Part-time bowler Nizakat Khan spun Hong Kong to a sensational 26-run victory over Uganda in the opening game at the ICC World Cricket League Division Two tournament yesterday.
Leg-spinner Nizakat (please use first name as there are other Khans in team) sparked off an amazing reversal in fortunes after he was thrown the ball in the 19th over with Uganda cruising along at 88 for one in chase of Hong Kong's modest total of 204.
"I hardly bowl for Hong Kong. I got the chance today because a number of our key bowlers were missing and I took the challenge," said a happy Nizakat after grabbing career-best figures of four for 14 in 10 overs.
His magic claimed the key wickets of Frank Nsubuga and Roger Makusa, the pair who had made batting look easy as they set in pursuit of a below-par total. Nizakat first dismissed Nsubuga caught and bowled, and then a couple of overs later got the big scalp of opener Makusa leg before.
Those key wickets created doubts and worry inside the Ugandan camp. And there was no let up from Nizakat as he claimed two more wickets as Uganda slipped to 123 for five. It was the beginning of the end. Uganda finally folded for 178.
"We created a lot of pressure in the middle overs once the top two batsmen were out. We bowled a lot of dot balls and that helped us to get wickets," said Nizakat, who despite his excellent figures, still believed his four wicket haul against Afghanistan two years as a 16-year-old was his best-ever bowling feat.
"Nizakat was just superb. He was Afridi-like bowling quick and with a lot of bounce," said ecstatic Hong Kong coach Charlie Burke. "He swung the game for us. We all know he is a good bowler and he took his opportunity today."
Hong Kong were missing left-arm spinners Nadeem Ahmed, out injured with a bruised big toe, and Munir Dar, who had still not arrived in Dubai as he had problems with his new passport, resulting in only 12 men available for selection. Adil Mehmood sat out once again with Max Tucker making his debut.
It was left to another 16-year-old, Mark Chapman, to give Hong Kong a fighting chance. Left-handed Chapman hit an unbeaten 70 as Hong Kong struggled to 204 all out. They had no else to blame but themselves for being in such a parlous state thanks to three run outs.
Waqas Barkat, Nizakat Khan and Irfan Ahmed were all run-out, the common denominator was Chapman, at the other end. But to single out Chapman as the culprit would be wrong, for it was clearly a lack of understanding between the batsmen which was the downfall.
"It was very ordinary to lose your five, six and seven to run-outs. Panic set in and the guys suffered stage fright. I thought we needed 250 or 260 runs, but then Nizkata bowled beautifully," said Burke.
"The guys have a lot of belief in themselves. It showed when we won the division three tournament, and today too. It was game on after that breakthrough by Nizakat," Burke said.
Skipper Najeeb Amar's decision to bat first seemed to pay off despite the early loss of Roy Lamsan to the third ball of the day. Hussain Butt joined Courtney Kruger and the pair took the score to 73 without further loss.
It was sedate not stirring stuff although Butt looked good as he cracked a couple of early boundaries to calm the nerves. Just when both batsmen seemed to have settled in and looked capable of guiding Hong Kong to a big score, the all too familiar rot set in.
Kruger was out stumped to left-arm spinner Henry Senyondo and Butt followed in Senyondo's next over, bowled for a well-compiled 55. From 73 for one, Hong Kong had slipped to 78 for three.
The nightmare had just begun. The three run-outs left Hong Kong tottering on 104 for six with the cream of their batting back in the baking pavilion. Their dismissals left Chapman a forlorn figure at the crease. He was joined by Najeeb, but the latter didn't last long as he mis-hit a shot straight to mid-off and Hong Kong were 109 for seven with 17 overs remaining.
Chapman, however, resolutely stuck to his task. Hurting inside from seeing three senior batsmen dismissed, and perhaps thinking he was to blame, he could have easily thrown his wicket away. But to his credit he kept resolute and kept one end going to remain unbeaten on 70.
That innings proved invaluable in the end for it gave Hong Kong and Nizakat just enough runs to weave their magic.
By Alvin Sallay in Dubai for SCMP