Hong Kong beat Italy in thrilling WCL Div3 warm-up match
Italy won the toss and elected to bat in fine and warm conditions in a match of 45 overs duration with each team selecting eleven players to bat and rotating the fielders. The strip looked hard but well grassed and there was a little movement for the bowlers early. Afzaal Haider and Khalid Khan opened the bowling for Hong Kong and although both bowled with conviction, they were unable to make any impression against the Italian opening pair of Alessandro Bonora and Joe Scuderi. Scuderi, a well know Australian state cricketer, looked in good touch but it was his partner who dominated the opening exchanges, hitting his way to an unbeaten 43 which included five fours and two sixes. At the first drinks break, Bonara retired and Andy Northcote joined Scuderi at the wicket. Northcote didn't last long, falling LBW to Hussain Butt for just 1 - the collective opening stand amassing 92 runs from 20.5 overs. Scuderi retired when he reached 44 from 78 balls and Hemantha Jayasena also retired after hitting an impressive 60 from 74 balls included 1 four and 3 well struck sixes. Wickets were proving hard to come by for the Hong Kong bowlers although the run rate was kept in check at just under five runs per over.
The introduction of spin slowed the run-rate slightly and Nadeem Ahmed claimed a vital wicket when Samantha Ketipe was caught by Najeeb Amar at deep mid-wicket. The Italian batsmen found Najeeb difficult to get away and his eight overs conceded just 18 runs. A late flourish saw the Italians lift their total to 217-2 from their 45 overs, with Kurukulasuriya unbeaten on 18 from 22 balls.
A very disappointing effort by Hong Kong in the field saw them leak numerous runs through fielding errors, while Najeeb Amar will be wondering how he dropped a regulation chance in the covers. Twenty runs and extra deliveries were conceded in wides and no-balls.
With regular opener Tabarak Dar missing due to injury, Nasir Hameed and Mark Eames shared the opening duties. Hameed proved the more aggressive of the two, moving to 18 off 20 balls before lazily edging to the slips. When Eames fell in the following over, Hong Kong was teetering at 23 for 2 after 7.1 overs. Hussain Butt and Mark Kratzmann tried to steady the innings with Butt smashing two sumptuous boundaries off opening bowler Din Alaud. But when both batsmen fell in quick succession, Butt to a nick to the slips and Kratzmann LBW, Hong Kong had slumped to 46 for 4 off 15 overs. Irfan Ahmed played three cracking shots to race to 12 but his innings finished there when he was bowled going for another expansive shot. Courtney Kruger and Zain Abbas then put together a small partnership that lifted the score to 91 before Courtney was bowled for 13. Skhawat Ali failed to stick around for too long and with his departure Hong Kong was precariously placed at 7 for 101 when Najeeb Amar joined Zain Abbas at the crease. Najeeb looked to be in good form, smashing the first ball he faced to the long on boundary, but after a 20-odd run partnership he too fell to an injudicious shot.
Meanwhile, continued Zain Abbas batting with a maturity well beyong his 21 years, mixing his singles with the occasional slug to the boundary. But his could not be a lone hand and with Hong Kong looking down the barrel at 123-8 he needed a reliable partner to stick with him to mount any challenge towards victory. He found an able ally in skipper Ilyas Gull, who played a cool headed innings that kept Hong Kong within site of victory. With 50 runs required from the final 6 overs, the game was still within reach of Hong Kong but Zain fell shortly thereafter for 52 off 62 balls, including 7 boundaries. Nadeem Ahmed joined Ilyas at the crease and the two combined in spectacular fashion to lift Hong Kong towards a stunning victory. Kurukulasuriya was taken for 43 runs off four overs and when Gull lofted spinner Andy Northcote back over his head for six from the first ball of the final over, Hong Kong had escaped with a thrilling, yet hardly convincing victory by one wicket. Gull finished unbeaten on 38 from 41 balls, including 5 fours and 1 six while Nadeem only needed 11 balls to race to a brilliant 28 that included 3 fours and 2 towering sixes.
Italy will be wondering how they managed to lose a match that they had dominated for most of the day, while Hong Kong will be left to ponder their weaknesses in the field and top order batting frailties that nearly cost them a match that they had expected to win in a canter against a lower ranked team.