All-round Tanvir shines in 155-run win
The final scoreline might indicate an emphatic victory for Pakistan but it needed an Asia Cup-record 100-run eighth-wicket stand between Sohail Tanvir and Fawad Alam to set up the win. Both of them made their maiden ODI half-centuries to lift Pakistan to 288, a score which proved well beyond the reach of Hong Kong's inexperienced batsmen.
After Pakistan chose to bat on a blisteringly hot day in Karachi, Nadeem Ahmed, the Hong Kong left-arm spinner, sliced through the Pakistan middle-order as what was expected to be a straightforward opening encounter for the hosts threatened to become a tricky one before Tanvir and Alam's rescue act.
Pakistan were at a precarious 161 for 7 when Tanvir and Alam started working the singles, effectively employing the sweep shot. The left-arm spinners initially kept them in check and the partnership gained impetus only after the 44th over, when Pakistan had progressed to a more reassuring 219.
Tanvir raced to his fifty as a confident reverse-sweep, a conventional sweep and a powerful off-drive all fetched him boundaries. He holed out to long-off in the 47th but Alam, who had been subdued during the partnership, remained unbeaten to ensure the runs kept flowing and that his side weren't bowled out.
Hong Kong had earlier got off to a dream start as Pakistan lost their in-form opener Salman Butt in the first over for a duck. Afzaal Haider, the 36-year-old seamer, shaped the first two deliveries into the left-hander, before getting the next one to move away, inducing the outside edge. On a pitch a bit on the slower side, Haider extracted a hint of movement and troubled Shoaib Malik, who opened the innings, and Younis Khan early on.
With Pakistan on a scratchy 33 for 1 after eight overs, some loose bowling in the next couple of overs let them off the hook. Thirty runs came off them as a flurry of boundaries from Malik gave the innings momentum. He fell soon after to an athletic catch by Hussain Butt at backward point but with Younis getting into his stride and Mohammad Yousuf continuing his splendid form, Pakistan were in command at 121 for 2 after 19.
Left-arm spinner Najeeb Amar bowled it flat and full to restrict the runs at one end while Nadeem was more adventurous, varying his flight and length. He was rewarded with the wicket of Mohammad Yousuf - top-edging a sweep. Younis continued to attack, impudently slog-sweeping Nadeem for six and then paddling him for four. Despite the batsmen's attacking mindset, Nadeem flighted the next ball and Younis, who danced down the track, was beaten by the turn and easily stumped.
There was more joy for Nadeem as Misbah-ul-Haq failed to read a straighter one to be lbw. Another flighted delivery foxed Shahid Afridi, who checked his shot to offer a low return catch, and Sarfraz Ahmed was run out soon after as Pakistan slid to 161 for 7. An upbeat Hong Kong had eight fielders in the ring at this stage but things went all downhill from there.
Faced with an intimidating target, Hong Kong's batsmen were all at sea against Pakistan's formidable fast bowling unit as they were unable to force the pace. A barrage of bouncers, especially from Umar Gul, discomforted the openers but they hung around for a while. Tabarak Dar dodged a snorter from Gul off the penultimate ball of the seventh over but was forced to retire hurt when he was hit on the jaw off the final ball.
That triggered a collapse, with four wickets falling in quick succession. Opener Skhawat Ali was the first to go, pulling Tanvir to substitute Mansoor Amjad at fine leg. Iftikhar Anjum then struck with his first delivery, bowling Irfan Ahmed before Tanvir got his second with a middle-stump yorker to send back Courtney Kruger.
Anjum was soon rewarded again for his wicket-to-wicket line as Hussain Butt became the next batsman to be bowled, leaving Hong Kong at a hopeless 45 for 4. With the spinners backing up the good work of the fast bowlers, the run-rate quickly shot up above eight, and the match meandered towards a foregone conclusion.
Pakistan may have had some anxious moments but will be pleased with the manner in which their lower-middle order pulled them out of a dicey situation ahead of a tough encounter against arch-rivals India, on Thursday.
Siddarth Ravindran is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo