Hong Kong tied themselves into knots against Mohammad Nabi, and how. Their lack of application on slow turners, typical of the subcontinent, stood exposed as Afghanistan bossed their way to second successive win, this time by six wickets, to set up a knockout against Zimbabwe which will determine the Group B qualifier for the Super 10s.
Hong Kong, who opted to bat, raced away to 40 without loss, before the sight of spin induced a sense of panic and desperation in their ranks. Four wickets in four overs, two of those being Babar Hayat and Mark Chapman, the latter to a superb yorker from Gulbadin Naib, had Hong Kong short-changed even before the halfway mark of their innings. They then huffed and puffed to 116 for 6 on the back of Anshuman Rath's industry, an unbeaten 31-ball 28, a total that was 40 short of what Tanwir Afzal, the captain, hoped to get.
Hong Kong's slim chances from that point were pinned on regular strikes at the top by their new ball bowlers. Once that didn't come, the game was reduced to being a cakewalk for Afghanistan. They rode piggyback on Mohammad Shahzad's 41; a typically robust innings that had all his typical elements as Afghanistan won with two overs to spare.
Ryan Campbell, who struggled for timing on his Hong Kong debut two nights ago, went out with a 'high-risk, high returns' approach, and found his hitting range early on as he muscled five boundaries. But predetermining his shots came back to haunt him as Nabi's slow turn beat him in an attempted sweep as the ball bounced back onto the stumps. Two balls later, Hayat was deceived in flight as he chipped a simple catch to cover.
The purchase on offer for Nabi forced another change as Rashid Khan, the skiddy legspinner, was summoned, and he made an impact immediately courtesy of his mix of googlies and sliders. Hong Kong's batsmen suddenly started playing for demons that weren't there on the surface as the slower men scythed through the middle order, with the continuous loss of wickets making run-making difficult.
Amidst the carnage, Rath nudged his way by playing with soft hands, and using deft touches to push his team to where they finished with. Nabi, whose 4 for 20 handed him the best figures by an Afghan bowler in T20Is, led them off the field.
The momentum they gained after a top class display of death bowling was carried forward with the bat; Noor Ali Zadran's straight boundary off the first ball he faced revving up Afghanistan. With little swing or nip off the surface, the pacemen resorted to gentle off-cutters. Afzal then turned to spin in the hope of doing to Afghanistan what Nabi and Rashid Khan did to them. But the batsmen's application thwarted their designs.
For a change, it was Noor Ali who did the early running by showing why a simple approach relying on timing, and not just brute force, can be rewarding in a T20 game, especially in a small chase. But to their credit, both openers didn't miss out on long hops either as Afghanistan wiped out 43 in the first six overs. With the groundwork done, both batsmen began to express themselves freely, until overconfidence got the better of Shahzad, who holed out to long-off for a 40-ball 41 to give Campbell his first T20 wicket.
Nabi and Noor Ali then milked the bowling as the spinners went through their motion, hoping for mishits and poor shot selection to help them pick up wickets. They brought the target down to 22 off 34 balls before an ungainly slog ended Nabi's stay. Two balls later, Noor Ali was run-out courtesy Hayat's flat throw from the deep. Having done all the hard work, gloss was further taken away from Afghanistan's chase as Shafiqullah was out bowled to an attempted slog.
But three wickets in quick time did very little to lift Hong Kong, whose muted celebration was a giveaway that it wouldn't have really affected the big picture. Gulbadin Naib then polished it off with two classical drives and a neat tickle down leg side as Afghanistan completed an easy chase with plenty to spare.