mark Chapman is bowled out by Scotland's Safyaan Sharif. ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2015 Semi-Final, Scotland v Hong Kong. Malahide, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / ICC / SPORTSFILE

         Hong Kong’s Mark Chapman is bowled by Scotland’s Safyaan Sharif during the ICC World T20 Qualifier semifinal at Malahide in 2015 (source – espncricinfo.com/icc)

  While the ICC continues to stifle the development of the game through various means, the Braidwood Cup comes as a breath of fresh air on the Associate scene. It is an apt tribute to the man who laid the foundation of cricket connections between the two countries and has the potential of evolving into an exciting rivalry.

  The Braidwood Cup is a step in the right direction for the Hong Kong cricket fraternity, as it strives to popularise the game among the locals. Tim Cutler, the dynamic Australian CEO of the Hong Kong Cricket Association, has been instrumental in preparing the Mission Road ground up to international standards.

  Cutler’s dedication, coupled with the team’s on-field returns, bodes well for Hong Kong’s cricketing future in spite of the hurdles. At a time when the Associate nations are all but shut out from qualifying for premier tournaments – what with the shambolic ten-team ‘World Cup’ and the false notion of a ’16-team’ World T20 – it becomes all the more important to instill belief among the populace.

  Until now, the ‘mainstream’ cricket fans have associated Hong Kong primarily with the popular Sixes tournament, the latest edition of which was in 2012. With the advent of the Braidwood Cup, the stage is set for the introduction of top-level action to cricket lovers in Hong Kong.

  More than half of the present squad have been born in Hong Kong or leant their cricket there. Furthermore, two local players – Mariko Hill and Ming Li – were called up by Australia’s Big Bash T20 League for trials last year. Recently, Hong Kong broke into the top twelve T20 nations in the world – higher than the likes of Zimbabwe and Ireland.

  It is disappointing that since earning ODI status two years ago, Hong Kong have not played a single ‘recognised’ international against a Test nation. There is a strong case for Hong Kong to be reincluded in the Asia Cup – they had last played in the tournament back in 2008. It is a no-brainer that a team can grow only by playing stronger teams on a regular basis.

  For now, it is a moment to celebrate as Mission Road readies itself for a path-breaking cricketing event. Here’s hoping that the Braidwood Cup paves the way towards a promising future for Hong Kong cricket.

Braidwood Cup fixtures:

ICC Intercontinental Cup third round – January 21-24

ICC World Cricket League first ODI – January 26

World Cricket League second ODI – January 28

First T20I – January 30

Second T20I – January 31

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Review – 2015 Test cricket recap

  Even though 2015 was the year of the World Cup, there were quite a few moments from the longest format of the game to keep Test cricket aficionados engrossed. A total of 43 Tests were played in the year, of which 34 ended in a result. Of the 34 results, 22 were home wins.

Teams Overview

South Africa

  The long-standing Test champions saw the rest of the pack catch up with them after an uninspiring year. They began by completing an expected series win at home against the West Indies, but that was as good as it got. A rain-affected series in Bangladesh ended in a stalemate, but the Proteas were far from impressive.

  Their proud nine-year unbeaten overseas streak was finally broken in India, where they were thoroughly outplayed by the home side. Their worries compounded in the last week of the year as they hurtled to a home defeat in the Boxing Day Test against England.

Moment to remember – Hashim Amla and A.B de Villiers’ extraordinary blockathon against India at Delhi may not have averted a big defeat, but it re-emphasised the joys of defensive batting.

Moment to forget – Getting bowled out for a paltry 79 against India – their lowest total since readmission – in the first innings at Nagpur was a nightmarish effort, especially since they were 12/5 at one stage.

India

  India got a new captain in Virat Kohli at the start of the year, and his reign began with a hard-fought series defeat in Australia. A one-off Test in Bangladesh was rained off, but the team showed admirable resolve in overturning a 1-0 deficit to win the series in Sri Lanka – their first in the island nation in 22 years.

  India’s biggest challenge was their home series against South Africa, but in the end they triumphed in style, winning the inaugural Freedom Trophy in the process. This was India’s first series success against South Africa in eleven years.

