By Anand Vasu in Chittagong
After defeats in their opening games, Afghanistan and Hong Kong work to keep spirits up and put on a better show
The schedule of the qualifying round allowed no respite, and in a way this helped the two first-game losers, Afghanistan and Hong Kong, as there was no time to brood.
For Afghanistan, the match can only be easier than their first one, not only because its opponents are less formidable, but because the pitch at Chittagong – even paced and with a smattering of live grass – would suit its style of play better. “We played a warm up match here. It’s a good pitch. There is a bit of seam movement, but the ball comes onto the bat nicely,” said Mohammad Nabi, the Afghanistan captain. “From our perspective, we prefer that. Our players are stroke-makers, so we always enjoy it when the ball comes on to the bat nicely, rather than when it turns a lot.”
Nabi added that he took nothing away from Bangladesh, while suggesting that the conditions went against them. “We did not get a good start. There was pressure after we lost a wicket on the first ball. Shakib (Al Hasan) and (Abdur) Razzaq bowled brilliantly, and the pitch also helped them. There was a lot of turn and that did not help us,” said Nabi. “Bangladesh exploited the home advantage brilliantly and they were the better team on the day. But we have been here from the Asia Cup to prove our existence on the biggest stage. Unfortunately we could not repeat the Asia Cup performance in the first World T20 match, but it is our aim to prove our supremacy among the associate teams. We’re hoping to have a much better performance in the remaining two matches, and hopefully the best team will go through to the next round.”
For Hong Kong, the mental adjustment required was a slightly different one. Having lost to Nepal, a team it has beaten in the past, it now squares off against tougher opposition. “Everyone would expect Afghanistan and Bangladesh to beat us, particularly after a heavy loss in the first game. The clear message that I will be sending to the players is that we need to play without fear. Maybe that will be a good thing for us,” said Charlie Burke, coach of the Hong Kong team. “I will be telling the boys to play with no fear. Take the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere. It’s hugely important for the players not to think about the defeat but to think about the fact that we’re here playing in the World T20. It’s not every day you get to travel the world and play in such a big stage with the world watching. A big part of it is soaking that up and backing themselves.”
Immediately after the loss, Jamie Atkinson, Hong Kong’s captain, admitted that the magnitude of the occasion and the sheer din of the crowd had contributed to his team’s downfall. Was there anything the coaching staff could do to help counter this? “There’s not a lot you can do to replicate the pressure of a big match, particularly your first World T20. I don’t think anything will prepare you for that,” said Burke. “What’s got to happen from the coaching staff and the leaders in the team is to be positive. There’s no point getting down. The match against Afghanistan is a chance for us to show everyone how good Hong Kong is in the T20 format. We certainly didn’t show that in our first game.”
For Burke, the key for his team was to quickly dust themselves off from its first loss, and get some confidence back. “I don’t think that the way we played against Nepal is a true reflection of our side,” said Burke. “There’s a lot of belief among the group. We’ve done well against Afghanistan in the past and I don’t see why it should be different on Tuesday.”
Hong Kong: Jamie Atkinson (capt, wk), Waqas Barqat, Aizaz Khan, Babar Hayat, Mark Chapman, Ehsan Nawaz, Haseeb Amjad, Irfan Ahmed, Roy Lamsam, Munir Dar, Nadeem Ahmed, Najeeb Amar, Nizakat Khan, Kinchit Shah, Tanwir Afzal.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Nawroz Mangal, Karim Sadiq, Shafiqullah, Mohammad Nabi (capt), Najibullah Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Hamza Hotak, Najeeb Tarakai, Asghar Stanikzai, Mirwais Ashraf, Aftab Alam.