A compelling tussle, in the balance to almost the very end, saw Hong Kong narrowly lose to Afghanistan in the latest match in the ACC U-19 Elite Cup. The result now means that Afghanistan are firmly on the top of Group B and have guaranteed themselves a place in the semi-finals.

Afghanistan won by 17 runs, but it wasn't easy as Hong Kong put up a very creditable fight. Hong Kong's bowlers bowled beautifully in the morning, particularly their three left-arm spinners Nadeem Ahmed, John Bacon and Shakeel Haq. Between them they bowled 30 overs for just 97 runs taking three wickets. Not easy when you're up against an Afghan line-up who are punishing on anything fractionally off-line.

Hong Kong celebrate the fourth Afghan wicket to fall,
Obaidullah Kunari, in the 12th over

Afghanistan attacked from the outset, their first runs coming from three boundaries by Sajed Khan and Abdul Qader. However, as was the case throughout, Hong Kong's bowlers maintained their discipline and allowed Afghanistan's batsmen to self-destruct. Khan and Qader fell, driving, and when Afghanistan's captain Sher Sherzai fell to another loose stroke for just 3, Afghanistan were 25 for 3 and potentially in a bit of trouble.

"They don't like slow bowling", said Hong Kong's coach Lal Jayasinghe of Afghanistan's batsmen, "they don't use their feet so they can't hit freely at all." Initially that didn't bother Obaidullah Kunari, who smashed his third, eighth, tenth and twelfth deliveries for 6, each hit over the boundary straighter and further than the last. Kunari hit six 6s in all and all credit to slow left-armer Shakeel Huq who had 16 hit off his first five balls, to keep tossing the ball up as Kunari, going for yet another monster of a smite, was caught by Robert Bacon at fly slip for 44 off just 19 deliveries. "I was trying to break Shahid Afridi's record," Kunari said afterwards. (Afridi is thought of as Afghani by the Afghans).

Kunari miscues to be caught by Robert Bacon

From 77 for 3 in the 12th over, Afghanistan fell away to 79 for 5 and once more the game was in the balance. At that stage Shabbir Noori joined Noor ul-Huq ('The Rock', his team-mates call him) and Afghanistan spent  a lot of time  regrouping. Noor  alone  amongst his team-mates looks comfortable against spin and though Hong Kong's slow left-arm trio started to assert themselves from now on in, they could never trouble Noor. Only after he reached 50, (off 123 deliveries) did he allow himself the freedom to hit over the top and two sixes later was out for 64. So hard had he concentrated in the 86 degree heat that a migraine meant he couldn't take the field later.

Thumbs up from The Rock

His 76-run partnership with Noori had brought Afghanistan back into the game but following his departure, the remaining batsmen ("We bat all the way down to 10", says the Afghan coach) couldn't push on as Hong Kong worked themselves back into the game with tight-bowling and good fielding. Dismissed for 189 inside 50 overs, Afghanistan had handed Hong Kong a fighting chance.

"It was a gettable target and I backed the boys to get it," said Lal Jayasinghe. Nadeem Ahmed got a snorter to the sixth ball of the Hong Kong innings however, the ball of the day, as Asghar Hussain worked up a head of steam from the Kinrara Road end. Shakeel Haq stayed a long time but pushed on to the back foot time and time again by Hussain and Izatullah Khan, he couldn't manage more than 2 runs off his 31 deliveries. James Atkinson fell for 1 soon after and at 21 for 3, Hong Kong were in dire straits.

Robert Bacon against Asghar Hussain's pace was a
high-class battle

In Robert Bacon, a tall, elegant right-hander however, they have some batsman. With his captain Courtney Kruger he shared a 55-run partnership full of positivity in running and strokeplay before Bacon hit a ball from slow left-armer Aimal Wafa into short mid-wicket's hands. Such had been the class of his 47, it was a surprise to see him fall in this bathetic manner.

Izatullah Khan

Afghanistan then turned the screws as steadily fell the Hong Kong wickets, the skies also darkening above them. But they were also scoring runs and at 113 for 6 at the start of the 38th over, they were still in with a chance. But Izatullah Khan, coming back for his second spell bowled him and every subsequent yorker was deadly. Izatullah's second spell of 3-1-4-2 was high-class and would have troubled Hong Kong's top-order. Still, it was only when little Ashish Gadhia was run-out for 23 after a clever innings could Afghanistan really relax.

Hong Kong ultimately fell 17 runs short but the game was very close to being theirs for a very long time.

Group B
Afghanistan v Hong Kong at Kinrara Oval
Hong Kong won the toss and elected to field
Afghanistan: 189 in 49.4 overs (N. ul-Haq 64, O. Kunari 44; S. Haq 4-43)
Hong Kong: 172 after 50 overs (R. Bacon 47; I. Khan 4-19)
Man of the Match: Izatullah Khan (Afghanistan)


Filed August 24 2007