'We are not here on holidays'

Published: Sunday, June 22, 2008, 13:46 [IST]
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Karachi: Minnows Hong Kong know they have little hope of beating their opponents -- India and Pakistan -- in the Asia Cup starting here Tuesday, but they are still delighted to be at the event.

For them the six-nation tournament provides welcome exposure and experience to prepare players to win future competitions more suited to their standard.

Cricket is a long-established game in Hong Kong, which first staged an international match in 1866, but the former British-ruled city has never troubled the sport's top table.

Hong Kong coach Aftab Habib admits they are up against the odds.

"We are a very small team but this Asia Cup gives us an opportunity to know where we stand against bigger teams and it is a huge stepping stone for us," said Habib, a former England Test player.

Habib, who took over as coach 10 months ago, hopes his team would learn from the experience.

"I am honoured to be associated with Hong Kong cricket and by now have got to know the boys well and the goal for me is to take them further," said Aftab.

Like most of the Hong Kong players, Habib has roots in Pakistan, where some of his family still live.

Captain Tabarak Dar was born in Mirpur, Pakistani Kashmir, and is excited to play in Pakistan.

"Pakistan has a great cricketing culture and it's exciting to play here," said Dar, who hopes his team is not labelled as "cricketers on holidays."

"We are not here on holidays, we want to give a serious competition to the stronger teams like Pakistan and India and we are capable of doing that," said Dar.

For Dar the Asia Cup will serve as practice for the ACC (Asian Cricket Council) Trophy to be held in Malaysia from July 25.

"Straight after the Asia Cup we have the ACC Trophy, so we are looking at it as an opportunity to play against bigger Test nations and show the world where we stand here and then in the ACC Trophy," said Dar.

Hong Kong were beaten by both Pakistan and Bangladesh to bow out of the Asia Cup held in Sri Lanka in 2004.

This time around they have a youthful side.

"We lack a little bit in experience but we have some very exciting players. Butt Hussain and Afzaal Haider have done well, Irfan Ahmed and Nadeem Ahmed both are brothers, Nadeem was 15 in 2004 and he is playing for five years and is a quality bowler," said Dar.

Dar hopes people in Hong Kong will follow cricket more if the team attains good results at Asian level.

"Football remains the top game in Hong Kong but cricket is taking roots. People now have opportunity to watch cricket on television and this interest will grow in coming years."

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