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The Preview by Alan Gardner in Chittagong
March 15, 2014
Match factsMarch 16, 2014
Big PictureThey may be second on the bill but, for these two World T20 debutants, it has never been any bigger than this. T20 has been cricket's major vehicle for growth and the ICC's decision to include six Associates at this tournament for the first time should be applauded but once the coin is tossed at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, there will be no time for fraternity between Hong Kong and Nepal.
This time last year, the two teams were battling the likes of Singapore, Bahrain and Malaysia at the ACC T20 Cup for spots at the World T20 Qualifier. In the UAE, Nepal stormed to third place, behind the more established Ireland and Afghanistan, sealing their place in Bangladesh with a last-ball win against Hong Kong, having taken 13 off the final over. The scenes of celebration, at the ground and back home in Nepal, were quite something.
Despite losing that quarter-final, Hong Kong saw off Papua New Guinea to secure their own qualification. That seems to have ignited something in a country known more for its banking arm than its sporting prowess. A young side sprinkled with players from a variety of backgrounds has been on fire in recent weeks, beating Ireland and Netherlands during a training camp in Sharjah and then scalping Zimbabwe in their opening warm-up match in Chittagong.
That win was followed by a stunning comeback against Netherlands, defending 127, with Haseeb Amjad's display of reverse swing helping him to six wickets. Some of their inspiration in that game came from an inspired, one-handed catch by Nizakat Khan and the fielding of both sides will provide an indication of how hard they have worked.
Nepal have not enjoyed such a fast start, beaten by Ireland and UAE, but they are eager to give a good account of themselves and, in the words of captain Paras Khadka, "present Nepal cricket in front of the world". His side has become, like Afghanistan, poster boys for the Associate game, from their success at the 2006 U-19 World Cup and their rise through the ICC's World Cricket League structure.
In many ways, the journey to Bangladesh has been the story for Nepal and Hong Kong and it would be a major shock if either was to reach the second round. All games at the WT20 will have T20 international status, so both countries will also contest their first match in the format. The prospect of playing in front of 15,000 people, or more, will be both reward and challenge. As they try not to blink, they should enjoy the experience too.
Form guide(including warm-up matches)
Players to watchIrfan Ahmed can open the batting and contribute regularly with the ball, while captain Jamie Atkinson has experience of playing first-class cricket in England. Mark Chapman, however, could be their lynchpin, having made two classy half-centuries in the warm-up games. The left-hander, who was raised in New Zealand, plays in orthodox fashion but is capable of upping the rate.
Khadka is Nepal's totem but, on the pitches of Bangladesh, the left-arm spinner Basant Regmi will have a vital role to play. He is Nepal's leading international wicket-taker and played a central role in securing qualification in the UAE last year. If they are in need of some bash with the bat, Sharad Vesawkar has previously displayed a cool head and strong forearms.
Team newsHong Kong rested three of their first-choice XI for Netherlands but should be back to full strength. Munir Dar, their leading wicket-taker in the UAE, has been banned from bowling due to his action but remains in the squad as a batting option.
Hong Kong (probable) 1 Irfan Ahmed, 2 Waqas Barkat, 3 Jamie Atkinson (capt & wk), 4 Babar Hyat, 5 Nizakat Khan, 6 Mark Chapman, 7 Munir Dar, 8 Tanwir Afzal, 9 Haseeb Amjad, 10 Najeed Amar, 11 Nadeem Ahmed
Khadka said that Nepal had been tinkering with their line-up in the warm-up games and would decide their XI after looking at the pitch. The top order is pretty settled. Avinash Karn provides a left-arm seam option and they could utilise Rahul Vishwakarma as a second spinner.
Nepal (probable) 1 Sagar Pun, 2 Subash Khakurel (wk), 3 Gyanendra Malla, 4 Paras Khadka (capt), 5 Binod Bhandari, 6 Sharad Vesawkar, 7 Naresh Budayair, 8 Basant Regmi, 9 Shakti Gauchan, 10 Sompal Kami, 11 Jitendra Mukhiya
Pitch and conditionsChittagong has a reputation for high scores and slow turn but the recent T20s at the ground between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka saw something on offer for the quicks too. The evening start time, plus its location close to the sea, should mean conditions are a little cooler.
Stats and trivia
Quotes"These last couple of weeks people have really started to take notice of Hong Kong cricket. In the past, people might have thought of Hong Kong as one of the weaker sides in the group, at major tournaments, but we've shown we can take on anyone."
"There are so many people who are so eager to see what Nepal is going to do. As players we are excited, but we need to control our emotions as well. We need to play the cricket we have learnt, not go overboard."
Nepal captain Paras Khadka doesn't want to get carried away
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
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