When Hong Kong added 174 for the first wicket, it seemed a shock might be on the cards. But India held on to deny them what would have been one of cricket’s greatest upsets.
Chasing 285/7, Nizakat Khan and captain Anshuman Rath put on a calm and measured batting display that belied the reputation of their opponents and their inexperience at this level. However, once they fell, no one else was able to emulate their heroics, and India eventually completed a 26-run victory.
Between them they put on Hong Kong’s highest ever ODI partnership, beating their own 170 which they shared against Scotland in 2016. In a way, the feature of their partnership was that there was no feature; it was as orthodox and sensible a display of ODI batting as you could hope to see. They rotated the strike, put away the bad ball when on offer and didn’t go searching after a few tight overs.
For a long while Rohit Sharma looked clueless, rotating his bowlers to little effect. All except Shardul Thakur – plundered for 41 from four overs on a night to forget – kept it tight. None could find the killer blow.
Only when in sight of history did the pressure tell. Rath was the first to go, driving gently to extra cover having made 73 at a quick-enough strike rate of 75, despite only scoring five boundaries. Nizakat was the more aggressive, clumping 13 fours and sixes before being struck in front, just seven short of what would have been a monumental hundred. It was a superb innings nonetheless.
After them however, only boundaryless Ehsan Khan could surpass Babar Hayat’s sprightly 18, which contained a pair of sixes and briefly kept the flicker alive. Both he and Christopher Carter were caught behind by Dhoni off Yuzvendra Chahal and Khaleel Ahmed respectively.
KD Shah and Ehsan Khan continued to scrap, but apart from the former slogging over midwicket for a six, they had to rely on scampered running, and though they kept the rate just in touch, it felt trying to score at 10 an over would be their undoing. So it proved as Shah attempted to slap through the off side and only succeeded in slicing to point.
Aizaz Khan fell in the same Chahal over, misreading a wrong'un and struck on the pad, before Scott McKechnie was stumped off India's other wrist-spinner, Kuldeep Yadav.
Tanwir Afzal struck a third-ball six to keep the hope alive, but an excellent third-from-last over by Ahmed, who bowled well on debut despite the fright, left Hong Kong too much to do, and they eventually fell 27 runs short of their target.
Earlier, India had posted 285/7 thanks largely to a century from Dhawan and a half-century from Ambati Rayudu. They added 116 together to build on the fast start provided by Sharma, who scored 23 off 22 balls before trying to go big through the leg side and popping a leading edge to mid-off.
The pair built relatively slowly, as is India’s usual method, opting to keep wickets in hand for a late surge. Rayudu fell for 60 in the 30th over gloving an uppercut to the keeper. This was his first ODI in more than two years, and the knock went some way to justifying his recall, without truly putting to bed the suspicion that he can only make runs against lower-ranked opposition, and even then not quickly enough.
Dhawan was having no problem scoring fluently, although for such a destructive player and with such a strong platform, the feeling remained that he could have put his foot on the pedal sooner and perhaps even properly tried to get a double-hundred.
Nevertheless, his 127 was a fine effort, and was made to look all the more impressive by how India’s batsman struggled after his dismissal, trying to smash to the leg side and only succeeding in lobbing a catch to point.
India were 240/3 in the 41st over, and should have been aiming for a total perhaps nearing 350. How Hong Kong fought back was admirable, and they bowled well throughout, not panic when India were on top, and striking when the opportunity arose. Ehsan Khan was the most expensive, but also claimed the two key wickets of Sharma and Dhoni, edging behind to the keeper for a duck.
Dinesh Karthik then became the first of three wickets for Shah, holing out to deep midwicket, and the last of three wickets to fall in the space of eight runs. Kedhar Jadav stuck around for a 27-ball 28, and struck a gorgeous six straight back the ground, but that was one of just two boundaries they managed in the last 10 overs, and they finished on just 285/7.
It was a score they wouldn’t have been happy with, a long way behind what they would have expected to make against supposedly inferior opposition, but it still felt as if it would be plenty for a team who had been skittled two days prior. In the end, it was only just enough to beat back a team who showed huge heart and won a few fans.
Personalise your homepage with an ICC account
News, fixtures and updates tailored to your favourite team. Never miss a moment!