Hong Kong men clinch semi-final berth with landslide win over Malaysia 

A landslide result and other matches going in their favour helped Hong Kong to an ACC Premier Cup semi-final spot.

Nizakat Khan and Aizaz Khan celebrate after completing the chase for Hong Kong. Photo credit: Cricket Hong Kong, China

Thursday spelled out a double or nothing scenario for Hong Kong. 

The squad had to steamroll past Malaysia’s defenses within 14.3 overs, and hold out hope for a Saudi Arabia loss to Nepal – an outcome entirely outside of the team’s jurisdiction. 

With both items marked off the to-do list, Hong Kong would, in an unprecedented twist, punch itself a ticket to the ACC Premier Cup semi-finals. 

Tick. Tick. 

With the stakes laid bare and fair, Hong Kong went double. 

The strict rules were mathematically put forth after Hong Kong succumbed to Nepal by eight wickets two days before – the men in red’s path to the knockout stage required a bullish win over Malaysia. 

And Thursday’s bull? Right-hand batsman Babar Hayat. Or, the moniker Hongkongers prefer, “run machine.” 

Babar Hayat hoists his bat and gloves. Hayat slammed 83 runs in 35 balls in Hong Kong’s win over Malaysia. Photo credit: Cricket Hong Kong, China

14.3 overs – 37 balls short of what the match would typically offer – were allotted to Hong Kong to preserve semifinal hopes. 141 runs was the grail, and 14.3 overs stood as the ticking hourglass. Hong Kong’s fortune hinged on its run rate. 

Before Hayat initiated his heist, Hong Kong’s bowlers were given the reins to leverage the unused pitch and restrict Malaysia to a total Hong Kong could chase in 14.3 overs. 

Captain Nizakat Khan’s unit has found itself under similar circumstances – forced to muster an imposing run rate to prevail in a do-or-die stage. Against Netherlands in 2017, the men in red – whose performance propelled them to the Desert T20 Challenge semi-finals – blasted 183 runs through 20 overs before limiting their opposition to a dismal 92. 

And on Thursday, when Nizakat called, his seam bowlers were first to the telephone. 

Ayush Shukla, the youngest of the pack, promptly acted on his commander’s request. Recognizing what was on the line for his crew, Shukla brought out the bullets in the first delivery of the day – swinging the ball to leverage the unused pitch and trap Muhammad Amir before Malaysia could open its curtains. 

Bringing out his trademark celebration – a punch through the air  – Shukla’s veteran teammates bombarded him, embracing the youngster one by one. The early dismantling of Malaysia’s opening duo triggered jubilant shouts and applause to echo around Oman Cricket Ground Turf 1.

And in the second round of his spell, Shukla pressed on. Virandeep Singh kickstarted the third over with a push to the ropes – followed only by the skipper’s expulsion. Hong Kong’s young pacer tempted Virandeep into a delicate outside edge, swiftly snapped up by wicketkeeper Zeeshan Ali behind the timber. 

Ateeq Iqbal, Hong Kong’s pace ace working on the other side of the pitch, joined Shukla in the act as he found the gap between Sharvin Muniyandy’s bat and ball. 

Muniyandy’s wickets disassembled. And his team’s line-up followed suit.

Iqbal and Shukla completed their initial quotas soon after the powerplay, at which stage both bowlers had claimed two spoils of their own. And although Aizaz Khan and Yasim Murtaza – seasoned Hong Kong warriors – rotated in, Malaysia managed to force a 6.4-over partnership between Aqeel Wahid and Ahmed Faiz. 

Malaysia reached the 100-run mark in the 14th over, a scant indication of a potential comeback. But, in veteran fashion, Aizaz quashed any burgeoning hopes of a resurgence – forcing both Wahid and Faiz to trudge back to the pavilion in the 15th over.  

Hong Kong had Malaysia in a stranglehold down in the death. The men in red clamped their opposition, conceding just 31 runs in the final five overs, punctuated by three additional scalps. 

The total was set – 141 required through 20 overs; or, to honour Hong Kong’s semi-final wishes, through 14.3 overs.

A limping Martin Coetzee took the vanguard in Hong Kong’s batting alongside Anshuman Rath – whose early attempt to launch a missile over the ropes instead tossed himself back to the pavilion. Coetzee’s stoic demeanour only lasted so long – Pavandeep Singh punctured the opener’s life jacket midway through the fourth over. 

Babar Hayat and Nizakat Khan run on the pitch. The duo steered Hong Kong to clinching its semi-final berth. Photo credit: Cricket Hong Kong, China

But further deflation was out of reach from there – captain Khan and Hayat’s balloon soared to the winds and piloted their team to victory in 12.1 overs.

Hayat’s rampage commenced immediately as he entered the pitch –and with each over, his blitz endured. Urgency was Nizakat and Hayat’s companions through their partnership. Barring the 10th over, the duo dispatched at least two boundaries an over from the seventh onwards. 

A 22-run ninth over, precipitated by N. Khan’s back-to-back-to-back boundaries ensured Hong Kong would need 42 runs to win off 33 balls. 

Too easy, Hayat professed. 

After four monstrous maximums in the 11th and 12th overs, Hayat’s namesake, Khizar Hayat, outwitted the batsman and compelled his walk back to the dugout – where he was met with a symphony of infectious praise and a cascade of hugs.

Hayat’s torrent guaranteed Hong Kong needed just four runs to win after the 12th over – well-executed by captain N. Khan, who went down on one knee and across the line to book his team’s appearance in the semi-finals. 

With Nepal’s win over Saudi Arabia tipping the scales in Hong Kong’s favour, a blazing exhibition left Malaysia scrambling for air with the bat and ball. 

Hong Kong will face Oman on Friday at 2:30 p.m., preceded by the second semi-final between Nepal and UAE at 10 a.m.

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