For many, the 2018 edition of the Asia Cup was going to be event played by six teams and contested by five. Not much was known about Hong Kong, a side which lacked the basic badge required to be called a 'competitor' - an ODI status.
Hence, lukewarm interest in their first game against Pakistan was very much on the expected lines. A comparatively unknown team can consider themselves successful if they put up a performance which has even the slightest tinge of a fight.
While that was missing against Pakistan, what fans witnessed in Hong Kong's match against mighty India was far more respectable than a mere 'fight'. It was a gutsy and flabbergasting show of unadulterated dexterity. The cricketing fraternity witnessed the grand unearthing of hidden talent.
The courageous boys in red almost handed India what could have been their worst humiliation of the century. Led by their gallant skipper Anshuman Rath, Hong Kong announced their arrival in International cricket in some style.
Sportskeeda caught up with Rath to talk about his career, experience of playing against the big teams and much more.
SK: Can you sum up your Asia Cup 2018 experience?
AR: It was a fantastic experience for the boys. After losing the ICC World Cup qualifiers, we needed to reassure ourselves that we can play at this level. It was really great to get to the Asia Cup group stages.
SK: At one stage of the game against India, Hong Kong looked set for a massive upset. Do you think your team should have won the game?
AR: Yes, absolutely. I think we should have won that game. We once got to a position from where we could have really finished it off. Unfortunately, I think lack of experience showed and we ended up losing the game. But that is something for us to learn from and take it to the next step. This is how we can go from winning positions to really finish the game off.
SK: Hong Kong's start of their Asia Cup campaign was not great, with a massive loss against Pakistan. How did your team make such a great comeback in a short span of time?
AR: After a loss against Pakistan, it was not easy to bounce back. It was quite a tough one, but in such a short tournament against such fine oppositions, you have to restart. Credit goes to the boys because they were really hungry and bounced back well. We knew that we can prove the world what we are capable of doing.
We believed that we should not be afraid and must go out there with a positive mindset, thinking about things in a positive way. Credit must also be given to the support staff.
SK: The newly introduced ICC World Cup format of 10 teams has received many criticisms. What are your views on this format?
AR: I think the 10-team ICC World Cup is unfortunate. If you look at the recent qualifiers, four out of six teams could have qualified from the Super Sixes round. Both Ireland and Scotland missed out narrowly and the United Arab Emirates beat Zimbabwe, all in the final round. So it is something that does need to be fixed.
I think every World Cup that happened since 2003, or maybe even 1999, an associate member has defeated a full member. So I hope ICC will change this format in the future. The standard of associate cricket has improved a lot in the last few years and Hong Kong going from losing ODI status to nearly rolling a team like India out just goes to show that with a little bit of backing, what teams like up are capable of doing.
SK: What is the road ahead for Hong Kong and what are their plans for progress?
AR: It is tough for us to get some stable progress going. Now that we have lost the ODI status, our future is uncertain. The ICC is probably having their quarterly meeting in the next few weeks to decide the future of associate cricket and we are unsure till then. We have a few tours here and there, but our next major campaign will be the ICC World T20 qualifiers that will take place in November 2019.
So it will be a rebuilding phase for us. I hope ICC throws us a bone and gives more associate members ODI status so that we can organize more tours because at the end of the day we are looking to play cricket and want to keep improving. If you look at Afghanistan, the way they have propelled in the last ten years is no joke. They have gone from ICC league division 14 to being amongst the top 10 teams in the world.
So there is talent in the associate members, but it is the question of having the right backing. Afghanistan had the right backing and other nations will also need backing to excel like them. Hong Kong also have come leaps and bounds since 2010 and hopefully, we can keep improving.
SK: Talking about your personal career, we understand that visa issues have cost you a place in Middlesex's first XI. Can you elaborate on this?
AR: The visa issue has unfortunately been bit of a problem for me. Growing up in England and playing in youth county cricket to second-team cricket for Middlesex, everything was gearing up towards me playing in England for a long term. But the situation, unfortunately, unfolded the way it did over the past year and a half.
The real scenario is that I cannot play because of the visa that I'm on. It is an immigration issue. Also, because I'm an associate player, I cannot play as an overseas player for a county. That's where the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) holds the ball in their court and I hope that rule changes in the future because I'd love to play county cricket. I was gearing up to having a career in England and even playing for them.
I cannot thank Middlesex enough for their support. They really tried hard to sign me and get me playing in England as a local player. I really hope the rule changes, not just for me but for all associate players.
SK: Your academics have taken a backseat because of your cricketing career. How are you looking to solve that issue and what are your personal plans for the future?
AR: Given how intense cricket has got for me in the last few months, it was a decision (to bring academics to a standstill for a time being) that wasn't taken lightly but it had to be taken. I am looking to play first-class cricket in some stable country. I'm currently weighing my options and India and New Zealand are two options that I'm currently looking at if the visa situation with England doesn't work out.
At the end of the day, I want to be in a stable system and if that is away from Hong Kong, so be it. But wherever I do end up, whether it is India, New Zealand or England, that is where I'll look to continue my education. I have finished one year of university and will look to continue my credits and finish off my degree.
SK: You spent quality time with the legendary Kumar Sangakkara at the Hong Kong T20 Blitz. How was your interaction with him and how big was his influence on him?
AR: Sangakkara was unbelievable. Just him being present in the dressing room was big enough. Even though I don't think he did as well in the first year as he did in the second year, just him being there is massive. The amount of experience that man has is second to none. You hear a lot of stories about him being nice on and off the field and I can confirm that.
He is an absolute champion who is always willing to help youngsters and guide them. He wants everyone to improve and that is absolute gold. We do keep in touch from time to time. I saw him recently in the Asia Cup where he was commentating. He is a fantastic person to have around and has helped me quite a bit in the way that I think about my game.