Teenager Aizaz Khan produced an 'unbelievable' cameo display with the bat yesterday to keep alive Hong Kong's hopes of reaching the final at the ICC World Cricket League Division Three tournament.
Last-man Khan, 17, fired Hong Kong to an improbable one-wicket victory over Italy and, with Oman losing to the United States, the home team's chances of playing in Saturday's final have greatly improved.
Things looked bleak when Khan walked to the crease at Mission Road, with Hong Kong needing 26 runs off the final two overs to overhaul Italy's total of 235. But Khan struck Italy's top two bowlers, Vincenzo Pennazza and Gayashan Munasinghe, for three superb sixes, all straight and over the bowlers' heads, to take Hong Kong home with two balls to spare. 'It was unbelievable. Two of the sixes were hit over long-on and the other over long-off and they were cleanly struck,' said elated coach Charlie Burke, who had been in despair earlier with Hong Kong struggling at 87 for six.
The Hong Kong team are staying in the players' hotel and roommates Najeeb Amar, the captain, and Waqas Barkat showed the chemistry between them with a fighting 97-run partnership that edged the home side's score towards the target.
'The responsibility was on our shoulders and I was with the ideal person, my roommate,' said Najeeb, whose half-century was perfectly timed. 'I was unfortunately out, but the job was done by the remaining batsmen, with Aizaz's knock being unbelievable.'
Najeeb departed for 52 with the total on 184. With Barkat (55 not out) solid at the other end, the target was whittled down further by Munir Dar as Hong Kong took the batting powerplay in the final five overs.
Yet the loss of two quick wickets - Dar and Nadeem Ahmed - gave Italy the upper hand and they looked to be close to victory with the home team needing 26 runs off 12 balls, until Khan provided a winning display.
'It was one of the most thrilling matches in my short coaching career,' Burke said. 'The guys are now bubbling with confidence. Luck hasn't been with us - we have not won a toss yet - and we still haven't played our best cricket, but here we are in with a chance of making the final.'
Hong Kong play favourites Papua New Guinea tomorrow needing to win to reach the final. PNG are sure of a place after their fourth straight win; they beat Denmark by nine wickets at Kowloon Cricket Club.
With the US helping Hong Kong by beating Oman, it will come down to a fight for the last spot between the home side, the US and Oman. 'Our net run rate is better than the other two so if we beat PNG we should go through,' Burke said, lifted by his team's comeback after losing the first two matches to the US and Oman.