Moment to remember – It had been four years since India won an overseas series. Inspired by Cheteshwar Pujara’s fine 145*, they scripted a much-needed success after winning the deciding Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo

Moment to forget – When India were embarrasingly bowled out for 112 while chasing 176 against Sri Lanka at Galle, it seemed that their overseas blues of recent years would continue in the subcontinent as well.

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      South Africa’s run of nine years without losing an overseas series was broken by India, who convincingly won the inaugural Freedom Trophy (source – sportskeeda.com)

Australia

  Australia also saw change in helm, as the retiring Michael Clarke made way for Steven Smith. The first half of the year saw them complete a home series win against India and then easily dispatch the West Indies away. Then came the Ashes, where a couple of horrendous batting displays neutralised a reasonable effort.

  They won more than one Test in a series in England for the first time since 2001, but it was not enough to retain the urn. At home, they flexed their muscles, first beating a spirited New Zealand outfit and then rounding off by overwhelming the Windies again.

Moment to remember – The first ever day/night Test, played at Adelaide, resulted in an exciting low scorer. Chasing a tricky 187 for victory, the hosts saw off New Zealand’s challenge with a three-wicket win.

Moment to forget – No prizes for guessing this one, surely. In one of their worst batting displays ever, the Baggy Greens collapsed to 60 all out – lasting just 18.3 overs – in the first innings of the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.

Pakistan

  All of Pakistan’s matches came in the subcontinent, and they made the most of it by notching three series wins. After defeating Bangladesh away, Pakistan secured a memorable win in Sri Lanka – an important result, since they had gone down tamely in the same country just a year ago.

  The visiting Englishmen were then put through a trial by spin in the UAE, and after a massive reprieve on the final day of the first Test, Misbah ul Haq’s men stretched their undefeated run at home to eight successive series.

Moment to remember – With the series against Sri Lanka tied at 1-1 and all to play for at Pallekele, Pakistan, guided by Younis Khan, remarkably chased down 377 on a fifth-day wicket rather comfortably, winning by seven wickets.

Moment to forget – The Abu Dhabi Test against England was meandering towards a draw when Pakistan imploded from 113/3 to 173 all out on the final day. It was only due to bad light that they averted defeat.

New Zealand

  Just as in 2014, the Black Caps continued to dish out vibrant performances. A stellar comeback at Wellington saw them beat Sri Lanka at the start of the year. They had a great opportunity to win the series in England, but had to settle for a draw after frittering away the advantage in the first Test.

  After a forgettable start to the series in Australia, New Zealand came back well and in spite of the defeat – their first series defeat in two years – they held their own. The year was capped by another home series sweep against Sri Lanka.

Moment to remember – New Zealand’s win at Headingley was their first in England in ten matches and 16 years. They prevailed by 199 runs in what was effectively a second-innings shootout.

Moment to forget – The Trans-Tasman Trophy started off on the wrong foot for the visitors, as their bowlers had no answer to the Australian top order on the first day at Brisbane which ultimately set the tone for the series.

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       History was created at the Adelaide Oval in November as Australia faced New Zealand in the first ever day/night Test match (source – skysports.com)

England

  England had mixed results, having played the most Tests among all teams (14). They looked good for success in the Caribbean until poor batting cost them the final Test and hence had to be content with a draw. Another drawn result followed, this time at home against New Zealand in a well-contested series.

  The showpiece event was the Ashes at home, and despite two heavy defeats, England came up trumps and wrested back the urn with a game to spare. However, their travails against spin resurfaced in the away loss to Pakistan. The year ended on a high, with a big win over South Africa in the first Test.

Moment to remember – Leading the series 2-1, England demolished Australia by an innings and 78 runs in the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge to regain the urn. Stuart Broad’s 8/15 left the visitors shellshocked on the first day itself.

Moment to forget – After having won the first Ashes Test at Cardiff, the tables turned at Lord’s as England were crushed by 405 runs. The bowlers managed only ten wickets in the match while the batsmen subsided to 103 in the second innings.

Sri Lanka

  Sri Lanka regressed after a promising 2014, with the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara further denting them. They squandered a chance of drawing in New Zealand after allowing the hosts to stage a comeback win early in the year.

  The home season was disappointing as the Lions suffered back-to-back defeats, first to Pakistan where they failed to defend 377 in the decider and then to India where they had taken the lead. The home win against the West Indies was expected, and in spite of a few promising individual displays, lost another series in New Zealand as the year finished.

Moment to remember – Riding on two stellar second-innings performances – Dinesh Chandimal’s 162* and Rangana Herath’s 7/48 – Sri Lanka overturned a 192-run deficit into a 63-run win against India at Galle.

Moment to forget – Leading by 55 on the first innings and with the situation demanding a sensible approach, Sri Lanka’s batting caved in terribly on the third day of the Hamilton Test. All ten wickets tumbled for 62 runs in just 13.5 overs.

West Indies

  Off-field controversies continued to stall the progress of the Windies, and it translated into their showings on the field. Young Jason Holder was thrust into the captaincy early in the year, replacing Denesh Ramdin. After going down in South Africa, the West Indies churned out a gritty effort to draw at home against England.

  But they were later swamped by the visiting Australians, followed by conscutive overseas defeats, first in Sri Lanka and then in Australia, the latter ensuring a two-decade long Frank Worrell Trophy drought for them.

Moment to remember – The Windies produced a rare performance to beat England by seven wickets at Bridgetown, thus drawing the series. Trailing by 68 in the first innings, the bowlers and batsmen combined well in the second dig to seal the win.

Moment to forget – Little was expected from them in the lead-up to the series in Australia, but the Windies’ defeat in the first Test at Hobart was painful. They crashed to defeat by an innings and 212 runs in under three days.

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      Kane Williamson celebrates his hundred at Lord’s. He had an outstanding year with the bat, scoring 1172 runs at 90.15 (source – radionz.co.nz)

Bangladesh

  Bangladesh played only at home and most of those games were hampered by rain, prompting many to question the scheduling logic. They began with a defeat to Pakistan, before struggling in a one-off drawn Test against India.

  Had it not been for the weather, they might have had given South Africa a lot more to think about, as they took a first-innings lead in the opening Test. A potentially interesting home series with Australia was nipped in the bud as the tourists pulled out due to security concerns. 

Moment to remember – Faced with a deficit of 296, Bangladesh piled up 555/6 to ensure a draw in the Chittagong Test against Pakistan, thanks to a 312-run opening stand between Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes.

Moment to forget – Less than a week later, Bangladesh went back to their old selves as Pakistan crushed them by 328 runs at Mirpur. The bowling was listless and the batting crumbled without much resistance.

Test match of the year

  History was created at the Adelaide Oval as Australia took on New Zealand in the first ever day/night Test match. It was the third Test of the Trans-Tasman Trophy and produced a low-scoring three-day affair. Australia eventually prevailed by three wickets under lights.

  Although the pink ball was not completely convincing – there was extra grass left on the pitch so that the ball did not get damaged – the experiment was certainly a success as seen by the crowd turnout. Australia are already planning for another day/night Test in 2016.

Test series of the year

  England and New Zealand played out a highly entertaining two-match series, and the end result of 1-1 was probably a fair reflection. Test cricket lovers were left wanting for more – surely a deciding Test would have been a mouthwatering prospect. 

  England came back from behind to win by 124 runs at Lord’s, while New Zealand turned around a seemingly tight second Test at Headingley their way, triumphing by 199 runs. Alastair Cook (309 runs) and Trent Boult (13 wickets) were the players of the series.

Test cricketer of the year

  New Zealand’s batting phenomenon Kane Williamson was in astounding form throughout the year. His Test numbers were 1172 runs in 16 innings from eight matches at a Bradmanesque average of 90.15. He was the fifth highest run-getter – but all the four above him played at least five matches more.

  His run tally and five centuries were both New Zealand records for any calendar year. Starting off with a career-best 242* against Sri Lanka at Wellington, he continued in the same vein as the year progressed, cracking hundreds at Lord’s, Brisbane, Perth and finally another against Sri Lanka, at Hamilton.

The Cricket Cauldron Test Team of the Year

  David Warner (Australia), Alastair Cook (England), Kane Williamson (New Zealand), Steve Smith (Australia), Joe Root (England), Dinesh Chandimal (Sri Lanka), Ravichandran Ashwin (India), Stuart Broad (England), Josh Hazlewood (Australia), James Anderson (England), Yasir Shah (Pakistan).

  Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year.