The group stages of the World Cup T20 are over, and we have only three matches to find out the champions of the shortest format of the game. While four big teams are going to fight for the glory, it can never be denied that the tournament reached a new level because of the less-known associate members of the ICC.
This year, we have seen a lot of inspiring performances from players of the ICC associate members. Tanwir Afzal, the captain of the Hong Kong cricket team, is certainly one of them who showed great potentials to thrive well in the biggest stages. The all-rounder has opened up about different aspects in an exclusive interview with us.
Few people know that Tanwir Afzal played for the Pakistan Under 19 team, about eight years ago. While he had a golden chance to play for the Pakistan national team, he revealed his reasons for playing for Hong Kong. Afzal came to play overseas cricket in Hong Kong and was offered a permanent position right away. A man who loves to take challenges, he agreed and started working for a better future. And certainly he has been successful in his journey. This World Cup, Tanwir Afzal has picked up two wickets from three games at an astonishing economy of 6.37. Mainly a bowler, he also chipped in with valuable runs whenever the team needed. His unbeaten innings of 17-ball-31 almost took his team to victory against Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, Hong Kong failed to win the close encounters against Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Scotland. The skipper reckons that lack of experience cost them the matches. According to him, “We have been performing well for the last three-four years and have been improving a lot. We wanted to cause upsets, but in the end lack of experience took a toll. We are still somewhat satisfied with our efforts.”
In fact, Afzal pointed out that in four years, Hong Kong have moved from Division 5 to Division 1 and have gained the ODI status. They have played some memorable games and won against other associate members in recent past. Naturally, the captain is hopeful of a better future for the team.
Understandably, he wants ICC to organize more matches for the associate members. Should they get chances to play against the big teams, it would help them a lot to improve their games. “We seldom get a chance to play a bowler bowling at 145kph. If we get that chance time and again, we will be able to perform better. Players will be stronger and will learn to handle the pressure,” Tanwir Afzal said.
According to Afzal, the Hong Kong board are helping them in all means and are trying to promote cricket among the Chinese population too. The coaches, with a plethora of experiences, are also helping the players to be up to the standards. But, a problem is the dearth of a proper cricket stadium in the city. As of now, the national team practice on a club ground and that is much smaller than usual cricket grounds around the world. It would help them a lot if they could have a bigger stadium.
Also, the exposure and the media coverage the players get are not sufficient to inspire the youth or the common people to follow cricket. In a race with Rugby and Football, it would help hugely if some players could get chances to play in the T20 leagues of Bangladesh, India, Australia or Pakistan. The face of Hong Kong cricket also said that some players in the team are capable of playing in big leagues and “people would never realize they are from an associate country.”
Afzal also talked about Mark Chapman, who went to play in New Zealand and played some valiant knocks, including a 150+ innings. “Until more players get such chances, there is a problem. People will start to follow them if they can go to these countries. The other guys will also get confident,” he said.
Tanwir Afzal further pointed out the effect of such chances, “Sharing dressing rooms with players from big countries also help a lot. Mentality and the confidence change a lot. Any league from a full test nation will be extremely good for us.”
The Hong Kong captain also thought that the general Indian public was not so interested in the associated members’ matches. The scarcity of spectators in the qualifying matches was a proof. He thinks the Indian crowd was still engrossed in the Asia Cup victory and few actually knew that the World Cup matches were on. He said, “It was much better last time we played in Bangladesh. The coverage was more for the qualifiers. Media should write more about the associate members. School and college students should get some free tickets to watch these matches. All these will help promote cricket in our countries and will also give confidence to our players.”
However, he did not forget to thank the spectators who showed up in those matches. Afzal said that it was a huge encouragement for the players.
Finally, he talked about the current status of the World Cup. According to Tanwir Afzal, India are surely going to be in the final. But it will be an enthralling match to get the silverware. A captain himself, Afzal said that MS Dhoni is someone to learn a lot from. He said, “Dhoni’s attitude and calmness are brilliant. He has immense belief in his players. The confidence and belief he shows are awesome. The way Indian team showed their hunger and positive attitude – it is going to be extremely helpful for them.”
So far as his captaincy is considered, Afzal said that he is enjoying the moment. “Whichever team it is, the captain’s responsibilities are immense. It’s important to lead from the front. Sometimes there are limited resources for you, and you have to manage with that only. It’s definitely challenging, but when the players perform for you, it’s enjoyable too,” he added.
Hong Kong have certainly showed great characters in the qualifying rounds and are poised to perform better in the coming days. “Inshallah, hope everything will go well,” Tanwir Afzal signed off with a high hope for his country’s future in the international cricket circuit.
Wish you all the luck, Tanwir Afzal and the Hong Kong cricket team.