Rivalry resumes in high-stakes clash
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Start time 1930 local (1400 GMT)
Three-fourths of the way through their game against Scotland on Tuesday, Afghanistan seemed on course for yet another slip-up in the preliminary stage of a big tournament. But they recovered, thanks to a combination of luck, skill and spin, all baked together in the dry heat of Nagpur, and ensured their hopes of a Super 10 place remained intact.
Much work still remains, though. Only one team qualifies from each of the first round groups, so there is no scope for complacency. Hong Kong lost their opening match to Zimbabwe, but Afghanistan will definitely not take them lightly, especially since their head-to-head record against them in not the greatest.
Afghanistan have won two of their four meetings against Hong Kong - and lost two. Both the losses were fairly recent: the first at the World T20 Qualifier last year, and the other in a one-off meeting in Abu Dhabi in November.
The memory of those two wins will be fairly fresh in Hong Kong's minds. They did well in their opening match to push Zimbabwe fairly close. But fairly close will not be enough for a place in the Super 10. They put Zimbabwe under pressure on a few occasions, with both bat and ball, but failed to sustain it. They cannot afford a repeat of that against Afghanistan.
(last five completed games most recent first)
Hong Kong LLLLL
In the spotlight
Noor Ali Zadran tends to recede into the background amid bigger names and more explosive hitters in the Afghanistan batting line-up, but he showed against Scotland that he is perhaps their most elegant strokeplayer. He made only 17, but his sure footwork and crisp timing suggested he was capable of much more.
Tanwir Afzal led from the front in Hong Kong's tournament opener, bowling a nagging line with the new ball and picking up two important wickets before giving Zimbabwe a late scare with an unbeaten 17-ball 31. If he can strike with the new ball and expose Afghanistan's middle order early, he might just give Hong Kong the opening they need.
Afghanistan loaded their batting line-up on Wednesday, with the result that Samiullah Shenwari and Najibullah Zadran did not get a chance to bat despite five wickets falling. It also meant their seam attack looked thin, with Gulbadin Naib's medium-pace the only option to support Dawlat Zadran. They might have a rethink in their second game, and bring in either Shapoor Zadran or Hamid Hassan in place of one of the lower middle order batsmen.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Noor Ali Zadran, 3 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 4 Gulbadin Naib, 5 Mohammad Nabi, 6 Shafiqullah, 7 Samiullah Shenwari, 8 Dawlat Zadran, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Shapoor Zadran/Hamid Hassan, 11 Amir Hamza
Hong Kong have been consistent with their selections in recent matches - they made just two changes to their eleven during the Asia Cup - and there were enough encouraging signs during the game against Zimbabwe to keep them uninterested in tinkering too much.
Hong Kong (probable): 1 Jamie Atkinson (wk), 2 Ryan Campbell, 3 Babar Hayat, 4 Mark Chapman, 5 Anshuman Rath, 6 Tanwir Afzal, 7 Nizakat Khan, 8 Aizaz Khan, 9 Kinchit Shah, 10 Haseeb Amjad, 11 Nadeem Ahmed.
Pitch and conditions
The opening day of the tournament was played on a pitch that was on the sluggish side. It seemed possible for batsmen to hit through the line against the new ball, but it grew harder to do so when the shine disappeared. The behaviour of the surface is unlikely to change too much. The weather remains hot and dry, and a maximum temperature of 38 degrees is expected on Thursday, though it should cool down somewhat in time for the evening start.
Stats and trivia
- In all four meetings between Afghanistan and Hong Kong, the team losing the toss has gone on to win the game
- Mohammad Shahzad has made the four highest individual scores in T20Is for Afghanistan: 118*, 77, 75 and 74. The only other Afghanistan batsman to go past 70 in a T20I innings is Karim Sadiq, who scored 72 against UAE during the Asia Cup qualifiers last month in Fatullah
- Only two Hong Kong batsmen - Babar Hayat and Mark Chapman - average more than 20 in T20Is
"We've played against Afghanistan two to three times in the last few months, and only lost the last game. We are in a really good position and I think that we can repeat the history of our previous results."
Hong Kong captain Tanwir Afzal
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo