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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Khaleel Ahmed helps India to Asia Cup victory against valiant Hong Kong in Dubai

Fast bowler took two timely wickets, including that of the outstanding Nizakat Khan, to end the resistance of a side that had been widely written-off after their opening day thrashing by Pakistan

Khaleel Ahmed, right, celebrates after dismissing Hong Kong batsman Nizakat Khan. AFP
Khaleel Ahmed, right, celebrates after dismissing Hong Kong batsman Nizakat Khan. AFP

Khaleel Ahmed had a telling introduction to international cricket for India as he extinguished hopes of a fairytale for Hong Kong in the Asia Cup in Dubai.

The little-known left-arm fast bowler took two timely wickets, including that of the outstanding Nizakat Khan, to end the resistance of a side that had been widely written-off after their opening day thrashing by Pakistan.

Hong Kong’s very presence at the Asia Cup had been lampooned by many in cricket’s mainstream on the continent, after their eight-wicket humbling on Sunday.

But the side who had had to qualify to get here, from a six-team tournament in which they were third-highest ranked, shone on the biggest stage.

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Until Nizakat went for 92, one of the most unlikely upsets in the history of one-day international cricket had seemed to be becoming a stronger and stronger possibility.

He put on 174 for Hong Kong’s first wicket with his captain, Anshuman Rath, a 20-year-old opener who has foregone an economics degree to devote himself to cricket.

Once Rath and Nizakat had gone in consecutive overs, though, the life was strangled from Hong Kong’s pursuit of 286 to win. India ended up as 26-run winners.

After the travails they faced on their tour of the UK that preceded the Asia Cup, many of India’s players must have been happy for a change of scenery and format.

None more so than Shikhar Dhawan. The decision to promote the left-handed opener to vice-captain for this tournament was widely queried, given his abject form against England’s bowlers.

He looked like a changed man on his first international appearance in the Emirates. His century was a triumph not just of fine shot-making, but also fitness.

The temperature did not dip below 40 degrees for the 40 overs he was out in the middle. After he had reached three figures, he seemed to be swiping the ball in the same way a star player might once they had reached a respectable score in a charity match. Aim for the ropes, sure. But if it chipped up for a catch, then so be it.

With such a merciless schedule, him being out there for any longer than it took him to make the 127 that he did might have been detrimental. Pakistan are, of course, up next, a day later.

As it was, he had time for a rest in the air-conditioned comfort of Dubai International Stadium’s cavernous dressing rooms, before taking his place in the field for Hong Kong’s reply.

The very first ball of which nearly found him, too. Nizakat flashed at a wide, swinging loosener from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and the edge flew six centimetres – according to a TV graphic - from Dhawan’s outstretched hand at slip.

Nizakat, whose 20-ball innings of 38 in the final of the qualifying competition against UAE was a large reason for Hong Kong being here, was the aggressor again.

His 92 mixed raw power with silky stroke-play. He went to his half-century with an 84 metre six, as Hong Kong took 17 off one over from the beleaguered Shardul Thakur.

Against the seam bowlers, Hong Kong looked confident. But their strike-rate waned against the slow bowlers, and they paid for the pressure that was asserted on them.

Kuldeep Yadav was particularly thrifty, and it was he who dismissed Rath, caught at extra cover by Rohit Sharma for 73.

Khaleel, who was making his debut, then fired out Nizakat and Chris Carter, and the rot had set. Yuzvendra Chahal took three wickets with his leg-spin, and Kuldeep two with his left-arm leg-breaks.

Appropriately, it was left to Khaleel, who ended with three wickets in total, to bowl the final over, and to see the defending champions to an opening win.