Hong Kong go undefeated in East Asia Cup, head to Qatar for Bilateral Series 

The Hong Kong men celebrate with the East Asia Cup trophy. Credit: Cricket Hong Kong, China

The Hong Kong men, for years, expressed a desire for more exposure to international competition. 

By February’s end, the squad will have competed in 13 international contests in the month alone. In a week’s time, Qatar will join the mix that currently features Malaysia, Canada, China, and Japan. The sentiment that Hong Kong lacks international experience seems to be gradually dissolving. 

As the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup – the last leg of qualification for the 2025 Asia Cup –  looms, Hong Kong’s head coach Simon Willis has slated in preparatory T20 and One Day competition for his squad. Most recently, Hong Kong hosted China and Japan on Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground from February 13-16 for the East Asia Cup showdown. 

Despite a 123-run victory over China in the series opener, Hong Kong’s innings didn’t come without turmoil. In cascading fashion, Martin Coetzee, captain Nizakat Khan, and Jamie Atkinson succumbed within four balls in the third over of the affair. China’s Tian Sen Qun snaffled three wickets and conceded just 20 runs through the match – and just two days later, eclipsed his figures with a four-fer on a 4-0-12-4 showing against Japan. 

With almost all of Hong Kong’s top-order batsmen in the dugout for a paltry total of nine runs, the onus fell on Anshuman Rath and Aizaz Khan. The duo’s 78-run partnership in under nine overs anchored Hong Kong’s innings before Aizaz Khan’s dismissal. Rath – who remained not out in the innings – and Yasim Murtaza marshalled their crew to a 171 sum with 72 and 52 runs, respectively. 

Hong Kong’s batting fired in two first-day victories. Photo credit: Cricket Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong’s early batting collapse proved almost inconsequential after the respectable total posted on the board, but also with China’s salient struggle to find footing with the blade. Reaching just 48 runs through the 20 overs – a number that ranks amongst the lowest in T20I history – China failed to respond to Hong Kong’s spin bowling. 

The third competitor of the series entered the fray the same afternoon, taking on the hosts. Japan posted 179 runs on the back of captain Kendel Kadowaki-Fleming’s 78-run assault. And after sitting out the morning game, Babar Hayat returned to Hong Kong’s lineup and summoned a winning partnership with Jamie Atkinson as they together chalked up 120 runs in just 66 balls. 

Allowing a breather for the home side, Japan and China met on the field the following morning, and by the match’s halfway mark, Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground had become the site of a worldwide landmark achievement: Kadowaki-Fleming was again in the runs, and together with his opening counterpart Lachlan Yamamoto-Lake, registered the highest opening partnership in men’s T20 cricket.

No Chinese formula could penetrate Japan’s code as the duo blasted 11 fours and 23 sixes together to catapult 258 runs onto the board. Eight different Chinese bowlers failed in their attempt to crack the enigma, as all but one surrendered over 10 runs an over. Falling 180 runs short in their Herculean chase, the Chinese men submitted to their second consecutive loss. 

Hong Kong continued its onslaught in day two’s afternoon match and day three’s opener. The former saw Murtaza and fellow middle-order batsman Zeeshan Ali compensate for a meagre 50-run production from the team’s top four. Keeping a tight lid on Japan’s chase, Hong Kong restricted the guests to 128 all out in 18.5 overs. In the latter encounter, China climbed only one ladder: the lowest totals in T20. Four Chinese batsmen fell before opening their accounts – three of whom suffered a golden duck – in the 41-run total. 

Japan’s win over China in the final round-robin match punched its ticket into the final against Hong Kong on Feb. 17.

Despite the toss in the decider landing in favour of his adversary, captain Nizakat Khan and Hong Kong leveraged their bat-first decree. The hosts’ batting arsenal plumbed uncharted depths – something unmistakably evident even in the final bout. With opener Nizakat Khan’s 81 runs and 80 from the middle-order batsman, Hong Kong handed Japan a 220-run chase in the final. 

Spinners Ehsan Khan and Murtaza wove their magic to bag three wickets apiece and limit Japan’s spirited chase to 185 runs, cementing Hong Kong’s claim to the East Asia Cup on home turf. 

Ehsan Khan was amongst the wickets for Hong Kong as they triumphed against Japan to claim the East Asia Cup title. Photo credit: Cricket Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong will now journey to Qatar on Sunday for a T20 bilateral series as it looks to catch out the host nation after their five-month hiatus in international cricket. 

Qatar’s latter half of 2023 featured a Gulf Cricket T20I Championship against Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, after which the squad took part in the World Cup Asia Qualifiers and managed just one win. 

Averaging 65 runs through six matches in the World Cup Asia Qualifiers, Muhammad Tanveer’s batting finesse in Qatar’s top-order will be a challenge to outfox for Hong Kong’s pacers. On four occasions in the Qualifiers, Tanveer blasted an average strike rate of nearly 250. His ability to dictate the game’s tempo and accelerate when needed makes him a cornerstone asset particularly in the T20 format.

A master of the cut shot, Hong Kong’s opening fast bowlers will have to exploit movement off the pitch to dismiss Tanveer before damage ensues. 

Qatar’s right-arm off-spinner Himanshu Rathod may well take the spotlight for Qatar’s spin attack. Rathod averaged two wickets per game in Qatar’s most recent international outing, a stretch that included one four-fer and one three-fer. With tendencies to bowl fuller-length deliveries, Rathod skilfully induces mistimed shots and capitalises on batter’s misjudgements.

As a linchpin in Qatar’s bowling attack, his astute control in flight and spin can generate crucial wickets and direct the trajectory of a match. 

Even the most masterful of Hong Kong’s batsmen and bowlers will face a stern test of their abilities in next week’s bilateral series in Doha.

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