Thursday, February 2, 2023

CHK: The Impact of the Gencor Women’s Premier League

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The domestic women’s game in Hong Kong keeps going from strength to strength. Along with expanding its pool of female athletes, Cricket Hong Kong has implemented a more robust and tiered domestic structure. The aim of this is to provide young cricketers with the opportunities they need to grow and to give them an intuitive pathway to the national team.

“In the past, maybe two or three years ago, a new player would play schools cricket, she would do reasonably well and suddenly she’d be in club cricket where there was no Division 1 or Division 2,” says Ravi Nagdev, Head of Operations at Cricket Hong Kong.

“And then Mariko would be bowling to her, which was neither fair nor enjoyable,” he continued.

The All Stars League and the new look Gencor Women’s Premier League — which concluded in mid-October with Diasqua Little Sai Wan defeating Hong Kong Cricket Club by 6 wickets in the final — complement the two-division structure that Nagdev is alluding to. As a player, if you perform well in junior cricket and the development league, you can take the step up to divisional cricket.

Do well in the divisional set up, and you can take another step up to the Premier League, where the best of Hong Kong’s talent is concentrated into five teams. If you take wickets or score runs in the Premier League, you could get picked to play in the two-team ‘Best versus Best’ All Stars League.

Grab your chances in the All Stars League and you could receive a national call up.

“This gives girls playing junior cricket at their clubs levels of aspiration to come up the ranks,” says Nagdev.

Adding to the prestige of appearing in the Gencor Women’s Premier League is the fact that every game this season was played on turf wickets and live-streamed using multiple cameras, often with a professional broadcaster behind the mic.

In terms of the on-field action, champions DLSW and runners-up HKCC led the way.

What DLSW did right

You don’t need rocket science to understand why DLSW won the Premier League. Their batters scored more runs than anyone else and their bowlers took more wickets than any other team.

The top three run-scorers during the Premier League — Iqra Sahar, Maryam Bibi, and skipper Shanzeen Shahzad — were all DLSW players. Iqra Sahar starred with 228 runs, including a scintillating century against USRC-Lantau-Lionesses and a half-century against KCC.

Shanzeen Shahzad overall strike rate of 131 was comfortably the highest of anyone to have batted in at least two innings during the tournament.

Maryam Bibi scored 119 runs, which included a composed 55 (48) against Craigengower CC, and backed this up with figures of 4-15 in the same game. Bibi’s spell, which saw her take four wickets in the powerplay, was arguably the best individual bowling performance of the tournament.

With 8 scalps throughout the Premier League, she finished as the joint-top wicket-taker along with teammate and off-spinner Jaswinder Kaur. Conceding just three runs per over, Bibi was the most economical of all bowlers to have bowled in at least two innings.

Right-arm seamer Pushti Lakhani was the top wicket-taker in Division One of the T20 League and followed this up with 6 wickets to finish third on the Premier League charts. As a pathway player, Lakhani has been earmarked as one for the future. She will play for the Bauhinia stars in the 40-Over All Stars game that takes place on Sunday 4th December.

HKCC fall just short

Along with DLSW, HKCC was the best bowling team in the tournament. It’s a big reason why they were undefeated in the group stages.

In a de facto semi-final that would decide who would join DLSW in the final, Craigengower CC needed 21 off 24 balls to win. However, HKCC skipper Alison Siu made great use of her bowlers, who kept their cool to deliver a tense 10-run victory.

Tammy Chu picked up the wicket of Amy Lai, conceding just 3 runs. Ruchi Venkatesh then bowled five consecutive dots in an over that only went for one. With 17 needed off 2 overs, captain Siu and veteran Betty Chan closed out the game.

Teenagers Mya Gardner and Georgina Bradley also bowled tightly throughout the WPL. Bradley, of course, recently made her T20I debut against Japan at the East Asia Cup. Gardner is yet another pathway player who will have a chance to impress in the All Stars games. In a clip that did the rounds on social media, Gardner bowled Keenu Gill with a hooping inswinger on the opening day of fixtures.

With the bat, Emma Lai’s 47 in a potentially tricky chase of 104 against DLSW was their standout performance of the tournament. Against KCC, Lemon Cheung peppered the leg side for a gutsy 31*, which propelled HKCC from 57/5 to a winning score of 122.

Ultimately, however, HKCC’s batters couldn’t match the firepower or big scores of DLSW’s top order.

And that’s why they finished second.

Craigengower CC narrowly miss out on the final

With the absence of Kary Chan in three out of their four fixtures and Pull To in their final fixture, CCC’s batting line-up fell just short at crucial phases of the tournament, most notably in an unsuccessful chase of HKCC’s 108.

In the same match, they conceded 18 runs in extras compared to HKCC’s 8, which was a decisive factor in their 10-run loss.

On a positive note, left-handed Amanda Cheung played what was probably CCC’s best innings of the tournament, striking 48 off 42 to help her side chase down a target of 100 with more than six overs to spare.

It will be interesting to see if Cheung can convert this promise into big scores in All Stars fixtures. Highly regarded teenage seamer Karen Poon will have a chance to make up for a quiet and wicketless Premier League campaign when she turns out for the Jade Jets on Sunday.

Connie Wong leads the way, but KCC finish fourth

Simply put, this wasn’t KCC’s season. Their bowling wasn’t disciplined enough and their batters struggled for momentum as they recorded just a solitary victory against the USRC-Lantau-Lionesses.

To her credit, Skipper Connie Wong was a calming presence in the middle order. She struck 98 runs in four innings without ever being dismissed.

Although Keenu Gill could not convert promising starts into big scores, she was a constant threat with the new ball.

After a shaky first three overs against HKCC, Sabar Gul hit back with an inswinger to bowl Ramona Soares, and kept improving throughout the tournament.

Often defending small totals, Maheen Haider bowled just 11 overs across her four games, taking three wickets. However, the Hong Kong hopeful will have a chance to get more overs under her belt in Sunday’s 40-Over contest against the Jade Jets.

Spirited USRC-Lantau-Lionesses finish in style

Finishing at the bottom of the ladder was a combined XI of players from USRC, Lantau CC and Sri Lankans Cricket Club Lionesses.

Yet, what’s important to remember is the fact this was the least experienced team in the tournament. The players from SLCC were recently promoted to Division 1, while the USCR and Lantau CC players have played most of their cricket in Division 2.

Their first game of the Premier League was a baptism of fire, where they conceded 235 runs in 20 overs against a rampant DLSW. 35 extras added to their woes. Yet, the USRC-Lantau-Lionesses bowling unit made rapid strides as the tournament progressed.

In their final game against KCC, left-arm seamer and pathway prospect Maira Balochh was unplayable at times. She dismissed a top three that included Keenu Gill, reducing KCC to 45 for 5 in pursuit of 75. In spite of Connie Wong and Rida Haider guiding their team home, Baloch’s spell will go down as one of the best spells of the tournament.

Off-spinning all-rounder Mahekdeep Kaur batted 61 balls for her 23 in the same game, demonstrating good application. She also bowled economically throughout the WPL, conceding just 5 runs per over.

Mahekdeep picked up where she left off in Division 2, where she is currently leading the wicket-taking charts for Lantau CC along with teammates Gurkamal Kaur and Alishba Kanwal.

All three of these players are still young and are likely to get better as time goes on.

In fact, you can draw the same conclusion about several players who were on show during a successful, competitive and widely followed Gencor Women’s Premier League.

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