HK aim to wipe out defeat by Afghanistan in Nepal final
Hong Kong have a chance to see how they will fare against the top associate countries in the world when they take on Afghanistan in the final of the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 tournament in Kathmandu today.
Having reached the world qualifiers for the 2012 World Twenty20, Hong Kong will be up against the likes of teams from Ireland, Scotland and Canada next March in the United Arab Emirates. And coming up against Afghanistan today will give coach Charlie Burke and the team a taste of what to expect as they bid to become one of two associate countries to qualify for the ICC tournament in Sri Lanka next September.
But Burke has more pressing things on his mind, like avenging last year's crushing defeat by Afghanistan at the Asian Games in Guangzhou.
'It will be a great thrill to play Afghanistan in the final. They knocked us out of the Asian Games one year ago and this is the perfect opportunity to avenge that defeat,' he said. 'They are clear favourites but they have not had any tough games so far and have been in cruise control throughout this tournament. Hopefully we will be able to challenge them.'
Since bursting on to the international cricket scene a decade ago, Afghanistan have made huge strides. They played at the last World Twenty20 in the Caribbean and are among the leading associate countries in the world. They have swept aside all opponents in Kathmandu and are in front to clinch the ACC crown today.
But Hong Kong have been playing superb cricket, too. After an opening loss to Nepal - in the last ball - the Jamie Atkinson-led team have scored creditable victories over Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait in pool games. This put Hong Kong into the world qualifiers. They then went one step further by defeating Oman in the semi-finals. Now the plum is within reach.
'If we can play like we have done in the past few games, I believe we can push Afghanistan. But we need to improve on a number of things, especially the shot selection of our batsman,' Burke said.
Munir Dar has been in outstanding form, topping the batting averages - he is the leading the sixes' count with 10 in the tournament - and has scored two unbeaten half-centuries.
Irfan Ahmed is on his heels, as far as the number of sixes hit (nine), but has got out when he was in good touch. Hong Kong will hope that Irfan and fellow-opener Babar Hayat give the team a healthy start.
In the bowling department, Irfan is the chief wicket-taker with 11 scalps, followed by Munir (six). If the rest of the bowlers can keep it tight, Hong Kong will be able to put some pressure on the powerful Afghan batting line-up.
Hong Kong will make one change today to the winning combination which figured in the past few games. Roy Lamsam is out with a broken index finger. He picked up the injury while taking a superb catch in the game against Oman. He is likely to be replaced by Asif Khan or Kinchit Shah.
'Afghanistan are a very good side. They played at the last World Twenty20, and before coming here played games against the likes of Pakistan A and West Indies A. They will be hard to beat but we are a confident side,' Burke said.