United States, Italy and Papua New Guinea start with wins
United States of America got their Division Three campaign off to a winning start, a dominant batting performance sealing a seven-wicket win over hosts Hong Kong at Kowloon Cricket Club.
USA captain Steve Massiah was the chief architect of their win, contributing to his team's efforts at crucial times. His first success was to call correctly at the toss on a cold, grey morning. Seamer Kevin Darlington struck twice in his opening spell, removing Courtney Kruger and Hussain Butt inside the first 10 overs.
After a brief rally, 16-year-old Mark Chapman and Irfan Ahmed departed to leave Hong Kong tottering at 59 for 4 before opener Roy Lamsam and Nizakat Khan repaired the damage with a 99-run stand. Enter Massiah, swooping to run Lamsam out for 83. Despite a flurry of wickets, Hong Kong captain Najeeb Amar defied the Americans with a no-holds-barred 63 that included six sixes and carried his side to a competitive 256 for 9.
Massiah and wicketkeeper Carl Wright weathered the loss of Orlando Baker early in USA's chase to put together a decisive 109-run partnership in quick time. Massiah was content to play the anchor role in their stand, with Wright thrashing seven fours and six sixes in his 82 before offering legspinner Khan a caught-and-bowled chance in the 32nd over.
Massiah then stepped up the tempo significantly with Sushil Nadkarni his partner at the crease. With Nadkarni adding 38 at better than a-run-a-ball before he was dismissed, Massiah's well-paced innings couldn't quite reach three figures as he finished on 97 not out when victory was reached with an over and a half to spare.
"It's fantastic to start the tournament off with a victory and we had some solid batting performances today with Carl Wright and myself contributing to our victory," said Massiah, who was named Man of the Match. "However good it feels to start with a win we definitely cannot rest on our laurels. Tomorrow we're playing Denmark and they'll be looking for a win after losing to Italy today, we can't afford to lose focus."
Italy's batting performance against Denmark was similarly impressive, Peter Petricola putting in a match-winning all-round performance to set up a seven-wicket win for the Italians at Hong Kong Cricket Club.
Alessandro Bonora's side limited Denmark to 227, Petricola effecting a run out and picking up two wickets with his medium pace. Rizwan Mahmood's half-century formed the backbone of Denmark's innings, and although four of the top seven batsmen got starts none were able to really push on as Dilan Fernando's seamers also resulted in three wickets.
With the sun slowly beginning to break through a heavy bank of cloud as Italy began their chase, openers Andy Northcote and Damien Fernando combined to make 87 runs at a steady pace before Fernando was trapped in front of his stumps for 45. Denmark chipped away to reduce Italy to 130 for 3 but Petricola and Damien Crowley fought back in impressive style, both reaching unbeaten half-centuries to seal the result in the 45th over.
"It's obviously great to win on the opening day of the event and carry on the good form I had in Italy last summer," said Petricola. "We were a little bit scratchy to begin with but we stepped up to the plate with a few good performances to get us over the line but today was by no means a complete performance by us.
"The Danes are a solid side and are very competitive while also playing with good spirit. They definitely challenged us as a side. They were good but at the end of the day we gave a good enough performance to walk away with the important winning points on day one."
In the third game of the day, at Mission Road, Rarva Dikana's Papua New Guinea opened their tournament with a 39-run win over Oman despite a hard-fought century from Omani captain Hemal Mehta. His innings was not enough to help his side recover after Hitolo Areni knocked the stuffing out of their top order with an early hat-trick.
PNG had Chris Kent and Kila Pala to thank after their half-centuries prompted a recovery after a top-order collapse had reduced the side to 27 for 4, Hemin Desai's seamers doing the bulk of the damage as he ripped out three of the top four and eventually finished with figures of 4 for 50. Kent struck 68 before being caught and bowled by Mehta while Pala struck a run-a-ball 77 as PNG reached 248 for 9.
With a competitive total set, PNG set about dismissing the Omanis in style with Areni leading the way with a stellar performance. The 30-year-old fast bowler started by dismissing Deep Trivedi, with wicketkeeper Jack Vare snaffling a catch behind the stumps, while the second two wickets of Adnan Ilyas and Sultan Ahmed came from some nifty fielding at first slip by Dikana.
Mehta made a valiant effort in an attempt to save his side from defeat, striking the first century of the tournament, but his hard work was in vain as the side fell short of the target by 39 runs and PNG's bowlers cleaned up the tail.
"I'm really pleased to have taken a hat-trick today and to help my side to our first win of the tournament," said Areni. I've recently broken back into the national side and it feels good to see my hard work paying off today but it was very much a team effort today.
"We've another game tomorrow and we can't rest on today's win, we need make sure we carry this through and hopefully I can continue to contribute to help us win."
"We had a great start against PNG and then we dropped two catches in a span of three overs which made the difference in the first innings where they managed to get a long partnership in place," explained Mehta
"I have to say our bowlers did work hard today to try and limit the runs, with Desai and Ranpura our seamers taking four wickets to dismiss most of the top order. But we let things slip to allow them to set up their major partnership and wickets only began to fall again after our spinner Khalid Rashid stepped in.
"The partnership myself and Vaibhav Wategaonkar built was decent and if we'd had another two players contribute 30-odd runs each alongside myself things may have turned out differently. Areni put us on the back foot when he took three key wickets and unfortunately I couldn't steady the ship on my own."
The tournament continues on Sunday, with Oman playing Hong Kong at KCC, Italy facing PNG at HKCC and USA taking on Denmark at Mission Road.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo