Know Your Associates February 27, 2016

Raw and up for it

The youthful Hong Kong team (with a 44-year-old) hopes the experience of having played in the last World T20 will come in handy in India

Babar Hayat is in excellent batting form ahead of the tournament © ICC/Sportsfile

Hong Kong's maiden appearance at the World T20 in 2014 was a microcosm of their cricket over the last five years. They were shot out for 69 by Nepal. Four days later, they bowled out Bangladesh for 108 - at the time the hosts' lowest losing total at a World T20 - before going on to a two-wicket win. Such results raise the question: will the real Hong Kong please stand up?

Despite indications that they suffer from split-personality disorder, Hong Kong's ability to rise to the occasion for major wins under pressure is a credit to how well they have deployed their small playing base. They have achieved this in part with a plan to pick a young squad and stick with it through thick and thin, developing chemistry through a strong nucleus.

One-third of their squad - Jamie Atkinson, Waqas Barkat, Mark Chapman, Aizaz Khan and Nizakat Khan - are alumni from the 2010 Under-19 World Cup, the only time Hong Kong played that tournament. Their commitment to blooding and retaining youth is so strong that even though they have the oldest man in the tournament in their squad - 44-year-old Ryan Campbell - their average age of 24.24 is more than a full year younger than the next closest team, Bangladesh.

However, it would be foolish to link age to experience. Former captain Atkinson, 25, debuted in the senior team aged 17; and star middle-order batsman Chapman, who spent most of the southern-hemisphere summer playing first-class cricket with Auckland, at 16.

Road to the World T20
At the World T20 Qualifier, Hong Kong had wins over Nepal and Ireland, sandwiched by losses to 30th-ranked Jersey and USA, but finished off the preliminary stage with a win over Namibia to take second place in Group A. They chased down 162 for their first T20 win in seven tries against Afghanistan to secure a World T20 berth before losing to Scotland in the semi-final.

Mark Chapman is only 21 but has played for Hong Kong since he was 16, and has experience in New Zealand domestic cricket as well © AFP

In a stretch from mid-November 2014 to mid-February 2015, Hong Kong played nine T20Is and an unofficial T20 against Pakistan. In streaky fashion, they began with three losses, followed by three wins - over Oman, Afghanistan and Scotland - before stringing together four more losses in a row. The most recent cold streak includes a winless run in the Asia Cup T20 Qualifier.

At the helm
A former Pakistan U-19 player, Tanwir Afzal played his first full-fledged Hong Kong match in 2012 at the Asian Cricket Council Trophy Elite, and took over the reins from Atkinson in 2015, just prior to the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland. The 27-year-old is a steady medium-pacer but is also capable of explosive batting cameos, such as the time he struck 30 runs in an over on the way to 56 off 22 balls against Scotland in January.

Key stat
44 years, 30 days A new record age for the oldest player to feature in a T20I debut, if Campbell makes the starting XI. UAE's Mohammad Tauqir currently holds the mark for oldest T20I debut at 43 years, 176 days.

Leading men

Babar Hayat
Hayat struck an unbeaten 20 off nine balls, including the winning runs, in Hong Kong's first T20 win over Afghanistan to clinch a second straight World T20 berth. The burly right-hander has been the hottest batsman in Associate cricket since then, scoring 372 T20I runs in his last ten digs at an average of 46.5, including the fourth-highest T20I score - 122 off 60 balls against Oman in February.

Will Ryan Campbell be able to provide a solution to Hong Kong's top-order problems? © Getty Images

Mark Chapman
Hong Kong's best player, the 21-year-old made vital contributions of 30 and 40 in World T20 Qualifier wins over Ireland and Afghanistan. In unofficial matches, he made an unbeaten 53 off 33 in a win over Zimbabwe ahead of the 2014 World T20, and 50 off 39 in November against Pakistan. In January, he made 157 off 111 balls for Auckland in New Zealand's List A competition. He is also Hong Kong's best fielder and his part-time left-arm orthodox spin will be called upon in India.

Nadeem Ahmed
The left-arm spinner has taken on the responsibility to bowl with the new ball in the lead-up to this tournament, with positive results. After taking just one wicket in eight T20Is in 2015, Nadeem now has eight in his last five games. He was rock-solid in the last World T20, taking a T20I career-best 4 for 21 against Bangladesh.

Burning question: Who will open the batting in place of Irfan Ahmed?

The star allrounder was the team's leading scorer at the World T20 Qualifier and a key strike bowler as well, but Hong Kong have struggled to find a replacement for Ahmed after he was suspended by the ICC for failing to report a match-fixing approach. Kinchit Shah has been trialled as an opener alongside Anshuman Rath, but neither has impressed. Campbell said Irfan's absence was one reason why he felt it necessary to make himself available for Hong Kong, and has hinted that he'll take a crack at opening in a bid to restore the firepower at the top.

In their own words: Mark Chapman
"It's massive having the experience of the last World Cup, because before the last one we hadn't played a lot of cricket under lights, we didn't have experience with dew. Naturally, there were a lot of nerves, being a step up from the qualifying event. I think there will be a sense of calm this time.

"Ideally we'd be playing against the Test nations, but we have got in effect another qualifying round. [Zimbabwe, Scotland and Afghanistan] are all teams that we've played and beaten before, so we're going out there to win every game. We can't have any other attitude."

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna

Comments