Ireland 154/2 (Balbirine 70*, Stirling 62, Aizaz 1-31) defeated Hong Kong 153/5 (Kinchit 79, Haroon 20, Adair 2-22) by 8 wickets with 16 deliveries remaining
From the moment Paul Stirling hit the first ball of the chase for six back over Kinchit Shah’s Hong Kong’s total of 153/5 started to look very small. His opening partner Kevin O’Brien was run out without facing a ball (by a player less than half his age no less) but that was the last time Hong Kong looked in the game, even if Ireland “didn’t play their best cricket”, according to skipper Gary Wilson during the post-match presentation.
Stirling was imperious on the front foot, taking took Kyle Christie for dual boundaries during the fourth over, and then played another one of his trademark top-spin cross-bat drives through the covers from Nasrulla’s first stanza. And when Hong Kong’s seam bowlers pulled their lengths back he laced balls behind point.
Andrew Balbirnie was almost invisible at the other end as he kept the score ticking over at a run a ball, as Stirling’s half-century came up from 27 deliveries.
The now-former Middlesex batter played another cross bat shot, this time at an innocuous delivery from the Hong Kong skipper Aizaz Khan, but the ball inexplicably – to Stirling any way – went flat and hard to Simondeep Singh who completed the catch at mid off. Stirling departed for 62 from 36.
Balbirnie picked up where Stirling left off, and when his fifty came up from 41 balls, Ireland required 25 from 6.2 overs.
They powered their way to the target giving just the one chance, when a regulation catch was dropped by Haroon Arshad at long on from the bowling of Christie during the 17th, what became the second last over. Harry Tector was 21 not out from 16.
Earlier on, after a slow start at the front end of power play Hong Kong recovered from losing both openers as Kinchit Shah timed the ball well off the pace bowlers, including a six off the bowling David Delaney that went out of the Shiek Zayed Stadium over backward square leg.
Nizakat Khan had mistimed a drive from legspinner Gareth Delaney in the second over and despite looking like he had settled at the crease, two overs later Aizaz Khan edged a cut shot from Stuart Thompson, in an otherwise poor set which went for 11.
Hong Kong finished their powerplay at 41 for two.
The skipper’s wicket brought the 2010 U19CWC player and former captain Waqas Barkat to the crease. Despite he and Kinchit having some issues between the wickets, one where Waqas was left mid pitch as a throw from cover fortuitously missed at the striker’s end, the two put on 60 in 8.2 overs, as Kinchit continued to score freely.
Boyd Rankin went past both edges a number of times, his hard length and cutters proving hard for Hong Kong to get onto. Despite not taking a wicket, his four overs went for 18 and was close to the pick of the bowlers.
Kinchit swept Delany’s leg spin for four and a six in the same over, and after Barkat perished (9 from 18) Haroon Arshad came to the crease. On the back of scores of 45 and 68* in the final two Oman T20Is he was hitting the ball well but struggled to find the boundary, and eventually fell for 20 from 18 deliveries.
Shah went for 79 from 54 in the 17th after he departed, Hong Kong managed to score another 29 from the final three and a half overs to get to 153. With only 5 wickets down, and after the foundation set by an impressive innings from their lone left hander, Hong Kong will rue not getting nearer 180 and beyond on a flat Abu Dhabi wicket that is looking likely to see a number of big scores in its Group B matches
Adair closed out his allotment with 2 for 22, while Thompsom and the Delaney brothers picked up a wicket each.
Ireland plays their second match on Saturday at 7.30pm against the hosts, while Hong Kong has a day’s rest before they take on Oman in Sunday’s afternoon sun.
Both games will be at Sheik Zayed Stadium and as such, subject to a full broadcast.