Weather gods help Hong Kong into ACC Trophy final in rain-shortened match
Someone up above must be watching over Hong Kong's fortunes. For the SAR's fairytale run at the Asian Cricket Council Trophy continued as they waltzed into the final of this pre-qualifying event for the 2011 World Cup with a thrilling win over Afghanistan yesterday.
Defending a meagre total of 157, Hong Kong had Afghanistan on the ropes at 108 for seven in the 36th over when the skies opened above the Selangor Turf Club in Kuala Lumpur. The heavy rain forced the match to be called off - much to the delight of Hong Kong who were ahead on the Duckworth-Lewis system by 20 runs at the time.
'We are in the final and this is a huge transformation for Hong Kong cricket,' said elated coach Robin Singh. 'It is nice to be successful for a change. We needed this and the guys have performed.'
Hong Kong will meet pre-tournament favourites, the United Arab Emirates, in the Cup final tomorrow. UAE thrashed Nepal by nine wickets, the match finishing just after the lunch break. That was not the case in the other semi-final which was poised tantalisingly when the weather gods decided to hand the spoils to Hong Kong.
Not that captain Tim Smart and his men needed any help for they were well on their way to pulling off a remarkable victory. Left-arm spinners Najeeb Amar and Nadeem Ahmed were the chief architects of Hong Kong's brilliant defence of a paltry total. The pair bowled in tandem and spun a web of intrigue which had the Afghanistan batsmen fooled. At one stage, midway through the innings, the pair conceded just 13 runs off 10 overs.
'They both bowled superbly. I had hoped we would get around 200 as 157 was not a winning score even though the wicket was slow and turning,' Singh said. 'But Najeeb and Nadeem put the pressure right on the batsmen. We would have won even if it hadn't rained.'
Afzaal Haider claimed two early wickets, but Afghanistan seized the initiative back by counter-attacking. At the end of the eighth over, they had 56 runs on the board and were looking good to finish the match off quickly. But the introduction of Najeeb at that point turned the game on its head. Najeeb, who was later named man of the match, finished with figures of two for 10 from his 10 overs, while Nadeem took two for 21 from his 10. Between them they sent down 10 of the 12 maidens Hong Kong bowled.
'Their batsmen began by going for big shots, but our bowling and fielding put the pressure on them,' Singh said. 'We started to take wickets regularly and they panicked.'
It was poor cricket all round from Afghanistan. They first misread the wicket and put Hong Kong in to bat (Singh said Hong Kong would have batted if they had won the toss) and then messed up by starting with big shots and then going into a shell and failing to up the run rate as the skies darkened.