Papua New Guinea avenge round-robin loss to Nepal, win Hong Kong T20I tri-series 

Alei Nao enjoyed a dream day to help Papua New Guinea to a tri-series win over Hong Kong and Nepal, reversing the round robin results of earlier at the tournament.

Alei Nao enjoyed a dream day for Papua New Guinea as they claimed victory over Nepal in Hong Kong.
Alei Nao enjoyed a dream day for Papua New Guinea as they claimed victory over Nepal in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Men’s T20I Series began with a Hong Kong blowout win and a Nepali landslide over Papua New Guinea, but the matches that ensued featured a reversal of fortunes. 

Nepal and Hong Kong met for the Friendship Cup – to recognize the close relationship between Cricket Hong Kong, China and Cricket Association of Nepal – prior to the official onset of the series. And contrary to its namesake, Hong Kong was not too friendly with Nepal through the bout.

Hong Kong’s powerplay featured two dismissals alongside a 7.50 run rate – forecasting Hong Kong a score of around 150, but Babar Hayat wasn’t too pleased with the figure. When the right-hand batsman entered for Martin Coetzee in the fifth over, he established his footing on his crease for just 49 more balls. 

A seemingly average figure, sure. But not when it bore witness to 110 runs and 13 sixes. 

Hayat’s act almost concealed three ducks in Hong Kong’s innings – Nizakat Khan, Jamie Atkinson and Yasim Murtaza – with a total that fell just 12 runs short of his T20I record. His initial four overs were quiet – he and Anshuman Rath traded singles on the pitch and dispatched just two boundaries through the stretch. 

But after a 23-run assault in the 10th over, Hayat pulled the curtains down on his reign and didn’t let the Nepali bowlers breathe for the following 9.5 overs. 

And by then, the powerhouse had recorded three fours and 13 sixes, enough to force the Nepali men to muster 213 runs in their attack. 

Nepal struck at a run rate up to 11.23 in the opening overs of its chase, but that figure only dwindled as Hong Kong’s Aizaz Khan and Ehsan Khan took over with the ball and expelled four and three batsmen, respectively, to force Nepal to be all-out 73 runs short of the target. 

Hong Kong had 65 runs on the board through the initial eight overs of day two, but the city’s unpredictable nature forced rain to put a complete halt to the match. 

Day three’s doubleheader saw the two visiting teams clash on Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, before Hong Kong had its go against PNG. After being sent in with the bat first, Kushal Bhurtel and Binod Bhandari got Nepal cruising to 64 runs off 7.3 overs, after which the latter launched the ball into the hands of Norman Vanua. 

Rohit Paudel maintained only a four-ball lifeline – the captain feathered an edge to Kiplin Doriga behind the stumps, and Nosaina Pokana had snaffled his first and only wicket of the day. Doriga contributed to the dismissal of Nepal’s next batsman, but couldn’t find similar success against Sundeep Jora.

Jora hammered his way to a 56-run barrage off just 26 balls, punctuated by seven dispatches to the ropes. Beyond two half-century showings from Bhurtel and Jora, Lokesh Bam and Bibek Yadav, both entering the pitch in Nepal’s lower-order, unleashed whirlwind innings striking at 233.33 and 475 run rates, respectively, thrusting their team’s total to 198. 

When a team repeatedly struggles to find stability in its batting, victory slowly becomes an elusive vision. This mimicked PNG’s fortune after Tony Ura had his timbers disturbed at the end of the third over. PNG’s opening batsmen catapulted to 31 runs in that shift, after which only one of PNG’s eight succeeding batsmen fell for a combined total of 79 runs. Hiri Hiri was the solitary beacon of hope, summoning up 28 runs off 19 deliveries only to be ensnared by Gulsan Jha at deep square leg. 

Seven single-digit tallies forced PNG to drop the affair by 85 runs, spurred on by a four-fer from Bhurtel, the Player of the Match, to tag alongside his 59-run blitz. 

Hong Kong’s batting prosperity couldn’t extend to its matchup against PNG. Coetzee was the first Hongkonger to take a fall, edging the leather to Doriga who snagged it behind the stumps. PNG took back-to-back scalps, clipping Nizakat’s stumps in the first ball of the third over. Rath, Aizaz, Babar Hayat and Yasim Murtaza fell in cascading fashion, and the hosts were reeling at 30/6 after eight overs. 

The match’s victor would secure a berth in the finals alongside Nepal, and Zeeshan Ali wasn’t ready for Hong Kong’s bid to crumble so easily. 

Ali powered to a career-best 55 runs off just 29 balls, his first half-century in the T20I format. Hong Kong’s tail-enders faltered to complement Ali’s foundation, as the squad ultimately mustered just 121 runs, a subpar tally. 

The chase posed no challenge for PNG. Opening batsmen Tony Ura and Sese Bau piled on the runs in just 12.4 overs, ultimately garnering 51 and 61 runs, respectively to cement a coveted spot in the final. 

Hong Kong faced its ‘A’ squad in the final day’s morning, a contest it clinched by 70 runs alongside two fifty- and two forty-run rampages by Rath, Aizaz, Coetzee and Hayat, respectively. 

Both on the back of victories, PNG and Nepal squared up at Tin Kwong Road for the title. Early jitters for PNG, featuring Bau, Assad Vala and Lega Siaka’s dismissals for zero, two and two runs, respectively, didn’t hamper Tony Ura. 

The eventual Player of the Match answered PNG’s call with 61 runs off just 37 balls, falling to Bhurtel who managed to suspend the batsman from inflicting further damage. The balance teetered in favor of Nepal post the dismissal, but a decisive 30 runs from Alei Nao carved in 171 runs for PNG after the 20-over mark. 

And in its chase, Nepal appeared an entirely different arsenal to the day prior. Opening batsmen Bhadari and Paudel’s bedrock – or lack thereof – spiraled to 69/5 after the 11th over and Nepal five runs shy of its required run rate. 

The following 5.3 overs featured just one boundary and five more wickets as four PNG bowlers each collected two dismissals, ensuring they would have silverware to take home in their first visit to Hong Kong after five years. 

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