The Hong Kong team finally put its game together to beat Italy by 49 runs in the plate semi-final at Marrara Oval. There was a feeling of déjà vu about the match - same ground, same team... and in the end the same result for Hong Kong.
Conditions were once again perfect for cricket, with warm temperatures and big blue skies. There was however a stiff breeze blowing across the ground and this assisted the bowlers bowling down the slope on the slightly uneven ground. The pitch itself looked hard and fast and a good match was on the cards.
Hong Kong were still smarting from their third successive loss, whilst Italy were stunned to have been relegated to the plate competition after they had been sitting pretty atop the Group A standings before yesterday's matches, only to miss the cut on run-rate calculations.
Hong Kong won the toss and Ilyas Gull had no hesitation in batting. The Hong Kong team had two changes from the previous match with Zain Abbas and Skhawat Ali, making his senior team debut, coming into the team in place of Khalid Khan (back strain) and Nadeem Ahmed, who was 12th man.
Mark Kratzmann and Courtney Kruger opened the innings for Hong Kong. The two batted cautiously in the early stages, pushing the singles and taking the odd boundary when the opportunity arose. Progress was slow, but more importantly the two stayed together and played through the initial 15 over period where the ball was moving around a bit. The opening partnership produced just 49 runs in 20.3 overs when Kratzmann was caught behind for 15. Rahul Sharma fell three balls later when he pushed a return catch to Hemantha Jayasena, although he felt it was a bumped ball and stayed to await the decision from PNG umpire Lakani Oala. Irfan Ahmed was again promoted up the order and, as he has done throughout the tournament, he immediately started playing his shots. Kruger also began to play more freely and the two put together a 59-run partnership off 67 balls before Kruger was stumped off Andy Northcote immediately after bringing up his 50, scored off 96 balls and including 6 fours. Northcote then induced Ahmed to slog into the stiff wind and he was easily taken 5 metres in from the mid-wicket boundary. Ahmed had scored 37 off 45 balls, including 2 fours and 2 sixes, but once again he fell playing a rash shot when a cool head was required. Najeeb Amar's poor run with the bat continued when he was perhaps harshly adjudged LBW to Jayasena for 1 from what appeared to be a no-ball. Skhawat Ali's debut innings lasted just one ball, before he was run out for 1. From a comfortable 109-2 Hong Kong had slumped to 128-6.
Hussain Butt has struggled to build a big score in the tournament and he fell again prematurely after scoring 20 runs from 30 balls, including 1 six and 1 four; Andy Northcote's third victim. With the score on 139, Ilyas Gull fell to a freakish run-out by Andy Northcote, the bowler diving to stop the ball and then throwing it blindly under his body to hit the stumps from side on. Hong Kong appeared to have lost the initiative at 146-8.
Fortunately for Hong Kong, Nasir Hameed came to the rescue. After struggling with the bat throughout the tournament and being demoted from the openers spot to number 10, Hameed scored a brilliant 36 not out off just 26 balls that included 5 fours and 1 six. He shared an excellent 49-run partnership off 44 balls with Zain Abbas that lifted Hong Kong's score to a more competitive 195-9. Abbas was bowled off the penultimate delivery of the innings and Haider was run out by the wicket-keeper Nicholas Northcote off the last ball for no score. Hong Kong had managed to bat for 50 overs for the first time in the tournament.
With 30 minutes to go until the scheduled lunch break, the umpires asked Italy to bat for 20 minutes. In this time the Italian openers, Joe Scuderi and Alessandro Bonara, advanced their score to 19-0 from 5 overs without looking in too much trouble.
When Hong Kong returned to the field, the bowlers concentrated on bowling only one side of the wicket, something they had failed to do consistently in their early games. Extra deliveries were kept to a minimum which meant that fielders could be placed with more accuracy. The break did not help Joe Scuderi and he appeared to struggle with his timing, prefering to see off Afzaal Haider rather than trying to push the scoring along. Haider was bowling quickly and accurately; down the slope and with the wind at his back. Although he failed to pick up a wicket, his seven overs only conceded 17 runs.
Alessandro Bonara was the first wicket to fall when he was trapped LBW by Irfan Ahmed with the score on 36 after 11.3 overs. Scuderi then had a life when Ahmed induced an edge but umpire Bruce Oxenford had already signalled a no-ball. Scuderi didn't last too much longer, lobbing a simple catch to Ahmed at mid-off from the bowling of Najeeb Amar with his score on 33 and the total 58-2 from 22.5 overs.
Ilyas Gull claimed his first wicket when he trapped Nicola Puccio LBW for 6 from the first ball of his 4th over. In his next over he also trapped Hemantha Jayasena LBW for 2 - the dangerous Sri Lankan batsmen unable to repeat the blistering batting seen in the warm-up match. Next to fall was Andy Northcote, who hit 47 from 74 balls before being bowled by Gull. The Italians were now struggling at 113-5 from 40.1 overs, needing 83 more runs from 59 balls. The introduction of Zain Abbas brought about further success for Hong Kong, as he claimed two wickets in his third over. With the Italians now taking more chances, Nicholas Northcote was caught by Afzaal Haider at shortish fine leg and then Thushara Kurukulasuriya became the fourth LBW victim of the innings from the first ball he faced. Andrea Corbellari tried in vein to lift the Italians with 27 from 31 balls but, after receiving a life when substitute fielder Nadeem Ahmed grassed a regulation catch at point, his innings came to an abrupt end when he was run out by a direct hit from Mark Kratzmann.
The end came quickly as Najeeb Amar bowled Troy Crosland for 10 and Kratzmann ran out Din Alaud without facing a ball, much to the jubilation of all the Hong Kong team. Italy was all out for 146 and Hong Kong had won by 49 runs.
The Man of Match went to Italy's Andy Northcote for his three wickets, outstanding run-out and 47 runs.
[Full Scorecard: Hong Kong v. Italy]
Hong Kong's final match, the play-off of the 5th and 6th places, will be against Tanzania, who beat Fiji by 3 wickets. The match will be played at Power Park, the scene of Hong Kong's loss to Cayman Islands.
In the Cup competition, Uganda beat Papua New Guinea by one wicket in a thrilling match that went down to the last over. Argentina, the 8th seeds and late replacements for the USA, also booked their place in the final when they beat Cayman Islands by three wickets.