The event that spurred the meteoric rise of Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane, the Hong Kong T20 Blitz, is to be cancelled, Emerging Cricket understands.
Less than a week after the administration announced former Ireland skipper and NSW coach Trent Johnston will oversee the men’s national team from next month, various interested parties including some players have been informed that the Blitz – the “crown jewel” of cricket in Hong Kong – has been scrapped.
A lack of sponsorship interest, difficulty in accessing government funds for major events, and the recent results of the men’s national team which has resulted in at least half a million dollars less in ICC funding, have all been cited as reasons behind the decision to cancel the event, which held its third edition in February 2018.
“If the news of cancellation is true Cricket Hong Kong officials have had no courtesy in discussing the same with the owners and they have taken this decision unilaterally. Very very disappointed”Sushil Kumar, owner of Hong Kong T20 Blitz Franchise City Kaitak
Cricket Hong Kong will now reportedly concentrate its efforts on securing sponsors for the HK World Sixes, which according to advertisements seen at Hong Kong International Airport is scheduled for the first three days of November. Three weeks later, the city will host the first round of the new ICC CWC Challenge League, from 25 November – 10 December.
In September last year, Cricket Hong Kong announced that the Blitz – which had been earmarked to be held later that year – was to be postponed to Oct/Nov 2019 and combined with the recently relaunched Sixes, turning the tournament into a “unique multi-day festival of cricket” according to CHK Board Director Jonathan Cummings.
The plan was to hold the Sixes over the first weekend with community programs and junior tournaments following on the Monday and Tuesday, culminating in a five day Blitz finishing the next Sunday.
After a net loss of USD1.6m reported in their last financial statements (PDF link), this will put the administration under considerable financial pressure considering both events’ critical importance in allowing the wholly-owned events subsidiary China Cricket International Limited to repay its $1.66m in debt to Cricket Hong Kong, being the losses recorded across the 2018 events ($1.32m) and costs incurred in 2013 & 2014 ($0.34m) in attempting to resurrect the Sixes.
EC spoke to three of the five Blitz franchises, all of whom had not been informed or were even aware such a decision was being considered.
“If the news is true, let me tell you that as a Blitz owner it is terribly disappointing” said Sushil Kumar, one of the owners of 2017 finalist City Kaitak and whose City Sports now also owns St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League.
The BLITZ’S INAUGURAL three day, four-team affair was heavily affected by monsoonal-like weather conditions. It did, however, bring together MICHAEL Clarke and Sandeep Lamichhane, the 15-year old NEPALESE leg spinner.
“Having heard a thing”, said another franchise representative.
“The most disappointing part is the eerie silence CHK and (Director) Mr. Cummings in particular has maintained over the status of the Blitz and not responding to a number of emails from the owners seeking clarity on the same”, Kumar continued.
“The Owners had invested some serious money (estimated to be around USD175,000 per team per event) into this and had brought the Blitz to Internationally acceptable standards with almost 25 international players in (each of) the last two editions. Broadcast and viewership also saw wonderful growth.
“If the news of cancellation is true Cricket Hong Kong officials have had no courtesy in discussing the same with the owners and they have taken this decision unilaterally. Very very disappointed” he concluded.
An event that made global headlines and unearthed a young superstar
The Blitz made global headlines in its inaugural season in 2016 when former Australian captain Michael Clarke signed for the Kowloon Cantons. The three day, four-team affair was heavily affected by monsoonal-like weather conditions. It did, however, bring together Clarke and Sandeep Lamichhane, the 15-year old legspinner having been scouted by Hong Kong wicketkeeper and Kowloon Cantons’ captain Scott McKechnie during an MCC tour to Nepal.
The HK T20 Blitz had even inspired a Premiership-winning Big Bash League General Manager and Cricket NSW’s CEO to propose Hong Kong as a W/BBL overseas expansion target.
The rest of the Sandeep story is well known now; after the 2016 Blitz, Clarke invited him to Australia to play, and from the turf of Clarke’s Sydney Grade Club’s ground, the young leg spinner gave an interview where he said his ultimate dream was to play in the Australian Big Bash League. This drew a few giggles from the media pack. Last year he reached his dream, but not before playing in both the Indian and Caribbean Premier Leagues among over 10 other franchise T20 events in the meantime, becoming one of the world’s most travelled T20 stars.
Lamichhane did this all while not compromising his availability for any of Nepal’s crucial international matches, and his performances led the fledgling cricketing nation to the world cup qualifiers, where it gained ODI status for the first time.
2017 saw the Blitz expand to a five-day, five-team tournament – attracting an abundance of global stars. Kumar Sangakkara, Darren Sammy, Misbah ul Haq and Ian Bell were among the players to turn out for the franchises including Hong Kong Island United, started by the HK-based Ali & Amna Naqvi, who also own Pakistan Super League champions Islamabad United. Hong Kong’s Babar Hayat outshone the international talent to win the player of the match award in the final, as he led the Kowloon Cantons to their second tournament triumph.
A larger investment in production had the 2018 Blitz on televisions across the world, including on Fox Sports in Australia, D-Sport in India and OSN across the Middle East. The potential audience approached 200 million, and these additional costs were not able to be recovered during the first year of a full broadcast-level production. The move to relaunch the HK Sixes the same year also included high production costs – despite only being streamed – and decisions such as those to fly the MCC (the only non-international team competing) over in business class, when all other teams were offered either economy or premium tickets, only added to the event’s financial challenges.
Cricket Hong Kong was also approached for comment and we will report more as it comes to hand.