Seven months ago Nizakat Khan and skipper Anshuman Rath’s record-breaking opening stand of 174 put their team in the box seat to chase down India’s 259. Hong Kong’s chase was strangled by a combination of accurate bowling and some typical panic in the lower order and despite leaving the ground 26 runs short and flying home without a win from their two Asia Cup games, they won a lot of admiration for the fight (and talent) shown against the number two ranked ODI team.

A home and away series against PNG straight after the Asia Cup brought mixed results – and since then, there has not been a lot of “proper” cricket for the Hong Kong team. The side completed a short training camp to Malaysia just before they made their way to familiar surrounds in Pretoria for their preparatory programme prior to WCL2 where they will play some practice matches against PNG amongst others. In general, however, the other four teams flying in to Africa for this crucial event appear to have considerably more recent tours and events under their belt than the Simon Cook-coached side.

If Hong Kong is to finish in the top four and regain the ODI status they lost after a dismal CWCQ – despite comfortably defeating eventual champions Afghanistan – they will have to do it without the man who scored 92 from 115 at the top of the order that night in Dubai. Owing to the ill-health of his father, Nizakat Khan will not be there in Windhoek. Throughout his career he’s shown a prodigious knack for hitting the ball in unusual areas – his penchant for slapping sixes over backward point is a testament to the speed and strength of his wrists. His impact at the top of the order with be sorely missed by Hong Kong and this creates a challenge for coach Cook as to the make-up of the final side.

Former captain Jamie Atkinson – the first player born in the 1990s to play an ODI – is back in the squad after being able to book the requisite time off his full time teaching role in Hong Kong. He brings well-established skills with the blade and the gloves to the squad and it is hoped he is able to get back into the swing of full-time cricket throughout the preparatory tours leading up to WCL2.

Their first match this Saturday will be against Canada at Trustco United. The last time the two sides met was in the Cricket World Cup Qualifier back in early 2014. On that day, Atkinson scored an even-time 63 not out to see his team home. There are only three players in the squad who were in that team so it will be essential to Hong Kong’s success for Atkinson to squeeze every bit of his talent and leadership ability out from 20-27 April.

The batting will be built around the now-NZ-based Rath and the “General” Babar Hayat – who showed some glimpse of form across 2018 but lacked the consistency so sorely needed.

It was hoped that right-handed Ahsan Abassi was to play a key role in CWCQ last year in Zimbabwe, but he did a knee ligament in a practice match’s warm-up, an injury that required surgery and months of rehab. A lot will be expected of him and Kinchit Shah to bind the notoriously frail middle order together.

With seamer Tanveer Ahmed likely to carry the drinks alongside the tall tweaker Ghazanfar, recent U19-skipper & HK-born leg-spinner Jhatavedh Subramanyan has been touted to play as an attacking spinner, alongside the off spin of Ehsan Khan and Kinchit Shah.

Word was that in an effort to get the innings off to a quick start batter/keeper Shahid Wasif was considered to open, but with Jamie Atkinson scoring a hundred in Pretoria a few days ago, this may yet precipitate a change of tack from the tour brains trust. Similarly, selectors may consider the batting ability of Wasif versus that of incumbent keeper-batter McKechnie and could decide to utilise Wasif at the top to take advantage of the first power play.

With Abassi able to bowl some part-time spin as well, this may mean the young leggie Subramanyan misses out if the selectors decide there’s enough bowling across Tanwir, the Ehsans, Aizaz & Kinchit – resulting in both Wasif and McKechnie being picked – the latter taking his spot behind the stumps as he did to great effect in the Asia Cup late last year. 

This gives us an XI with options – with Wasif potentially coming in to open the batting, for McKechnie or Subramanyan:
Anshy Rath (c)
Jamie Atkinson
Babar Hayat
Kinchit Shah
Ahsan Abassi
Aizaz Khan
Scott McKechnie/Shahid Wasif
Ehsan Khan
Tanwir Afzal
Ehsan Nawaz
Jhatta Subramanyan/Shahid Wasif

Considering the famous frailty of Hong Kong’s middle-low order however, I would not be surprised to see them find a way to select all the batters on tour in the XI. My (hopeful) prediction: 4th place. Just.

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