Nadeem in brilliant form, but lack of a 'killer punch' undoes HK
Nadeem Ahmed was hailed as Hong Kong's 'special one' after his magnificent four-wicket haul briefly conjured up visions of a shock win over Pakistan in the opening game of the Asia Cup in Karachi.
Left-arm spinner Nadeem grabbed the big wickets of illustrious batsmen Mohammed Yousuf, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi as Pakistan slumped to 161 for seven before recovering to 288, and posting a 155-run victory over Hong Kong.
'He was one Hong Kong player who didn't look out of place,' said Hong Kong manager Ravi Nagdev. 'He looked the part and showed us he is a special talent.'
Nadeem said: 'I just couldn't believe that I got the wickets of four players of this calibre. I knew the wicket was slow and I decided to flight the ball. It was just like a dream when the wickets started to fall.'
Only 16 when he made his one-day international debut at the 2004 Asia Cup in Colombo, Nadeem's four for 51 are the best figures by a Hongkonger at this level. It surpassed Ilyas Gull's three for 46 against Bangladesh four years ago at this same event.
But Hong Kong's failure to deliver a 'killer punch' plus poor batting allowed Pakistan to avoid embarrassment. Sohail Tanvir and Fawad Alam figured in a face-saving 100-run stand, which lifted Pakistan to 288 for nine - a total beyond the reach of Hong Kong's poor batting.
'We had our moments,' Hong Kong coach Aftab Habib said. 'At one stage it looked as if we could get them out for less than 200. Then anything would have been possible if we had batted out our 50 overs. But we lacked the killer punch.'
For a moment, Hong Kong dared to dream with Nadeem in full flight. But one contentious decision by the third umpire which went in favour of Tanvir - he was given the benefit of the doubt off a stumping by wicketkeeper Jamie Atkinson - allowed Pakistan to regroup and recover from 161 for seven and post a match-winning total.
The rest went true to the script with Hong Kong's woeful batting once again failing to deliver as they were bowled out for 133 with 12 overs to spare.
'We needed a bit of magic from someone when Pakistan were 161 for seven,' Habib said. 'But it didn't happen. We didn't have a fast bowler who could have stepped in and cleaned up the tail. And they recovered to post a total which was always beyond us. But I'm proud of the way the boys played.' Nadeem, superbly varying his flight and length, sparked the collapse by breaking a blossoming third-wicket partnership when he got Yousuf miscuing a sweep and top-edging to Afzaal Haider running around at backward square leg.
In his next over, Nadeem lured Younis out of his crease to be stumped by Atkinson on the second attempt. He then trapped Misbah leg before, and caught and bowled the dangerous Afridi to have Pakistan reeling at 150 for six.
At this stage captain Tabarak Dar, who had not put a foot wrong after losing the toss, inexplicably took Nadeem off with his figures reading four for 33 from seven overs. The bowler who could have delivered the killer blow Habib sought had been taken off the attack.
'We were short of a sixth bowler and I think Tabarak wanted to save him [Nadeem] for the final overs,' Habib said in defence of his captain. 'Nadeem looked a class act. He and the other two left-arm spinners [Najeeb Amar and Munir Dar] bowled brilliantly.'
Pakistan's blushes were spared by Tanvir (59), who was lucky to survive the stumping off Munir Dar, and Fawad (63 not out) figuring in an Asia Cup record 100-run stand for the eighth wicket.
'It was touch and go until that stand,' Habib said. 'Tanvir got the benefit of the doubt and I think that was a turning point. We might have still struggled to get 200, but at least we would have had a realistic chance.'
Hong Kong began needing a run rate of 5.76. Dar and Skhawat Ali began promisingly taking the score to 28 off seven overs before Dar had to retire hurt after being hit on the cheekbone from a rearing delivery by Umar Gul.
The rot quickly set in as Hong Kong lost four quick wickets. Atkinson and Zain Abbas briefly resisted, putting on 31 for the fifth wicket but, after they fell, Hong Kong's dreams had ended.