After the carnival of opening night at Asia Cup 2018, Day 2 was all business. Pakistan crushed the unheralded qualifiers from Hong Kong in ruthless fashion at a largely-empty Dubai International Stadium.
Where the stands had throbbed and heaved to the tune of a 23,000 crowd of mostly Bangladeshis the night before, this time they echoed to the sound of solitude.
It was perhaps no surprise the supporters stayed away. Given what is to follow, they must have been minded to save up both dirhams and annual leave for when it really counts.
Wednesday might be a work-day for the UAE’s cricket-lovers. But every seat is likely to be filled when Pakistan face India in the final match of this group.
There is also a strong likelihood that fixture will be repeated in the Super Four on Sunday, the first day of the next working week, too. It is no wonder Hong Kong proved to be a tough sell.
Pakistan registered an eight-wicket win in their first outing in quick time, but not entirely without fuss.
Usman Khan Shinwari was their most successful bowler, taking three wickets in one over, including two in two balls to finish it.
He did, though, walk off the field midway through an over after suffering discomfort to his right foot while bowling.
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Pakistan do have similar type bowlers in reserve, in the form of fellow left-arm quicks Junaid Khan and Shaheed Afridi, but the indicators are Shinwari will be fine to take his place in the XI to face India later this week.
That slight misfortune apart, it was a cruise for Pakistan. Hasan Ali took 2-19, and Shadab Khan 2-31 as Hong Kong were bowled out for 116 in 37.1 overs. Only Kinchit Shah and Aizaz Khan providing any noteworthy defiance as they shared an alliance worth 53 for the sixth wicket.
Hong Kong had surprised many – possibly even themselves – by making it through a six-team qualifying tournament in which they were the third-highest ranked side, to reach this point.
They navigated that event in Malaysia earlier this month after beating the UAE in a tense final. They won that match despite their run-chase being twice derailed by avoidable run outs.
Similar happened on the big stage, too, with their batting demise against Pakistan being bookended by run outs.
Nizakat Khan had made a plucky start to Hong Kong’s third appearance at an Asia Cup, taking Mohammed Amir for 11 in the first over of the match.
Then, with the score on 17-0, Nizakat seemed to flinch while approaching the popping crease, rather than do all he could to make his ground. Shadab Khan’s direct hit beat him two it.
Babar Hayat and Anshuman Rath, two batsmen who are so highly-regarded at Associate level, struggled to get scoring shots away. There was limited resistance elsewhere, in the face of probing bowling by a multi-dimensional bowling attack.
The innings was ended when Ehsan Nawaz was run out by a combination of sub-fielder Mohammed Nawaz, Hasan and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed.
“We are not shy of cricket, we could have been better off playing against tougher opposition [in the lead up to the tournament], but saying that there is no excuse for the cricket we played in this game,” Rath said.
“For all of us, it is a fantastic experience to see how a top team operate. We haven’t played that much cricket against the top five sides.
“Going into the game against India hopefully the guys pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes, myself included.”
Pakistan’s chase was neither rushed, nor overly troubled. Ehsan Khan, the Kong Kong spinner, at least got the wickets of Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam for mementos.
Imam-ul-Haq saw his side through to the win as he made 50 not out.