Hong Kong puts up an improved performance but is outclassed by their higher-rated opponents
Mohammad Shahzad, Afghanistan’s answer to India’s MS, took a tough ask by the scruff of the neck, paced his innings perfectly and even pulled out the patented helicopter shot to power Afghanistan to an energetic seven-wicket win.
Set 154 to win, Afghanistan was in serious danger of losing the plot when it began slowly and lost Najeeb Tarakai early on. Shahzad, never far from an aggressive shot, bided his time initially, but unfurled the demonic hoick over midwicket sooner rather than later. When the ball was full, Shahzad invariably chose the aerial route over cover, even when the safer option of picking the gap presented itself. On the day, it came off more often than not, and on the two occasions when he presented catches, Hong Kong’s fielders failed to latch on.
After nine overs, Afghanistan was only 49 for 1, needing a further 104 from the 11 at hand. At this stage, Shahzad decided he’d had enough, and attacked all out.
Hong Kong’s quicker bowlers simply did not have the pace or strength of their Afghan counterparts, and struggled to extract anything from the pitch. The slow bowlers could not keep things tight enough, and with every passing over, Afghanistan improved its chances.
With 38 needed from 27 balls, the game changed sharply as Shahzad’s inside-out carve off Haseeb was brilliantly caught on the cover fence by a diving Irfan Ahmed. Shahzad had made 68 from only 53 balls – his fifth fifty and two more than the rest of his countrymen have managed together – but left the field kicking himself for not having finished the job. He needn’t have worried.
Shafiqullah deployed the long handle to good effect, clouting Aizaz Khan first over long-on and then over midwicket in the 17th over to keep the chase on track. When Shafiqullah clouted his fifth four, a monstrous mow over square-leg, he had reached 51 off only 24 balls and taken his team home with 12 balls to spare.
Winning the toss and choosing to bat, Hong Kong, which had suffered when it played in front of a big crowd against Nepal, began badly once more, but settled into a groove before the Chittagong cricket faithful could finish work and reach the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium. Irfan Ahmed, of whom much was expected, fell first ball once more, this time caught behind off the nippy left-armer, Shapoor Zadran.
Atkinson and Waqas Barkat then steadied the ship. While Shapoor continued to extract handy bounce from a good length, this gave Afghanistan’s other bowlers a false sense of the conditions, and they dropped the ball short far too often. Atkinson was only too happy to line up the short ball, repeatedly reading the length early and cracking pulls over the on side.
But just when he was looking good, Atkinson fell, playing around a full one from Hamza Hotak, the left-arm spinner. Atkinson’s 20-ball 31 included five fours and a six and had given Hong Kong the momentum it so badly needed.
Barkat, holding his end up admirably, was joined by Mark Chapman, who used his feet well to unsettle the bowlers. Chapman shimmied down the pitch one time too many against Dawlat Zadran and the bowler pulled back his length in time, the resultant bouncer smacking the batsman square on the helmet. To his credit, though, Chapman was not put off his game.
When Samiullah Shenwari was too straight Chapman jumped at the chance, flicking with astonishing timing to clear the long boundary just backward of square-leg. Chapman and Barkat had added 60 for the third wicket, when a cheeky scoop shot went badly wrong. Barkat, who scored a run-a-ball 32, only managed to find the fielder at short fine-leg.
Chapman (38) fell just when Hong Kong was setting themselves up to shift gears, and at 117 for 5 in the 17th over, it was in danger of squandering a good start. However, there was enough life in the lower order to push the score to 153 for 8, a total that gave the bowlers a good chance to show what they were made of. If the batsmen failed to do the job in the first match, it was the bowling that was found wanting in the second.