After the excitement and intensity of the India-Pakistan match that the Asia Cup defending champions won with two balls to spare on Sunday in Dubai comes an easy fixture for Rohit Sharma and Co. at the same venue on Wednesday.
India take on Hong Kong in their second and last Group A fixture facing no pressure and they can afford to give their bench strength a chance while resting the key performers who will be needed fresh for much stiffer matches ahead in the tournament.
India captain Rohit Sharma is the only Indian player to have played in both the matches against Hong Kong, scoring 11 and 23, while Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal are the others from the current team who have played Hong Kong in their last fixture four years ago.
India and associate member Hong Kong have met twice before in international cricket, both in Asia Cup 50-over format. India won both, winning by 256 runs, courtesy centuries from MS Dhoni (109 not out) and Suresh Raina (101) in Karachi in 2008, and by 26 runs in 2018. Hong Kong put up an improved show in the 2018 Asia Cup and ran the Indians close. After Shikhar Dhawan’s 127 took India to 285/7, their openers Nizakat and Anshuman Rath shared 174 for the opening wicket before Chahal and left-arm medium-pacer Khaleel Ahmed took three wickets apiece to prevent any upset. It was the last of the 26 ODIs that Hong Kong have played so far.
While Hong Kong are a relatively inexperienced team, having made their T20I debut in 2014 and largely playing against the associate member nations, Wednesday will be the first gigantic team that they will be up against in the T20 format.
Hong Kong are not a bad side that you will see such massive wins by 200 or 300 runs by India. It is a team made up of players born in Pakistan, India and England besides a couple who are born in Hong Kong but of Indian or Pakistan origin. They had a victorious run in the Asia Cup qualifier in Oman prior to the main tournament, winning all their three matches including against the local favourites United Arab Emirates by eight wickets.
With a success percentage of 40.38 percent in their 52 T20Is, Hong Kong have quite a few players who have had a taste of the current Indian players. Captain Nizakat Khan, experienced Babar Hayat and all-rounder Aizaz Khan hold the key for Hong Kong.
Nizakat would like to make it a memorable outing for himself against India as he is 22 runs shy of becoming the first Hong Kong batsman to reach 1,000 T20I career runs. He will be keen for much more to put his team in a comfortable position. The 30-year-old right-handed opening batsman has played in all but one of the 52 T20Is that Hong Kong have played in and is their leading run-scorer with 978 runs while Hayat holds the individual highest score of 122, the first century for his team in this format.
Aizaz, the 29-year-old right-arm medium-pacer, has taken the most wickets for Hong Kong, 58, and along with 37-year-old off-break bowler, Ehsan Khan (39 wickets in 31 matches), will look to check the strong Indian batting line up that is struggling a bit at the top with KL Rahul, in his first T20I this year, falling for a first-ball duck and Rohit Sharma had an unusual start with an 18-ball 12 while Virat Kohli, though may have gained the confidence by scoring 35 in 34 balls, would look to middle the ball better and return to being the Kohli of yore.
The responsible manner in which Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya bailed India out and shared the vital 52-run partnership for the fifth wicket saved India from embarrassment. The left-right combination took them from a tricky 89 for four to 141 for five before Pandya struck a mighty six over long-on to signal Indian win in style on Sunday night.
Hong Kong, who have lost all their six Asia Cup matches, all in the 50-over format, are not expected to challenge India. Rohit Sharma and Co would look to challenge themselves on the field and get ready for sterner tests ahead as they are all but assured of a place in the Super Four stage next week.
India all-rounder Jadeja, while addressing the media on Tuesday before the Indian team had an optional training session at the ICC Cricket Academy, said the team would not take Hong Kong lightly. “We will look to play positive cricket and give our best. We can’t take any team lightly in T20 cricket as anything can happen on a given day.”
Hong Kong captain Nizakat said that winning and losing are part of the game. “As long as we play our best cricket, it is most important. It is a massive opportunity for everyone to be playing against India and Pakistan. We have a very young squad and this is a learning process for us.”Hong Kong coach and former Ireland captain, Trent Johnston, said that his team had to worry about its own cricket rather than India’s or Pakistan’s. He said: “We played our best cricket in Oman (Asia Cup qualifiers) and the results reflect that. We know we have a couple of levels to go up to play these teams in the next three days. We will play positive cricket. It is a great opportunity to show world cricket how good Hong Kong cricket is. India is the No. 1 team in the world. It is about us executing the game plan. Weaknesses lie with batting and bowling but it is all about getting out there and asking them to be consistent for 40 overs.”