Mark Kratzmann July 3, 2008

From Wimbledon to World Cup dream

The oldest member of Hong Kong's one-day squad is a man who made a move from cricket to top-flight tennis and back again



Mark Kratzmann bats in a Hancock Shield match in Hong Kong © HKCA

Hong Kong batsman Mark Kratzmann says he isn't one for nostalgia but admits that during the Wimbledon fortnight each year he finds it difficult not to reminisce about his previous sporting incarnation.

Australia-born Kratzmann is a former professional tennis player and winner of three junior Grand Slam singles tournaments, including Wimbledon in 1984 when he was the No. 1-ranked under-18 player in the world.

"Most of the time, I don't think too much about my tennis career," Kratzmann told Cricinfo. "But when Wimbledon is on, I remember how it feels to walk through those gates ... every memory is burnt inside your soul."

Now aged 42 and a watchful opening batsman, he's chasing a new dream of representing his adopted nation at the 2011 World Cup after playing in three international matches last year. Kratzmann's first goal is to reclaim his place in the Hong Kong side after being left out of the side for the Asia Cup in Pakistan. Hong Kong were thrashed in both their group games, losing by 155 runs to Pakistan and by 256 runs to India the following day. They scored poorly, with totals of 133 and 118.

Kratzmann, who was in the initial 20-man squad for the tournament before being omitted, is hopeful that the weight of his club cricket runs will earn him an immediate recall for the ACC Trophy from July 25th to August 5th in Malaysia.

A year ago Kratzmann made his Hong Kong debut by appearing in three matches in the ICC World Cricket League, Division 3, in the Australian city of Darwin, scoring a modest 49 runs at 16.33. But he did show grit under pressure at the top of the order. "Mark is always dangerous for the opposition because he occupies the crease." said Hong Kong team manager Ravi Nagdev. "He's also very gutsy - a tough fighter who doesn't mind taking a few blows with the cricket ball."

Kratzmann's amazing transformation from park cricketer to international player began a dozen years ago when a serious back injury forced his early retirement from professional tennis after he fell during a mixed doubles match at the Australian Open. Golf wasn't an option because of the twisting motion required while swinging a club. So, just for fun, Kratzmann returned to the sport of his youth.

As a primary school youngster in the late 1970s, Kratzmann represented Queensland against a New South Wales junior side that included the Waugh twins. He was a left-arm allrounder in the mould of Gary Gilmour, whose swing bowling sparked Australia at the 1975 World Cup. Kratzmann's father, Neville, was also a keen cricketer: facing up to international fast bowlers Jeff Thomson and Peter Lever in the 1970s, as a batsman for the Queensland Country XI.

For a couple of seasons post-tennis, Kratzmann played in a small rural league near his parents' farm before progressing to the more serious Brisbane competition with the Sunshine Coast Scorchers in late 1990s. A specialist bastman by then, he would occasionally lock horns with Aussie pacemen Andy Bichel, Ashley Noffke and Adam Dale.

A move to Sydney for business reasons saw him return to the anonymity of park cricket. But when he shifted to Hong Kong in 2003 to work as a tennis coach, he found himself getting serious about wearing the whites again.

"I was coaching tennis at the Hong Kong Cricket Club and whenever I got the chance, I'd practice with their bowling machine," he said.

After a couple of moderate seasons, Kratzmann turned into a prolific scorer, amassing 1506 runs including seven hundreds in 2005-06, including a staggering 706 at 117.67 in the Saturday League as he scooped the 2006 Hong Kong Player-of-the-Year award.

In 2007-08, he averaged 132.20 with the bat in the Saturday competition - and returned to his schoolboy roots with the ball - taking 24 wickets at 14.92 (and 30 wickets at 15.70 in the Sunday league) with left-arm bowling "slower than when I was ten years old, but I swing it". He's also an occasional wicketkeeper and specialist slip fielder who went 30 catches in a row - or two seasons - without dropping one.

 
 
Kratzmann's batting style is far from conventional: he relies heavily on a sweep shot against slow bowling that is suspiciously like a cross-court forehand from tennis
 

Kratzmann's batting style is far from conventional: he relies heavily on a sweep shot against slow bowling that is suspiciously like a cross-court forehand from tennis. Nagdev observed: "Mark is not a classical batsman - he is unorthodox, but it works for him."

As the oldest member of the Hong Kong squad - and from a tennis background - Kratzmann says he's become accustomed to a healthy amount of sledging when he's out in the middle. "Opponents will say, 'That's not a cricket shot' and things like that. But I'm getting some good tips from [ex-England batsman and Hong Kong coach] Aftab Habib and trying to develop new shots," he said.

There's little doubt that Kratzmann's high-profile tennis career - which saw him reach No. 50 in the world rankings and win 18 ATP doubles titles - helped fast-track his cricket development and his confidence. He was a frequent spectator at games involving Australia and Queensland before he moved to Hong Kong, where he's become a permanent resident.

He remains good friends with several past and present Australian players, and his cricketing kit includes discarded bats from Matthew Hayden, and pads from long-time former captain Allan Border, which are proudly displayed in a glass case in the family games room.

But in the unlikely event of Hong Kong qualifying for the 2011 World Cup, Kratzmann would have no issue in facing up to his birth nation, who he represented in three Davis Cup ties in the 1990s. "As a ten-year-old, my dream was to play for Australia, but it would be amazing to play against them and to be up the other end from Brett Lee," he said. "I might be 42 but my hand-eye co-ordination hasn't gone down and my technique is getting better all the time."

Jason Dasey is a host of Cricinfo SportsCenter and two international editions of SportsCenter on ESPN