'Bad boy' resurrects HK's hopes
'Bad boy' Irfan Ahmed showed how important he is to the fortunes of the Hong Kong team as he almost single-handedly resurrected the city's hopes of playing in next year's world qualifiers for the ICC World Twenty20 competition.
Irfan, banned from the Hong Kong Sixes in October for 'truancy', hit a magnificent 70 to lead Hong Kong to a four-wicket victory over favourites United Arab Emirates in the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 Cup tournament in Kathmandu yesterday. The victory left Hong Kong one step away from representing Asia in the world qualifiers. They need to defeat Kuwait today.
Three teams, along with Afghanistan, who have already qualified, will book berths for the 16-team world qualifiers next March in Dubai.
Only two associate countries will make it through and join the 10 test-playing nations in the finals in Sri Lanka in September.
The fact that Hong Kong have a sniff of a chance of emerging from the Asian qualifiers is all down to Irfan, whose sensational innings earned him the man-of-the-match accolade after Hong Kong chased down a target of 145.
'It was an exceptional innings,' Hong Kong's coach, Charlie Burke, said. 'He batted superbly. I expect big things from him in the future.'
Five weeks ago, Irfan, 22, was kicking his heels in frustration after the selectors dropped him from the Hong Kong squad for the Sixes on disciplinary grounds. The talented all-rounder had failed to turn up at practices, saying he couldn't get time off work. It is believed the 2009 Sixes player of the tournament had hoped he would be compensated for his time. The selectors told him that wouldn't be the case.
All those bad memories were forgotten yesterday as he smashed 70 off just 42 balls, including five sixes and five fours, He hammered the much-vaunted UAE spinners to all parts of the ground.
Irfan found the perfect partner in teenager Babar Hayat, who showed at the Sixes this year that he was another player with a future.
While most of the other teams in this 10-team tournament have opted to build a platform before attacking later in the innings, Hong Kong have opted to throw caution to the wind from the outset.
'Our game plan came off today,' Burke said. 'While Irfan stole the show, you can't underestimate Babar's knock. We had to get off to a good start and they both gave us that.'
By the end of the 'powerplay' - the sixth over - Hong Kong had reached 66 for no loss and UAE were in disarray. Hayat (29) was out in the next over trying to hit the cover off the ball, but his departure didn't stop the run flow as Irfan and skipper Jamie Atkinson added another quick-fire 42 runs with Atkinson's contribution being just eight.
Atkinson's departure signalled a mini collapse as four more wickets fell, but Munir Dar, the hero in the win over Saudi Arabia, saw Hong Kong home with two overs to spare.
That boosted Hong Kong's run rate, leaving them top of the pool even though UAE and hosts Nepal also have the same number of points - four from two wins.
'We are one game away from booking our berth,' said Burke, delighted at the turnaround after the opening-game loss to Nepal.
'It is all pretty exciting.'