WT20 : Afghanistan vs Hong Kong, World T20 Preview

WT20 : Afghanistan vs Hong Kong, World T20 Preview

If teams won contests for a show of intensity and passion, Afghanistan would be giving the best in the world a run for their money all the time. However, in professional sport, there is no room for fictitious honours. A win is the way forward, a loss means a disappointing walk back.

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Having got past Scotland in its opening Group B game of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 on Tuesday, up next for Afghanistan on Thursday (March 10) at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur is Hong Kong, which came second best to Zimbabwe in its first tie.

Hong Kong has beaten Afghanistan twice in four matches between the sides in Twenty20 Internationals, and on three of those occasions, Mohammad Shahzad hasn’t touched 25. In each of those matches, though, Shahzad’s strike rate has been in excess of 120, but he hasn’t done as much damage to Hong Kong as he has to Scotland in the past or even in the previous game, when he bludgeoned 61 from 39 balls.

Once the rotund opener gets cracking, the game is as good as done, and even more so when you have a tidy bowling unit like Afghanistan to contend with.

Getting Shahzad out early will be high on Hong Kong’s list of things to do to improve its chances against one of the more successful Associate teams in recent times. Then, there’s the matter of getting rid of Asghar Stanikzai, the skipper, an attacking Noor Ali Zadran, a quick-wristed Gulbadin Naib and Najibullah Zadran, who smashed 60 from 35 balls the last time the sides met.

Hong Kong possesses a decent bowling unit, led by Tanwir Afzal’s medium-pace, but spin is its main asset. In Nadeem Ahmed’s left-arm orthodox and Aizaz Khan’s quickish off-cutters rest Hong Kong’s hopes of stifling Afghanistan’s batting. On a spinner-friendly surface in Nagpur, it’s perhaps its best shot at keeping the score down.

Even if it does manage that, there’s the task of gathering runs on a slow surface against an organised bowling unit. Amir Hamza and Dawlat Zadran are two of the fastest in the Afghanistan side and they make scoring hard by bowling a wicket-to-wicket line. Mohammad Nabi isn’t the force he used to be but his cheeky off-spin is still a partnership-breaker. Samiullah Shenwari’s leg-spin isn’t a thing of beauty but there’s a favourable effect when he finds his zone. Rashid Khan, however, is the one Hong Kong’s aggressive batsmen should be most watchful of. The leg-spinner with a penchant for the googly is quick through the air and regularly puts batsmen in uncomfortable positions.

Are Hong Kong’s batsmen equipped to handle this unit? History suggests that they are. With Mark Chapman capable of playing the role of accumulator and attacker with equal proficiency at No. 4 and Babar Hayat wielding a broad blade at No. 3, Hong Kong has a good top order. Jamie Atkinson too proved his worth in the previous game, but Hong Kong doesn’t have the luxury of time to see if Ryan Campbell settles down in his role as the other opener.

The former Australian international, who on Tuesday became the oldest player to make his T20I debut at 44, looked out of sorts when Zimbabwe’s new-ball bowlers moved it around a shade. Going by what Afzal said after the loss to Zimbabwe, he looks set to retain his place at the top in a show of confidence, though Hayat has opened before and could do so again.

Teams (from):

Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (captain), Noor Ali Zadran, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Sadiq, Shafiqullah, Rashid Khan, Amir Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan.

Hong Kong: Tanwir Afzal (captain), Aizaz Khan, Anshy Rath, Jamie Atkinson, Babar Hayat, Ryan Campbell, Christopher Carter, Mark Chapman, Haseeb Amjad, Nadeem Ahmed, Nizakat Khan, Kinchit Shah, Tanveer Ahmed, Waqas Barkat, Waqas Khan.