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HK T20 Blitz 2018 – Bigger and better?

Was the third edition of the event even bigger than the first two? An analysis.

Winners are Grinners: The champions Hung Hom JD Jaguars. Image: SCMP

The curtain came down on the third edition of the HK T20 Blitz with the Hung Hom JD Jaguars being crowned the new champions! In a pulsating final that was punctuated with some lusty hitting, The Jaguars pipped the Galaxy Gladiators Lantau by 6 runs to emerge victorious this past Sunday.

The high-octane final began with the Jaguars setting the pace, with Nizakat Khan launching an all out assault on the Gladiators’ bowlers, and keeping their foot on the pedal right through their innings, even though the Gladiators managed to pull things back towards the back end of the innings, ending with a challenging total of 200. Nizakat ended as the top-scorer with a swashbuckling 93.

In response the Gladiators began their run chase with a sedate if not scratchy start before their captain – the legendary Kumar Sangakkara found his timing to play a sublime innings, befitting of a final. He kept the Gladiators in the hunt in what appeared to be a one-man show, and as long as he was there, the men in blue and gold had a chance. He finally succumbed to his counterpart after a well made 76 to add to his previous match winning efforts of 94 not out and 92, in his last two innings. He made the tournament his own by ending up as the top run getter, with 311 runs and as the Player of the Tournament. It would have been a fitting end though, had he been able to pull it off in what surely was his last appearance in Hong Kong, at least as a player. Alas, it was not to be and even as the legend left the field to a standing ovation, the magenta-black brigade finally breathed a sigh of relief! They soon closed out the match with their own star player, the ever- popular West Indian Darren Sammy putting the final touches on proceedings.

Sri Lankan batting legend Kumar Sangakarra with The Man of the Series award. Courtesy: CricketCountry.com

But for all the thrills and spills that was the grand finale, how did this year’s tournament compare overall to previous editions? The inaugural event in 2016 was all but washed out with incessant rain lashing the city and rendering it a non-event and was thus not a fair indication of the potential the Blitz held for cricket and sports in this city. Last year’s tournament turned out to be a smashing success as Hong Kong for the first time got a taste of what a carnival atmosphere at a cricket event felt like. The people turned out in droves to support their favourite teams and partake in the entertainment. It was excitement all around and the stands were packed to the rafters over the weekend. It was a true measure of the potential of this tournament and what it could become in future years.

With the 2017 edition of the Blitz being termed a grand success all around the cricketing world, the expectations of this year’s tournament were sky-high. It had to bigger and better! With this year’s event grabbing more eyeballs, potentially 175 million of them – through television broadcasting- compared to 12 million last year and also with a surge in sponsors, it definitely was bigger!

But ‘better’? Well the empty stands over the weekend and the missing buzz that was evident this year seemed to have suggested otherwise. The ‘SOLD OUT’ sign that greeted last minute buyers the last time around was nowhere to be seen as there was an abundance of seats available over the weekend, including for the grand final. The crowd did pick up for the big showdown though and there was a sizeable audience to witness the crowning of new champions.

To be fair the franchise owners and Cricket Hong Kong did try to make it bigger and better by securing the signatures of current star players like Aussie big hitting sensation Chris Lynn and the Big Bash’s breakout star this season, the maverick all-rounder Joffrey Archer. But their no-show due to national duty and injury would have certainly dampened the spirits of the local fans. Added to that, the tournament this year being held within touching distance of the Chinese New Year holiday – which sees a huge exodus during this period – and a severe winter flu outbreak, would have certainly contributed to the decline in numbers at the ground. (A misfiring Dwayne Smith – who was responsible for a majority of the Sixers hit last year – and the early exit of his team – the ever- popular two-time defending champions Kowloon Cantons could have possibly been another reason.)

With T20 tournaments mushrooming all over the world – both in Full member and Associate nations- and with the ICC seeing it as a vehicle to increase the footprint of the game, the coming years will see calendars packed with such tournaments and Hong Kong will have to fight hard, to keep the beacon it lit so beautifully two summers ago, burning brightly. But from what we have seen this tournament grow into in the span of three short years, you can be rest assured that next year’s event will unequivocally be bigger and better!

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