At one point, it didn't matter that each Kookaburra international ball costs around HKD1000 (USD130 approx). When Anshy Rath put one into a tree of a private residential block that Hong Kong Cricket has no access to, it meant they had to eat the cost of that ball. But that six was good news for Hong Kong, because it came in the over after losing their captain, Babar Hayat, to a brilliant leg-side stumping by Wes Barresi, and it meant that they needed only 66 from 49 with seven wickets in hand.
Things like the cost of balls matter at this level, as Associate games aren't like the top flight of international cricket. This game was played on a ground that neither side has access to train on tomorrow, as Hong Kong Cricket only get so many hours a week they are allowed to use this oval for. The square has turf wickets along with a synthetic wicket. The ground is no different to any suburban cricket ground anywhere in the world. And when these national sides play on it, they aren't playing some meaningless rubber, as with almost every game of cricket an Associate team plays - this means everything to them.
You don't play for pride at this level; you play for funding, and survival.
On the ICC WCL table, the Netherlands were one point clear of Hong Kong, making them tied first with Papua New Guinea. But that essentially means they are 13th in the world. That number is important, as the 13th best ODI side (according to what the Associates believe) under the new ICC proposal is due to make millions more than the 14th ranked side. Not to mention that not being 13th in the world might mean that Hong Kong lose their ODI rating, and the Netherlands will remain without theirs.
So this match on this borrowed ground, in a city that almost entirely ignores cricket, which started at 9 am with no spectators, has more riding on it than almost all the international ODIs played. And both teams played like that.
The Dutch top order rode their luck a bit, but Ben Cooper played some quality drives, and Stephan Myburgh went on to 88. Then their experienced middle order of Roelof van der Merwe, Peter Borren and Pieter Seelaar pushed the score well over 300. Had van der Merwe not holed out with more than six overs to go, he might have shattered the windows of the apartment block next door. Instead, the score was something that Hong Kong could chase, if everything went right.
For the longest time, in the longest partnership of the match, it did. Rath and Hayat took the score from 53 for 2 to 250 for 3. Hayat by muscling the ball, and occasionally just destroying it, while Rath did it by smart batting. Even when Hayat went out and later when Rath went out, Hong Kong had the match, the money and the ranking in their grip.
But as they so often do, they panicked. Rath was caught for 134 trying to hit the Netherlands quality young left-arm wrist spinner, Michael Rippon, out of the ground. But even his wicket shouldn't have been the difference. The over before, Nizakat Khan had hit Paul van Meekeren, one of the best bowlers in Associate cricket, back over his head for a six, losing another ball. All Nizakat had to do was stick around for the next five overs or so and the game would be iced. Instead the ball after Rath's wicket, he gifted Rippon his fourth scalp.
Within a few moments 285 for 3 became 285 for 5, and the Dutch team suddenly found full voice as they put pressure on Hong Kong with solid defensive bowling and attacking verbal warnings. Despite Hong Kong cruising, there had always been a sense - to the Dutch - that they believed a collapse was coming, that if they kept pushing, they would get it. But even though they saw it coming, when it did, it came every more dramatically that they had been expecting. Wickets came with Hong Kong at 308, 311 313 and then 315. It was a collapse of 4 for 7 - and 6 for 30 overall. Against Kenya, in the last game of this league they lost, they had lost six wickets for 29 runs.
In the end it was their tail, who bumbled their way to a last over needing ten. They knocked back singles, cramped themselves up, seemed confused at what boundaries to target, and ended up only taking four runs from the over, despite it being an eight-ball affair as two of them were wides.
There was not one Hong Kong player who left the field thinking that they shouldn't have won it, and not one Dutch player thinking that they hadn't done it the tough way. But the Netherlands are now leading the World Cricket League, and with their decent quicks, good-quality spin, classy batting order and only one loss in nine games, they would back themselves to go on and win the whole thing.
Hong Kong had to use three replacement balls in their innings, but worse than that, this is a loss that might have cost them millions.