Hong Kong will have their work cut out in this year's Asia Cup, but the tournament's underdogs cannot be written off.
After a year which began in difficult circumstances, Hong Kong have bounced back in emphatic style, and they will enter the competition in high spirits. After losing one-day international status during their ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 campaign, a great run of form ensued into the Asia Cup qualifying tournament, where they lost just one match, to Malaysia, and defeated hosts United Arab Emirates by two wickets in the final to secure qualification to the tournament proper. Their matches have regained ODI status solely for this tournament.
Hong Kong have competed in two Asia Cups prior to this in 2004 and 2008. They failed to record a win either time, and in 2008, they were pitted against giants India and Pakistan in a supremely difficult group, something that they must endure once again this year. If they manage to get out of this year's group, then it will surely be seen as one of the most phenomenal feats in the history of the Asia Cup.
Qualifying for the #AsiaCup, taking on India and Pakistan, playing against his idol Amir – there's much for @CricketHK's Aizaz Khan to be excited about!— ICC (@ICC) September 14, 2018
Can 🇭🇰 create an upset in the tournament?
➡️ https://t.co/yqjHnLEzhy pic.twitter.com/xN4swRHEUj
If they are to topple either India or Pakistan, then it will be the bowlers who will most likely dictate terms. Seamer Aizaz Khan returned magnificent figures of 5/28 in the recent final of the qualifiers against the UAE, and alongside 23-year old Ehsan Nawaz and the experienced Tanwir Afzal, Hong Kong possess a strong pace unit.
The spinners offer variety to the bowling attack too. Left-arm tweaker Nadeem Ahmed is a hugely tricky customer with many variations, while 33-year old veteran Ehsan Khan has the experience and guile to strangle opposition batsmen. There is certainly no room for error given the heavyweight opposition.
Anshuman Rath and Babar Hayat both notched a century and a half-century each during the Asia Cup qualifying campaign, but the remainder of the side was mediocre with willow in hand, so these two premier batsmen will need to dig in against the best in the industry if they are not to expose their somewhat rickety batting line-up.
India and Pakistan are in the same group and are favourites to move forward, but a hungry-for-success Hong Kong are keen to make a splash.#AsiaCup Group A PREVIEW 👇https://t.co/5eMIAw6FR8 pic.twitter.com/LTczBId8m4— ICC (@ICC) September 14, 2018
Players to watch out for
Anshuman Rath has created quite a buzz since breaking into the Hong Kong side. At just 20 years old, with an ODI average above 50 and half-centuries against Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, there is an assumption amongst many that he may become his country's first cricketing superstar. Combine his batting credentials with his position of skipper at such a tender age, and you have a starlet with maturity beyond his years. Watch this space.
In the bowling department, keep an eye out for Nadeem Ahmed. His alternation between the orthodox delivery and the unconventional is known to dupe opposition batsmen, and his element of surprise might just be the ticket in terms of dislodging India and Pakistan's best.
16 September: v Pakistan
18 September: v India
Anshuman Rath (c), Aizaz Khan, Arshad Mohammad, Babar Hayat, Christopher Carter, Ehsan Khan, Ehsan nawaz, Cameron McAuslan, Scott McKechnie, Nadeem Ahmed, Nizakat Khan, Kinchit Shah, Jhatavedh Subramanyan, Tanwir Afzal, Waqas Khan