India thrash sorry Hong Kong
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team marked the 25th anniversary of India's World Cup triumph with an emphatic 256-run win over Hong Kong in Karachi to begin their Asia Cup campaign in style. India rested Yuvraj Singh and Ishant Sharma for this game, but they weren't missed much: Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni helped themselves to centuries against a hapless bowling attack after Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had built a platform, before Piyush Chawla flummoxed the Hong Kong batsmen.
India put up a near-clinical performance, barring a middle-over spell when Hong Kong's left-arm spinners stifled the batsmen and gave away 47 runs in 15 overs. Had it not been for that India could conceivably have ended the day surpassing the highest total in ODIs - Sri Lanka's 443 - and the largest victory margin in runs with ease. India's 257-run win against Bermuda in the World Cup last year remains the record.
Hong Kong were all but out of the contest once India amassed 374 for 4, but they would be disappointed to be dismissed under 150 and not being able to last 50 overs for the second game in a row. The defeat also ends their challenge in the tournament.
India's innings revolved around two partnerships: the opening stand of 127 between Sehwag - who blitzed 78 off 44 balls - and Gambhir, while Raina, whose 66-ball hundred is the second-fastest by an Indian, and Dhoni amassed 166 for the fourth wicket, an Asia Cup record. Both partnerships came at more than eight an over, and one can gauge how poor Rohit Sharma had been to score 11 off 29 deliveries.
The openers raced to 100 in just 10.5 overs, the quickest India have been to the mark. Hong Kong's opening bowlers didn't pose any menace with their pace, and the batsmen feasted on easy offerings. Tabarak Dar, Hong Kong's captain, then brought on his trio of left-arm spinners, who managed to rein in India's attack. Najeem Ahmed was once again impressive after having given Pakistan a scare on Tuesday, but it was fellow left-armer Najeed Amar who did the damage with the wickets of Sehwag and Gambhir. The two, along with Munir Dar, put the brakes on the scoring as India crawled from 127 in 15 overs to 159 after 25.
Dhoni and Raina, though, managed to more than double the 178 that India had scored after 30 overs. Dhoni, batting at No. 4, was off the blocks quickly, finding the gap through the covers for two fours off Nadeem. He lunged his front foot forward against the spinners, trying to smother the turn. Largely content with the singles, he kept the rate ticking along with Raina.
Raina, using his advantage as a left-hander, managed to push the left-arm bowlers into the gaps and takes the singles. His fifty came at a run-a-ball, but he cut loose against inexperienced bowlers, with his second fifty coming in just 16 balls as India smashed 129 in the final ten overs.
Both batsmen targeted to clear the straight boundary, with Dhoni launching a couple onto the roof. Raina pummelled three sixes and a four - all over long-on - off the 42nd over from Skhawat Ali, which cost 25 runs. Irfan Ahmed was then smartly chipped over extra cover for four, and a slower one was carted behind square to bring up his first hundred. Raina fell for 101, but Dhoni hung around to compile his fourth ODI hundred.
Not much was expected from Hong Kong in reply, but Tabarak and James Atkinson, the 17-year-old wicketkeeper, showed some resolve against the quicker bowlers. However, he was out stumped as he was stepped out and was beaten by a legspinner in Chawla's first over. What stood out in Chawla's performance today was his ability to surprise the batsmen with turning legbreaks - he often has been guilty of relying on the googlies for picking wickets in the past. He managed to also induce Hussain Butt and Courtney Kruger outside their crease, leaving Dhoni to complete easy stumpings. A top-edged slog-sweep fetched him his fourth, and he finished with impressive figures of 10-2-23-4.
Irfan battled before he was run out for 25, and Sehwag wrapped up the game with wickets off successive deliveries. India now face Pakistan on Thursday, and definitely a much sterner test.
Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo