Dubai: Pakistan 120 for 2 (Imam 50*, Azam 33, Ehsan Khan 2-34) beat Hong Kong 116 (Aizaz 27, Usman 3-18, Hasan 2-19, Shadab 2-31) by eight wickets.
Pakistan got off to the comfortable start everyone expected from them, as they overpowered Hong Kong in Dubai and cruised to an eight-wicket win. After Hong Kong, who qualified for this tournament with a win against the Asia Cup hosts UAE, had folded for a meek 116, Pakistan began the chase brightly, though the game did take on a sense of meandering towards the inevitable, particularly after the dinner break. Hong Kong had the consolation of getting Fakhar Zaman’s wicket early on, the in-form batsman nicking Ehsan Khan to the wicketkeeper. Babar Azam fell in the same fashion before the match was over, but not before he and Imam-ul-Haq had put on a fifty-partnership that had left Pakistan a mere 25 runs from victory. That was as much joy as Hong Kong got, with Shoaib Malik and Imam – who made his first non-century 50-plus score – seeing Pakistan through to the target with more than half the overs still to spare.
It was hard to read much into Pakistan’s batting, given the complete absence of pressure from the chase, but the top order managed to retain their intensity through the chase. Proper cricket shots were paid en route to the target when many might have expected Pakistan would attempt to race towards the finish line. Imam played some striking shots, but Hong Kong’s bowlers were shown the respect they fully deserved, with the Associate nation arguably unlucky with a couple of lbw shouts Imam was fortunate to survive. It might not have changed the result, but with this being a rare opportunity for an Associate nation to front up to a global audience, even fleeting moments of success would have been cherished.
There was brief hope this would be competitive when Mohammad Amir was carted for 11 in the first over of the match, but after that Pakistan made the difference in class show almost every ball. As a result, Hong Kong lost numerous wickets in clumps, and had much to thank a sixth-wicket half-century stand between Kinchit Shah and Aizaz Khan, without which they would have struggled to reach three figures. Usman Khan eventually decimated the lower-middle order resistance with three wickets in an over and Hong Kong folded for a meek 116 in 37.1 overs.
Hong Kong had gleefully decided to bat first in brutally hot conditions in Dubai, but there was no sign of a drop in Pakistan’s fielding levels. The opening wicket fell to sharp work at point by Shadab Khan, sporting a new hairstyle and, seemingly, a fresh burst of energy. A direct hit put paid to Nizakat Khan, who flinched away from the ball instead of diving towards the crease.
Hong Kong found run-scoring extremely difficult in the face of a Pakistan attack that simply wouldn’t let up in terms of intensity, and that led to the pressure continuing to build. Hong Kong were being stifled, and not just by the weather. It told even on their best batsman Babar Hayat, who, having made just seven runs in 29 deliveries, charged Shadab first ball. He got nowhere near the pitch of the ball, and Sarfraz inflicted a straightforward stumping.
The 53-run stand between Kinchit and Aizaz lifted them from 44 for 5. It upped the run rate, too – a glorious six off Shoaib Malik over extra cover was a particularly eye-catching highlight – and briefly had them dreaming of a score that might challenge Pakistan, particularly if the surface took turn later on.
But Usman came back just in time to quash those dreams. Aizaz was cleaned up by a fast bowler’s dream of a delivery, bursting through the gap between bat and pad and taking off stump with it. Three balls later, Scott McKechnie was trapped plumb in front as he tried to flick and the over ended with Tanwir Afzal bowled for a golden duck. 97 for 5 became 97 for 8, and Pakistan were looking at a cakewalk again.
The only dampener for Pakistan was Usman limping off midway through the 33rd over with a bleeding toe.