For the third time in as many months, Hong Kong failed to close out a game from a winning position, when they were beaten by PNG by 4 wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Hong Kong had looked odds on to reverse the result between these two teams at the same ground at the ICC World Cricket League Division Two event in 2011 but some excellent batting at the death saw PNG snatch the game from under their noses.
The day started well for Hong Kong as skipper Jamie Atkinson won the toss and elected to bat in fine and warm conditions at the stadium that will host the tournament final. Irfan Ahmed got the game away to a blazing start when he smote the first ball square to the point boundary but he was lucky to survive the next ball which was dropped at 2nd slip. However Irfan didn't take advantage of that early let off and, after hitting another boundary, he was deceived by a slower ball from Hitolo Areni and offered a simple catch to mid-off.
Hong Kong skipper Jamie Atkinson once again found himself at the crease early in the innings as he and Babar Hayat set about building a total. The pair put on a partnership of 38 before Hayat (21) took a wild swing at a ball and was easily caught at third man. Atkinson should have been taken two balls later but the long on fielder misjudged the flight of the ball which dropped over his head and ran away to the boundary. Courtney Kruger's poor run continued as he was trapped LBW by Chris Amini to the first ball he faced while Nizakat Khan's penchant for hitting the ball in the air yet again brought about his dismissal - Mahuru Dai taking a blinding catch in the covers. Atkinson meanwhile made the most of his early reprieve and he brought up his half-century before becoming Amini's second wicket immediately after Hong Kong's 100 was reached. Atkinson's 52 was scored off 42 balls and including five 4s and one 6.
There was a clatter of wickets in the final overs as Hong Kong pushed hard to improve their total. Moner Ahmed was caught for 15, while Waqas Barkat chopped the ball on to his stumps, also for 15. Roy Lamsam and Max Tucker were both run out in the last over, while Aizaz Khan finished things off with huge six to lift the final total to 131-9 after 20 overs.
Chris Amini was the pick of the PNG bowlers, claiming 2-15 from his 4 overs while John Reva picked up 2-31 from his spell.
The PNG reply got off to a cautious start as Hong Kong's opening bowlers Aizaz Khan and Max Tucker bowled good lines. Only 5 runs came from the first two overs but, after settling in, the PNG batters Asad Vala and Tony Ura started playing their shots. Ura was the more dominant of the two as he unleashed four boundaries and and a six in the first five overs. The pair brought up the fifty in 8.2 overs but Vala fell shortly afterwards for 17, caught behind off the bowling of Nizakat Khan. Former England test player Geraint Jones joined Ura at the crease but he was lucky to survive a confident LBW appeal from Nizakat before opening his account. Ura was next to go, also off the bowling of Nizakat, but not before slamming two more sixes into the grandstand seating. Ura's 46 runs were scored off 33 balls, including five 4s and three 6s. Hong Kong grabbed two more quick wickets as Nizakat claimed his third scalp, trapping Mahuru Dai LBW for 4 while Asif Khan's smart fielding saw Jack Vare run out for 1.
With PNG's required run-rate climbing to 11 runs an over, Jones and Jack Reva started hitting out. Moner Ahmed's last over went for 13 runs, including one huge six by Jones.
Irfan Ahmed bowled two brilliant overs that conceded just 5 runs but he and Aizaz Khan were not able to contain the PNG batters further. The first ball of Aizaz Khan's next over was smote to the fence for four but he got his revenge off the third ball, bowling Reva for 5. Jones took another boundary off the over, at the end of which PNG still needed to score 28 runs off 12 balls.
The 19th over had proved pivotal in both of Hong Kong's losses in Nepal and so it proved again in this match. Irfan over-stepped with his first ball, allowing Jones a free hit but Irfan bowled a beauty that knocked back Jones's off stump, although the wicket did not count. Irfan tried to bowl it full but Vani Morea was up to the challenge and he hit three boundaries off the remaining four balls in the over with PNG now needing 13 runs off their last 6 balls. Aizaz was given the job of bowling the final over but his first ball was slammed by Jones into the grandstand. Aizaz squeezed a yorker under Jones's bat off the second ball, sending the Englishman back after scoring 34 off 26 balls. New batsman Chris Amini took a single off the third ball but the game swung on the next ball - a waist-high full toss that Morea edged to the third man boundary and with the umpire calling a no-ball, an extra valuable run was added to the PNG total. The scores were now tied and it was left to Morea to hit the winning run - a single to mid-on - off the penultimate ball of the game.
Hong Kong will be rueing the extra deliveries that cost them dearly but it was Morea's cameo (19* off 9 balls) at the end that won it for PNG.
For Hong Kong, Nizakat Khan bowled brilliantly to claim 3-18 from his 4 overs, while Aizaz Khan picked up 2-34 from his spell.
Tony Ura was awarded the Man of the Match award for his brilliant batting at the top of the PNG innings.
Scorecard: Hong Kong v PNG
The loss leaves Hong Kong needing to win its last three group games to have any chance of making the top three in their group and an opportunity to play for a spot at the next ICC T20 World Cup. Those games are against Denmark, Afghanistan and Netherlands.