ASIA CUP 2018
There were as many as four starts during their innings but none of those Hong Kong batsmen converted it into a substantial score against Pakistan on Sunday. © AFP
Day 2 at the Asia Cup was a far cry from the opener. Dubai clearly has a massive Bangladesh fan base, and those supporting Pakistan are probably saving their energy – which is not easy to expend in the unforgiving heat of the day in Dubai – for the India fixture on Tuesday. Hong Kong thus, walked out to barren stands.
But that was hardly the downer, for a side about to play the first of its last two ODIs for its foreseeable future. As far as Asia Cup is concerned, Hong Kong emerged as the ‘sixth best’ Asian side and thus made it to the tournament proper, but the main motive for a team like Hong Kong was to provide yet another piece of evidence that Associate Nations are being treated unfairly. Sunday, though, wasn’t one such evening.
Hong Kong trained for four days in the UAE to get a hint of what conditions lay ahead, and their coach Simon Cook stressed on the need for his players to ‘repeat their skills’, something he reckoned players from the top sides pull off. Afghanistan coach Phil Simmons too talked about finding the gulf in ability and performance after his team’s humbling experience in Bangalore on their Test debut.
As Nizakat Khan and captain Anshuman Rath came to bat after the latter’s victory at the toss, there were murmurs and expectation of an early finish, whispers of Pakistan facing a target of 60 or 70 even did the rounds, only for them to be earnestly turned down by the way the two openers began. All it took was a classy flick from Nizakat off Mohammed Amir in the second ball of the innings that raised eyebrows in the press box and changed opinions.
The next 10-odd minutes fortified that feeling, until an elementary error while taking evasive action against a throw sent Nizakat packing. Rath’s repertoire was still encouraging, as he peeled off a few elegant hits past third man and backward point. The cut shots were coming off, but he nicked an away mover and departed. Inside the first nine overs, two out of the four Hong Kong batters that managed double-digit scores were gone. Cook’s call for ‘repeat, repeat, repeat’ your skills weren’t adhered to. The result, hence, was an incredibly sub-par total of 116.
“There’s no excuse with the way we batted. Three [four] people getting to double figures is not enough, especially none of them converting, myself included. Getting starts is great but you’ve to kick on. That’s certainly a lesson we’ll look to rectify in the next game against India,” Rath said in a post-match press conference.
The only other form of fight came from the middle-order duo of Kinchit Shah and Aizaz Khan – Hong Kong’s bowling hero from the Asia Cup qualifier final. Their partnership was longer, effort much better than the openers, but even the third-best sixth-wicket stand for Hong Kong (of 53 runs) proved to be precious little.
“I think [there are] not a lot of positives to take from today, but the partnership between Kinchit and Aizaz was very good in the middle order, for them to notch up a 70-run  partnership against this Pakistan attack was very good. And Ahsan Khan’s bowling as well. He really stuck out there despite not having a lot to bowl at.”
At the end of such a tough day at the very top level of the game, there can be a lot of retrospective feelings. Rath wondered if it would’ve served any purpose to have played against better quality oppositions in the lead-up to the tournament but admitted his team still had sufficient game time in Malaysia and have no excuses for what they’ve pulled off.
“Yeah I think it might have helped getting used to these conditions a bit more, but in saying that we did play the qualifiers in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago. So we’re not shy of cricket,” Rath said.
Shy of cricket they weren’t, but had very little idea of how the rest of the teams in the Asia Cup operate. Rath stated that Hong Kong too have a video analyst and the players themselves take initiative to do their homework, but to get a matchday experience of how a top ODI side – with the advantages of far superior infrastructure and facilities – operates must be priceless.
“It’s great. For us all it is a fantastic experience to see how a top team operates. Especially since we haven’t played that much against the top five sides essentially. It’s good to see how they go about their things and hopefully our boys will pick up some lessons from them,” Rath said.
Where do they go from a defeat like this, some would ask? The answer to that is less philosophical and more dreadfully factual, as the No. 2 ODI side pose another big challenge in two day’s time. But Rath’s chuckling at what’s in store, thanks to a very Hong Kong-specific trend.
“Well, you know all I can say is we don’t have the greatest starts to tournaments. If you look at our history – in the Asia Cup qualifiers we lost the first game to Malaysia. In the T20 World Cup qualifiers we lost to Jersey in our first game. We don’t start well in tournaments. Going into the India game, we’ve got nothing to lose. Hopefully guys will pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes, myself included,” he concluded.