Hong Kong raring to go against Zimbabwe in ICC World Twenty20 opener
After beating an invitational side in their final warm-up, the real test begins in Nagpur, India
Hong Kong go into their ICC World Twenty20 opener against Zimbabwe on Tuesday as clear underdogs but with hopes revived after a much-needed victory in their final warm-up match.
Tanwir Afzal’s side beat an invitational XI by one wicket on Saturday in Dharamsala, and although the margin of victory was paper-thin it at least provided a psychological boost after a series of defeats.
Hong Kong lost all three of their games in the ACC Asia Cup qualifier in Bangladesh last month and then went down to a 10-wicket loss to Ireland in their first World Cup warm-up match.
The results highlighted the size of the task ahead for Hong Kong against a Zimbabwe side who comfortably beat the Irish by six wickets with 13 balls left in their warm-up clash on Saturday.
They also face Afghanistan and Scotland in group B, with the pool winners advancing to the second round of the tournament against the big test teams.
Hong Kong lost to the Afghans in the Asia Cup qualifier but they beat Scotland in one of two T20 matches when the Scots visited the city for a series in January.
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“I’m sure every team is confident that they can go through and we are no different,” said Afzal.
“We’ve beaten every team in our group at some stage over the last two years so that gives us confidence. It’s Twenty20 cricket so anything can happen, I am sure it will be very close and exciting.”
There are more positives for Hong Kong with former Australian international Ryan Campbell hitting 46 against HPCA XI on Saturday and Babar Hayat emerging as the highest run-maker in the Asia Cup. Mark Chapman has also been among the runs with Hong Kong able to field their strongest line-up.
Hayat’s total of 194 from three matches, including 122 against Oman, put him ahead of the likes of India’s Virat Kohli and other top batsmen.
“Zimbabwe have some dangerous players in their team and are probably the favourites to go through,” Afzal said.
“But we are confident in our own abilities and for the first time for a while we will have our strongest team. The guys just want to do Hong Kong proud.”
Test nation Zimbabwe are ranked 13th in Twenty20, one place ahead of Hong Kong.
The two teams have never met each other in an official international match, although Hong Kong defeated the African side in a warm-up match for the 2014 World Twenty20 tournament.
Hong Kong coach Simon Cook said he was happy with the preparations and the players were ready for the rest test.
“It’s a huge match for us, our first real T20 match of the campaign against a full test-playing nation so it doesn’t get much bigger than that,” said Cook.
“Having said that, we shouldn’t approach it with any fears. We will approach it as underdogs and go out and express ourselves and show off our skills to the world.
“We are as well-prepared as we can be. We played in different conditions in Bangladesh, where the wickets were green and seamed around a bit. Then we moved to Mumbai and played on spinning pitches and now in Nagpur the wickets are a bit unknown but we think we’ve got every base covered.”
HKCA director of cricket Charlie Burke said the squad were more relaxed than when they played in their first T20 World Cup two years ago in Bangladesh.
“There’s more comfort in what we’re doing and what to expect,” he said. “The guys are raring to go. Last time it was a bit of an unknown.
“We’ve had a tough few weeks here. We played Zimbabwe in the warm-ups in Bangladesh and had a good win against them. We have a lot of information about their side.
“They haven’t done so well the last couple of months so I back us. We have variety in bowling and big hitters and guys who are strong finishers. I think we’ll be tough to beat.
“We’ve kept the group together over the last couple of years and that’s crucial. We are no longer the unknowns. There’s no excuse.
“We’ve played at a consistently high level for a couple of years and this time, rather than being scared, the guys are itching for it.”