Nepal scripted the most memorable history with Hong Kong when they qualified for the maiden ICC World Twenty20 following a thrilling last-ball victory in the Qualifiers at the UAE in November last year.
It was Nepal’s third victory over their Associate arch rivals out of the five meetings and both teams will head into their ICC World Twenty20 opener knowing each other very well irrespective to their history.
Nepal might hold an edge over their opponents on head-to-head results but a dismal show in batting and Hong Kong’s supreme form in the format will not make Nepal as the favourites to win the match.
Nepal has come into the World Twenty20 losing three of their last four practice matches. They first lost to the Netherlands by 44 runs in their seven-day preparation tour in UAE and lost the official warm-up ties against the Ireland by five wickets and the UAE by six wickets.
Nepal had defeated UAE in Sharjah by 31 runs before heading for the official warm-up matches but crashed to a lowly 95 against the same opponent in Fatullah on Friday.
Hong Kong, in contrast, have been a much-improved wining both of their warm-up games that too against tough opponents. Hong Kong stunned Test-playing nation Zimbabwe and World Cup finalists the Netherlands in both games.
Nepal was paralyzed in their disastrous 50-over World Cup Qualifiers in New Zealand where their losing run ended only in the ninth place playoff match against Uganda.
After Nepal lost to UAE and Scotland in the first two games, Hong Kong had a final laugh on Nepal crushing them by 10 wickets in chase of 150 runs. Hong Kong is well aware of Nepal’s vulnerability to seam bowling and will land with adequate medium pacers to trap them. With the discovery of Som Pal and Jitendra Mukhiya who are able to deliver, Nepal will also go with all guns ablaze with spin as their major weapon.
Get Paras, get Irfan game
Nepal and Hong Kong’s performance has all been about the two best all rounders of the countries. When Nepal qualified for the World Twenty20, Paras had returned with the man-of-the-match knock of 46 runs in the crucial playoff on November 27 against Hong Kong who crawled to a total of 143-8 after Jitendra Mukhiya got rid of dangerous Irfan for just eight runs in the second over. Before the two teams met in the Qualifiers, Hong Kong had defeated Nepal by six wickets on a back of solid 16-ball 30 from Irfan in a chase of Nepal’s 115-9 in the 2013 ACC Twenty20 in March.
Irfan’s brother Nadeem had dismissed Paras for just four runs in that match. Paras was the top scorer with 68 runs when Nepal defeated Hong Kong by 28 runs in the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier opener on March 13. Paras’ innings spurred Nepal to 130 in that match and Hong Kong were restricted to 102-9 after Chandra Sawad dismissed Irfan for just four runs.
Nepal defeated Hong Kong by two wickets in the 2011 ACC Twenty20 Cup on December 3 when Paras’ 44 helped Nepal achieve a target of 115 runs in the last balls of the match. Irfan was out for 25 runs in that game.
Opening woes for Nepal
Nepal’s faith against Hong Kong will also depend on how the openers are going to recover from their back-to-back failures. After Coach Pubudu Dassanayake tried out the new combination of Subash Khakurel and Sagar Pun following the successive failure of another opener Pradeep Airee, Nepal’s search for a desired start still continues.
Subash has been holding the innings and has earned respect returning with a label of highest run getter from Nepal in the World Tweny20 Qualifiers but Sagar has not been able to cross his highest score of 22 runs. Both openers have not been able to give a start of more that 33 runs.
Coach Pubudu Dassanayake has already made up his mind to stick with the two openers throughout the World Twenty20.