Great to knock off a Test nation - Atkinson
Jamie Atkinson, Hong Kong's captain, said that his side's victory over hosts Bangladesh in front of a packed house at the World T20 was a significant moment for Associate cricket as well as a dream come true for his own team.
Hong Kong had lost both their previous games and, going into the match, Atkinson said it would be one of the greatest upsets at a global tournament if they were to win. The pressure of playing in front of big crowds and a worldwide TV audience had inhibited their performances against Nepal and Afghanistan but, in the biggest game of their careers, they held their nerve for a two-wicket win that was celebrated on the Hong Kong bench to almost total silence in the stadium.
While Hong Kong remained bottom of the group despite victory and Bangladesh held on to top spot and a berth in the Super 10 stage, much else had changed. The last side to qualify for the tournament, apparently the weakest after two poor displays, had scalped a Test-playing nation and joined the likes of Kenya, Ireland, Netherlands and Bangladesh themselves in the category of giant-killers.
"We're just absolutely over the moon, to beat Bangladesh in their home ground in front of a very big crowd is just fantastic, it's the sort of stuff the Associate teams dream of and I'm just really proud of how all of our players performed today and got us through in the end," Atkinson said.
Hong Kong could have eliminated Bangladesh at the expense of Nepal by winning inside 13.1 overs but Atkinson said they "didn't have any thought" about trying to do so. "We just wanted to concentrate on our own game, we wanted to pick up a win for Hong Kong because we always knew it was going to be tough against a strong Bangladeshi side, particularly playing at home as well, so we wanted to concentrate on getting the runs.
"I think it's another significant victory for Associate cricket, it shows that the gap is beginning to close and it shows how far Associate cricket has come as well. It's a big win and it's always great when some of the lower-ranked sides can knock off a Test nation."
While Bangladesh were guilty of reckless batting, the noise that greeted their early run-scoring came in crashing waves. Tanwir Afzal had taken two wickets in the opening over before Anamul Haque and Shakib Al Hasan appeared to have righted the innings during a 48-run stand but a full-scale implosion was to come, Bangladesh dismissed for 108 with 21 deliveries unused. Given how Hong Kong had wobbled previously, particularly in the field, their response to a situation of much greater intensity was impressive.
"We told them throughout the game that there was likely to be quite a bit of noise when Bangladesh were scoring boundaries and just to concentrate on our own game and enjoy the atmosphere because there's not many times that we'll have the opportunity to play in front of such a big crowd," Atkinson said.
"They were very attacking and our bowlers responded really well. It would have been easy to fade under the pressure of the Bangladeshi batsmen but the bowlers performed very well, managed to pick up a few dots balls here and there and that's what put pressure on the batsmen. They went for quite a few big shots and that brought about their downfall. It was fantastic how we clawed it back."
In the circumstances, a straightforward march to victory was never likely to materialise and Atkinson admitted the usual superstitions had taken hold on the Hong Kong bench as they edged closer to victory.
"We definitely made it difficult for ourselves, we got off to a decent start being 30-odd for one and then lost a couple of wickets so at 50 for 5 it was looking a bit more in the balance. But the lower order got us through, Munir Dar played a fantastic hand and then the two bowlers Nadeem and Haseeb played very sensibly at the end and got us through. It was very nervous for us in the dugout, people staying in the same seats, that sort of thing."
Munir was Hong Kong's leading wicket-taker at the World T20 Qualifier last year but he has since been banned from bowling due to his action. He was retained in the squad because of his ability with the bat and could still offer advice to fellow left-arm spinner Nadeem Ahmed, who credited one of his four wickets to his 40-year-old team-mate.
"He gave me advice on the last wicket I got," Nadeem said. "I was having a mid-on up and he said keep mid-on back and bring midwicket up and that's where I got another wicket... That wicket is for him."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here