On the hottest day of the year so far in Kuwait, the thermometers showing 37°C, Saudi Arabia outplayed Hong Kong to win a high-scoring game by 5 wickets. This after Hong Kong had posted the highest score of the tournament so far, 241. "They just outplayed us in every department," said Hong Kong's coach Aftab Habib afterwards, "full credit to them, they batted well and took full advantage of a good wicket and a fast outfield. They've got some seriously good bats in their side."

But the fact of the matter is Saudi Arabia won a game that few would have expected them to. "The pressure of chasing is something that is difficult to face," said Saudi Arabia's coach Mansoor Akhtar (like Aftab Habib a former Test-player) and the boys really impressed me with the way they kept up with the run-rate by playing good cricket shots all the time. They never slogged or played bad shots. They hit the bad ball and played very professional cricket."

The thing is the team are new to Mr. Akhtar – the first time he saw them was when he landed in Kuwait from Pakistan. Like the rest of those watching he had no idea, for all their possible talent, what kind of Saudi players had turned up. Particularly after they had made only 96 in reply to Nepal's 233 on the opening day.

It was difficult at Hubara today, the players were consuming so much water, extra supplies had to be brought in by the afternoon and in the morning their was the added factor of a swirling breeze strong enough to blow sand and debris onto the outfield. Hong Kong didn't start well after batting on winning the toss,  and were 89 for 7 by the 22nd over.

Hong Kong's Irfan Ahmed didn't get off to a flier
Waqas Barkat stood tall for Hong Kong

Saudi bowlers were gifted several Hong Kong wickets in between the good deliveries but Muhammad Ramzan particularly impressed (his team-mates call him 'Murali'). "He has a big offie and a doosra with exactly the same action," says Hong Kong's Waqas Barkat, and he took 3-16 off his 10 overs. Ramzan bowled very well, getting turn and bounce, but Barkat was smart enough to survive and tell his 8th-wicket partner Aizaz Khan how to play Ramzan. Barkat and Aizaz put on 137 in 24 overs for the 8th-wicket to rescue their side and they really did play well.

Muhammad Ramzan twirls another one

Ramzan apart, none of the Saudi bowlers really threatened and Hong Kong's 241 in the end was par for the track.

The Saudis too got themselves out initially, the openers swinging wildly at the gentle left-arm swing of Niaz Ali to be 31 for 2 at the end of the 5th over and were four down (two for 63 after two stumpings in the 14th over. It looked like Saudi Arabia were going to go down swinging. Nothing suggested any different until Abdul Salam played a sublime straight drive off Nizakat Khan to the Car Park End. This was one batsman who knew what to do. Together with the 'little general' Hasan Bukhari, Salam put up a century-stand   with very little trouble.

Saudi Arabia's Salam takes on Irfan Ahmed

"We lacked vigour in the field, we lacked venom, no one really stepped up and made things happen" said Hong Kong's coach afterwards as the wicket started looking flatter and flatter. Salam fell to a run-out with the score on 181 in the 38th over, which brought the tall right-hander Waqas Khalid in and he made batting look easiest of all. Helmetless against the pace of ODI bowler Irfan Ahmed Khalid stroked seven fours in his 40 off just 29 deliveries and in the space of just half-an-hour more Saudi Arabia had won.

Victory for Saudi Arabia opens up Group A with now Hong Kong, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia all on one win each after two matches. All three teams play each other over the next two days, a semi-final place at stake. "The Saudis showed they are the match for anyone in the competition today," said ACC Development Officer Iqbal Sikander, "few outside the team would have thought they could win but they surprised us all. They look a top side."

2009 ACC U-19 Elite Cup   
Hong Kong v Saudi Arabia at Hubara
Hong Kong won the toss and chose to bat
Hong Kong: 241 off 48.3 overs (W.Barqat 84, A.Khan 66; M.Ramzan 3-16)
Saudi Arabia: 243 for 5 off 45.5 overs (A.Salam 68, H.Bukhari 57*, W.Khalid 40*)
Man of the Match: Abdul Salam (Saudi Arabia)


ACC U-19 Elite Cup 2009

Filed April 24, 2009