Background

Of all the teams coming into this ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier, no side has experienced more upheaval than Hong Kong. Their flagship local event is under threat, and another was canned. Three players were banned for spot-fixing – two of them for life. Their leader and best player switched allegiance to India and then four players had red lines drawn through their names for the foreseeable future after attempting a mini-revolt.

However, the Hong Kong men’s success in the past decade has been built on backs-to-the-wall fighting performances and it is that same spirit that the players wearing the Bauhinia Orchid logo over their hearts will need to show if this team can pull off the impossible and qualify for the 2020 World Cup.

If anybody can guide this squad to glory in the UAE, recently appointed coach Trent Johnston – himself famous for leading a team of semi-pros past the might of Pakistan in the group stages, to book Ireland a Super Eights spot in the 2007 World Cup – is the person to do it.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong celebrates an Afghanistan wicket during their solitary win at CWCQ 2018, their first ODI victory over a Test nation.

New skipper Aizaz Khan, who was absent ill with a fever during the recent Oman pentangular T20 series will need to channel every little bit of whatever powered his crucial 24 from 8 deliveries when Hong Kong snuck past Italy way back in 2011. At the other end that day Waqas Barkat finished unbeaten on 55, and Barkat finds himself back in the HK squad for the first time since CWCQ 2018.

That event in 2011 was WCL3, the first tournament under then-coach Charlie Burke, and from there the team scrapped through WCL2 and then; unfancied by all but the Hong Kong faithful, shocked Scotland in game one and went on to finish third in the World Cup Qualifier, missing out on a World Cup berth by the slimmest of margins.

There are only two players in the side – Nizakat Khan and Waqas Barkat – from the team that famously upset Bangladesh in Chittagong during the 2014 T20 World Cup, and there will be eight different names on the team sheet from game one of the 2016 event.

The squad

Aizaz Khan (C), Kinchit Shah (VC), Ahsan Abassi, Haroon Arshad, Waqas Barkat, Aarush Bhagwat, Kyle Christie, Raag Kapur, Ehsan Khan, Nizakat Khan, Ghazanfer Mohammad, Scott McKechnie (WK), Nasrulla Rana, Simondeep Singh, Shahid Wasif.

Ones to watch:

Nizakat Khan

Oh, Kat. So much talent, yet so frustratingly inconsistent. From smoking India around Dubai, almost pulling off the upsets of all upsets in the 2018 Asia Cup to winning over the fans in country NSW, smashing a century against a full-strength Sydney Thunder team in 2016, he can take apart most attacks in world cricket.

But. And it’s a big but. He is susceptible to frequent brain explosions. He was run out against Pakistan in the Asia Cup after he was more worried about the slow-moving thrown ball than sliding his bat, and some of his shot selection in Oman was woeful. He has the experience – he has been in the set up since 2010 when he played for Hong Kong in the U19 World Cup in New Zealand – but Hong Kong NEEDS the best version of Nizakat Khan in the UAE if they are going to be any chance of a ticket to Australia.

Haroon Arshad

Arshad burst onto the scene in 2018 when his skipper Kumar Sangakkara asked him to bowl the final over when eventual HK T20 Blitz champions Hung Hom JD Jaguars only needed 15 to win on the tiny Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground. The over went for 8. A surprisingly calm Arshad seemed to just take it all in his stride.

Hong Kong Sangakkara Haroon
Sangakkara congratulations Arshad after beating the JD Jaguars during the 2018 HK T20 Blitz

Beside his seam bowling, the 20-year has emerged as a wildcard all-round prospect. In Oman he recorded scores of 19*, 45 and 68 in the three games he played, climbing from sixth-drop to the middle order in the process. He was impressive all around the ground and was particularly strong through the off-side after clearing his front leg and will probably take a spot in the middle order alongside the skipper, freeing up a spot for an extra Hong Kong batter if required.

Kinchit Shah

Beyond Anshuman’s superhuman WCL2 Shah was Kong Kong’s best; solid with bat and a find with the ball, opening up with his off-spin.

It was Shah who took to the key wicket of Sangakkara during the 2018 HK T20 Blitz final and although he did have a great Oman tour with his tweakers, they will be very handy for skipper Aizaz if his young seamers start feeling the pressure.

Aizaz Khan

Aizaz has been in the Hong Kong team since 2010 and has batted everywhere from 1 to 11 and his medium pacers have been used up front, in the middle overs, and at the death. As it is with long-term teammate Nizakat Khan, there will be nowhere to hide as his team look to him to take charge whenever he has an opportunity to contribute, with bat or ball, or indeed with tactical decisions as recently appointed skipper.

Ehsan Khan

Has been Hong Kong’s most consistent bowler since he made his debut during the backend of 2016. Needs to continue at this high level with the ball as well as make some runs down the order which he is more than capable of doing. Despite Khan batting in the top order for his HK club, he’s never really found his form with the bat in black and red.

Kyle Christie

The Hong Kong-born Perth-raised right arm quick has fought back from a few niggling injuries and a dangerous habit for overstepping the popping crease and will likely form the backbone of the pace attack with skipper Aizaz Khan.

Christie was quite impressive in Oman but will still need to stay tall in his delivery to prevent the ball from sliding into the right-hander’s pads, as it does when he sometimes falls over in his action.

Tournament prospects

Well. Both the head and heart know it’s going to be an uphill battle for Hong Kong, and the question will be whether the talent coming through the ranks can step up for rookie captain Aizaz Khan and new coach Trent Johnston.

The heart yearns for a “middle finger” type performance from this young team, crashing past all-comers to seal their spot in Australia even before the finals.

Many of us may have left (Cricket) Hong Kong but one’s hope for their success does not, despite the litany of own goals on and off the field.

The heart yells “1st!” The head whispers “6th”. So, despite a certain prediction made during the podcast linked above, let’s find the middle ground, and say third…..with a win in the first cross over to book Hong Kong’s ticket to their third consecutive T20 World Cup.

If only.

Best XI (predicted): Nizakat Khan, Ashan Abassi, Kinchit Shah, Waqas Barkat, Haroon Arshad, Aizaz Khan (c), Raag Kapur, Scott McKechnie (WK), Eshan Khan, Kyle Christie, Nasrulla Rana/Ghazanfer Mohammad | Rest of squad: Arush Bhagwat, Simondeep Singh, Shahid Wasif.

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