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Kratzmann enjoying his reincarnation as a HK cricketer

Second chances are few and far between in the sporting world. And when the end comes on your chosen career, it can often be brutal.

In the mid-1980s Australian Mark Kratzmann had the world at his feet after lifting the junior titles at Wimbledon, the Australian and US Opens, and losing in the final at the French Open.

The world's number-one ranked junior was about to embark on a glittering, title-filled career, adding another chapter to his country's storied tennis history.

But it was never really to be. Ten years on tour did bring with it a place on the Australian Davis Cup team, and 18 doubles titles. But the singles glory many predicted never came to be.

A seemingly endless string of injuries took its toll and then, in 1994 at the age of 28, Kratzmann's back simply gave out. When the curtain finally came down on his tennis career, it fell with a thud.

"My last year was shocking," Kratzmann recalls now. "Emotionally I had such a low year, to realise that it was all over. With tennis - like with most sports - you get a couple of injuries, you slow down, and you're gone.

"If you're not at the peak of everything, the next guy is chipping away and he's got you. My body just wouldn't do what I wanted it to any more. It's a tough thing."

But what makes Kratzmann's story unique is that 1994 wasn't the end. In one way, things were just getting started.

With tennis out of the way, Kratzmann was able to pick up his trusty old cricket bat and dust off skills that had not been used since he had represented his home state of Queensland as a 12-year-old against a couple of eager New South Welshmen going by the names of Steven and Mark Waugh.

Ironically, too, it has been tennis that has enabled his cricket to flourish. Kratzmann's work as a tennis coach brought him to Hong Kong, where his cricket has flourished to such an extent that next Wednesday - as a 40-year-old - he leaves with the SAR's 14-man squad for the ICC World Cricket League Division Three tournament in Darwin, starting next Sunday.

The tournament is the first step on the long road towards the 2011 World Cup, where Hong Kong are hoping - like Ireland did in the West Indies this time around - to show they can mix it with the big boys.

"Honestly, in the beginning I was just having a hit," Kratzmann said. "[Playing for Hong Kong] didn't really become a goal until last year, it all came around at the right time - my form and [qualifying for Hong Kong] residency. I just like playing competitive sport and now this takes it to a whole new level. To get another chance to play at the top level, at another sport, it's really more than I could have ever hoped for. I've never really looked back at what might have been with tennis, you can't do that. It's fantastic that I've got this opportunity."

Back when he was 12, Kratzmann had been - like most young boys - happy to divide his time between his two sporting loves. But a phone call - and a little bit of politics - changed all that.

"When I was 12, one of my mates got badly treated by selectors," Kratzmann says. "He'd made four hundreds in trial games and didn't make the team. It had an effect on me - I didn't want the same thing to happen to me, I didn't want other people's decisions affecting my chances.

"Anyway, the next week Tony Roche rang me and said they had a flight booked for me to go to Sydney. They had heard I was a pretty good tennis player and wanted to take a look at me.

"I mean, for a kid to have that happen to you, you just have a smile from ear to ear. Tony Roche and John Newcombe talked to me - I was sold. But Tony wouldn't let me play cricket so I had to drop it."

And so came the tennis career. And it wasn't until his doctors told him that a degenerative condition in his back meant his tennis-playing days were over that Kratzmann began to look for another way to keep active.

"I played a few seasons of grade cricket in Brisbane when I finished with tennis. My eye was always in but my technique was shoddy."

Kratzmann moved to Hong Kong in 2003 - with his wife Zoe and young daughter Greta - first as a tennis coach with the Hong Kong Jockey Club before taking up the same position at the Hong Kong Cricket Club.

As a cricketer, he quickly found his feet - he was named the Hong Kong Cricket Association's Player of the Year for 2005-06 after averaging 66.63 as an opener for HKCC's Scorpions side in a season that featured eight centuries.

As soon as his three years in Hong Kong were up, allowing him to pass the required residency rules, the national selectors swooped.

"Hong Kong is our home now and coaching tennis here suits me, there's no pressure on the kids and they just have fun," Kratzmann said. "The Hong Kong cricket selectors want someone who can stick around in the middle and I can do that.

"The funny thing is I chose a solo sport when I was a kid, but I think I've realised I'm better suited to the team game, I like it more. I can also bring my professional experience, if the guys want to listen."

To celebrate the birth of his new international incarnation, Kratzmann took off to the West Indies last month to take a look at the teams he might one day be up against, the chance to renew old relationships and the chance to cheer his nation to victory.

"I caught up with a few ex-players - Merv Hughes, Kerry O'Keefe, Carl Rackemann," Kratzmann said. "As far as a cricket trip goes, we really couldn't have asked for more. Now I am just looking forward to getting back out there in the middle myself."