Atkinson's heroics see HK book ticket to Dubai
Jamie Atkinson came of age under the toughest conditions of his short span as Hong Kong captain, leading the side into the world qualifiers for the ICC World Twenty20 with seven balls to spare in Kathmandu yesterday.
Atkinson (pictured) stroked a fine, unbeaten 41 as Hong Kong, chasing Kuwait's total of 130, won by six wickets. But more than victory was required to ensure a place in the world qualifying tournament in Dubai in March. They needed to reach the target by the end of the 16th over as net run rate had come into play with the United Arab Emirates and hosts Nepal also in the picture.
'We had to get the runs in 16 overs to make sure we topped Nepal's run rate. And I'm very proud of the way the guys played. They handled immense pressure very well and thoroughly deserve the berth in the world qualifiers,' said ecstatic Hong Kong coach Charlie Burke.
With more than 10,000 home fans screaming for Kuwait at the Tribhuvan University ground - a win would have ensured Nepal qualified - the pressure was on as Hong Kong went out to bat. It magnified immediately with openers Irfan Ahmed, the previous day's hero in the superb four-wicket victory over UAE, and Babar Hayat falling in the second over.
Hong Kong gambled and sent Munir Dar in at No 4. Dar, who hit a half-century against Saudi Arabia, was in fine touch again as he hammered a quick-fire 39, including four sixes and two fours, and figured in a 56-run stand with his skipper Atkinson.
'We knew we had to score at more than eight runs an over and we sent in Munir. He did a fantastic job,' Burke said. Dar, who had also grabbed two wickets, was given the Man-of-the-Match award.
Atkinson was also a worthy contender. The 21-year-old right-handed batsman, coming in at No 3, scored quickly. His 41 came off 29 balls and included five fours. He cleverly gave the in-form Dar most of the strike, taking quick singles. Once Dar was out, he did the same with his deputy, Nizakat Khan, whose timely cameo of 17 from nine balls kept the momentum going.
'Jamie was outstanding. He knew what was needed and coolly kept us on target,' Burke said.
Kuwait gave Hong Kong a stiffer target than expected.
A poor over from Roy Lamsam, who conceded 21 runs, allowed Kuwait to recover from 58 for six and reach a tricky total of 130. Irfan was the pick of the bowlers grabbing two for 13 from his four overs, including dangerman Mohammed Asghar. Asghar and fellow-opener Yasar Idrees gave Kuwait a superb start as they raced to 42 in the first three overs.
But Irfan, leg-spinner Nizakat and left-arm spinners Dar and Nadeem Ahmed pulled Kuwait back with each grabbing a brace of wickets. It was left to Atkinson to take Hong Kong into the world qualifiers.