Afghanistan crush HK trophy hopes to win with plenty to spare
Hong Kong's hopes of defending the Asian Cricket Council Trophy were crushed by Afghanistan, who swept to a convincing five-wicket victory in the semi-finals in Kuwait.
It was a replay of the semi-finals two years ago when Hong Kong won by 25 runs. But since then Afghanistan have come on strongly, and turned into a more self-assured and mature outfit - having even qualified for next month's ICC Twenty20 against the test-playing nations. Afghanistan's new-found confidence was too hot for Hong Kong to handle.
Electing to bat after winning the toss, Hong Kong were well placed on 126 for two in the 36th over, before it all went horribly wrong for Najeeb Amar's men as wickets fell at regular intervals and they struggled to reach 205 before being dismissed with 11 balls to spare.
Hussain Butt stroked a patient 63 off 113 deliveries and received good support, first from Roy Lamsam (26) as they figured in a 45-run stand for the second wicket, and then from Ilyas Gull (23) as they put on 77 for the third wicket.
But from a position of strength, and with wickets in hand, Hong Kong failed to push on and the next five wickets fell for just 36 runs. But with skipper Najeeb and Munir Dar still at the wicket, there was hope left.
Both batsmen got starts, each scoring a run-a-ball 18, but could not carry on and compile a blossoming partnership as the innings finished tamely.
With batting conditions easing in the afternoon, Afghanistan were never in any trouble in the run chase, which got off to a flying start as they reached 67 for one in the first 10 overs. Asghar Stankezai hit an unbeaten 55 and, with Mohammed Nabi (25 not out), they sealed victory with more than five overs to spare.
Afghanistan will meet Nepal in the final. Nepal booked their place with a seven-run victory over Malaysia in the other semi-final. Whoever wins, Asia will have a new champion at the associate level.
The number of runs put on for Hong Kong's third wicket by Hussain Butt and Ilyas Gull: 77