Stepping up: new Hong Kong captain Babar Hayat ready for challenge against Ireland

Big-hitting batsman has difficult task against the top associate side in an ICC Intercontinental Cup clash in Belfast

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 11:03pm

Big-hitting batsman Babar Hayat could not have asked for a more difficult first captaincy assignment as Hong Kong face associate giants Ireland in an ICC Intercontinental Cup clash in Belfast, starting on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old took over the helm from Tanwir Afzal – who wanted to focus on his individual performances – before the team left for their tour of Ireland and Scotland. And he is ready to step up against arguably the strongest associate member in the league in their four-day encounter.

“It’s a big challenge for me – I’ve never captained before but I’m looking forward to it,” said Babar. “It’s a huge honour and I’m very proud to captain Hong Kong.

“I’m not nervous or feeling any additional pressure – just excited about captaining Hong Kong and leading the boys for this match. As a captain, I just want to be calm and cool and ensure my teammates don’t panic in the tough situations.

“I want the players to feel clear with their roles in the team. We’ve been doing a lot of preparation with the coaches so I’ve been speaking to the guys to give them their plans for the game.”

Ireland are in second place in the eight-team table with 60 points from three matches, one point behind Afghanistan, who have played four games. Hong Kong are fourth on 30 points from one win, one defeat and a no result. They are 16 points behind third-placed Netherlands, who have played four.

Hong Kong are without key players Mark Chapman and Jamie Atkinson – out with study and work commitments respectively – and one of the key tasks for the batsmen will be to display patience over four days.

“Ireland are the top associate team and are playing at home, so it’s as tough a test as you can get in four-day cricket. They deserve to be favourites but we have some young players who could spring a surprise.”

“Our aim is to put in a performance that will make the people of Hong Kong proud. We need to bat two to two and-a-half days. We don’t play a lot of four-day cricket so this is a great opportunity to work on being more patient.”

Hong Kong coach Simon Cook said he was confident Babar would rise to the occasion on his maiden outing as captain.

“I think Babar will be fairly relaxed,” said Cook. “He won’t be screaming and shouting out on the field but he’s still very driven and has a will to win and that will show.

“He thinks carefully about the game – it will be a challenge captaining his first game in international cricket but I think he’ll do a good job.”

Ireland have recalled left-arm spinner George Dockrell into their side, with the former Somerset player keen to become an established member of the squad.

“We’ve opted for an extra spinner in George who has produced some of his best cricket over the past six years in this competition,” Irish head of selectors Alan Lewis was quoted as saying. “Also we felt that the pitches in late August-early September are likely to offer assistance to the slow bowlers as the game progresses.”