Giantkilling Hong Kong claim England's scalp at cricket sixes
Home team live up to their reputation by qualifying for Cup competition at expense of more illustrious opponents at the Sixes
Explosive batting from Babar Hayat and two crucial overs from Munir Dar and Tanvir Afzal allowed Hong Kong to live up to their hard-earned reputation as giantkillers as the home team booked their berth in the Cup competition at the Karp Group Hong Kong Sixes yesterday.
Teenager Hayat overshadowed more illustrious names as he led Hong Kong's charge into the main event with two unbeaten knocks - 31 or more and you have to retire - against Australia and South Africa. His first innings, coupled with good support from the rest of the batting line-up, allowed Hong Kong to thump Australia by a massive 67 runs, but his next knock was not as influential as the hosts slipped to a four-wicket defeat to South Africa.
It meant the final pool game against England took on a must-win nature. And Hong Kong could only manage a modest 78 against England's hardened County Championship professionals. It didn't look good, until left-arm spinner Dar and seamer Afzal turned things around with two superb overs, where together they bowled seven dot balls and only conceded 12 runs.
That pulled the rug from under the feet of five-time champions England, who fell short by seven runs in the chase. As a result, the Joshua Cobb-led team were relegated to the Plate competition today.
"We were probably 20 short of what we needed but to keep them to seven short was a superb effort," said Hong Kong captain Jamie Atkinson, who was making his Sixes debut.
"I watched this tournament every year as a kid and I had always wanted to play, and it was good to end the opening day by beating England," Atkinson added.
Newly qualified for Hong Kong, Afzal was asked to bowl the penultimate fourth over with England needing another 31 runs. It was a very gettable target, especially at the stamp-sized Kowloon Cricket Club, which was almost at capacity yesterday. But Afzal was equal to the task, conceding only five runs while taking the wicket of Cobb. "Tanvir couldn't have bowled a better over," Atkinson said.
Hong Kong coach Charlie Burke added: "That was two great overs from Munir and Afzal. Ours was a below-par score and we needed to bowl and field like we had never done. We held on to a couple of crucial catches and held our nerve."
Burke reserved special praise for teenager Hayat, who had to complete the job bowling the final over against England. Hayat, 18, doesn't bowl for Pakistan Association in the local league competition, but was unruffled and up to the task as England, needing 27 off the last over, could only manage 19 runs.
The win allowed Hong Kong to accompany South Africa from their pool into the Cup competition. Defending champions Pakistan and Sri Lanka advanced from the other pool. The Cup competition will be played initially on a round-robin basis, with the top two teams meeting again in the final.
For Sri Lanka, openers Kusal Perera and Chamara Kapugedera looked dangerous and played a huge role in the island nation remaining unbeaten on day one, including a last-ball win over Pakistan in the final match of the day.
But all that will count for nothing as Pakistan are still in the running, as are Hong Kong.
"We have given ourselves a chance. Our goal has always been to go one step further than last year when we reached the Cup semi-finals. We are in with a shout," Burke added.