Saudi Arabia claims commanding victory over Hong Kong, shakes up standings

Saudi Arabians gather in celebration. The Gulf State took down Hong Kong in the ACC Premier Cup with a 55-run beating. Photo credit: Asian Cricket Council

Could’ve, should’ve: Two words a fielding team could do without hearing. 

Two words that, on Sunday at Oman Cricket Ground, allowed victory to begin its slide down Hong Kong’s slope early in its matchup against Saudi Arabia.

Could’ve: Midway through the third over, right-arm pacer Ayush Shukla completed his action, and – almost instantly – pivoted toward the umpire, went down on his haunches and appealed for an LBW decision.

“Out for me,” commentators announced. “It hit him in line with the off stump, going to go and crash into leg. Really good shout.” 

The on-field umpire was entirely unfazed. What could’ve been a dismissal became an easy single for the Saudi Arabian openers. 

Should’ve: In the following over, Dhananjay Rao induced Saad Khan to nudge the ball to Raunaq Kapur at mid-wicket. Diving for the save, 6-foot-3 Kapur unleashed a rocket toward S. Khan’s bails, missing it far right. 

Yasim Murtaza, the fielder stationed in the trajectory of Kapur’s throw, let the ball slip through his fingers as it trickled further down the ground. By the time captain Nizakat Khan collected the ball, S. Khan had reentered the crease. 

“Unbelievable – could have run anyone out here,” the commentator said. “(Hong Kong) could have walked the ball to the non-striker’s end and got home. Somehow, they (Saudi Arabia) survive.” 

What should’ve been a run-out – an effortless one – resuscitated S. Khan and Saudi Arabia once again. 

In the ensuing delivery, Abdul Waheed had enough, cracking the ball to the leg side and watching it race to the deep backward square leg rope – a rip that launched into a 77-run knock featuring 11 boundaries. 

Two blunders – albeit both against the same batsman – gifted Saudi Arabia a cruise through its powerplay. 

Saudi Arabian batsmen walk off the field after posting 202 runs on the board. Photo credit: Asian Cricket Council

Although S. Khan exited his crease soon after, with the umpire hoisting his finger almost in reflex, Waheed and Faisal Khan converged on the pitch for what became a tour de force of a partnership. 

The duo pummeled Rao’s offerings to the ropes four times in the sixth over, catapulting their team to 59 runs after the powerplay. Seven consecutive overs proceeded without a hiccup for Saudi Arabia. Striking steady at between eight and nine runs an over, the pair anchored their team’s innings while ensuring a boundary in almost every over in the stretch. 

As wicketkeeper Zeeshan Ali placed his hands on his hips boundary after boundary, Hong Kong’s captain juggled between his spinners in Ehsan Khan, Murtaza and Kapur in a bid to curb the dominance of F. Khan and Waheed. 

Kapur – who made his T20I debut Sunday – concocted the elixir to combat the spell. The youngest of the trifecta, Kapur incited F. Khan to launch the leather high, allowing Anshuman Rath to park himself underneath and snag a much-needed partnership-breaking scalp.

From then, the pitch of Oman Turf Ground 1 had “Abdul” scribbled all over it. 

Abdul Manan Ali stepped into Waheed’s partner role, and almost immediately initiated his assault.

Bang, bang. Down on one knee on both occasions, Manan Ali muscled two maximums to close the 14th over.

To kickstart his spell, Aizaz Khan found the breakthrough Hong Kong needed, putting Waheed’s knock to sleep at 77(50). And although Waji Ul Hassan – the next man in – cut short his stint after two runs, the Abdul barrage lingered. 

Manan Ali – in conjunction with his skipper, Hisham Shaikh – engineered 34 runs in the third-last and penultimate overs. Hence, despite three dismissals from E. Khan in the final over, the men in green had already secured 202 runs in their innings. 

In a mirror display of Hong Kong’s first match of the ACC Premier Cup, one of two openers derailed his innings in the first over. But fear not – a seasoned tandem of N. Khan and Rath took over their side’s proceedings and forged an alliance with the ropes early. 

N. Khan spread his strokes all around the field to dispatch three fours by the end of the fourth over. Rath connected for two boundaries of his own in the fifth, pushing Hong Kong above its required run rate. As his dugout erupted in applause, his captain, acknowledging the feat, greeted Rath with a hearty fist bump and congratulatory pat on the back. 

Hong Kong has a history of plunging into a batting slump following the departure of its top-order batsmen. Sunday was no exception. 

In a nightmare-turned-reality, Rath slapped the ball directly in the hands of the mid-wicket fiedler, forcing his expulsion at 29(17) and bringing in Babar Hayat, who bookended his welcome and farewell in a pair of deliveries. Failing to disturb the scoresheets, Hayat’s walk to and from the dugout were just minutes apart and the balance swung in Saudi Arabia’s favor. 

A. Khan’s appearance was similarly short, giving way for Ali to help his captain rustle up a salvation for Hong Kong. In what was Hong Kong’s highest-scoring over, N. Khan belted two boundaries in the 12th alongside seven runs on the ground to accumulate 17 through six deliveries. 

But when Ali and his successor Nasrulla Rana departed in the 13th over, the work – 98 runs from 44 balls – thrusted into the hands of E. Khan and N. Khan.

Usman Najeeb and Ishtiaq Ahmad, Saudi Arabia’s medium-pace pair, took the reins for the final five overs of Hong Kong’s chase. The duo limited their opposition to 30 runs in the stretch, ran Kapur out with a laser-guided direct hit, created the wicket of Nizakat Khan and capped off the innings at the end of the 19th with the dismantling of Rao’s stumps. 

The verdict was in, and the verdict was clear – Saudi Arabia outlasted Hong Kong by 55 runs to slingshot themselves to No. 2 in ACC Premier Cup’s Group A, and demote Hong Kong to No. 4 before its third bout against Nepal at 10 a.m. GST Monday. 


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