Hong Kong were bowled out for 116 before Pakistan’s top order knocked off the runs to secure a comfortable eight-wicket win.
Usman Khan’s three-wicket haul led a disciplined all-round fielding performance from Pakistan which saw them bowl out Asia Cup qualifiers Hong Kong for a sub-par total. No batsman was able to get to grips with the problems Pakistan posed, with Aizaz Khan’s 27 the highest score.
The innings was bookended by a pair of bizarre run outs. The first saw Nizakat Khan caught napping and caught short by Shadab Khan. Instead of grounding his bat, he opted to try and avoid the ball as it was thrown in, and was thus out of his crease when the stumps were struck.
The second saw Pakistan almost squander two run out chances in the space of a single delivery, a direct hit missed at the non-strikers end and the throw to the keeper almost proving too gentle. In the end Ehsan Nawaz was out of his ground and the innings came to an end.
In between, it was a case of Pakistan bowling excellence and Hong Kong batting struggles. All-rounder Fahim Ashraf struck the key blow, nicking off captain Anshuman Rath with a ball angled across him.
Christopher Carter and former captain Babar Hayat found turning over the strike tough going, and soon the pressure told. Carter attempted to power Hasan Ali through the off-side and only succeeded in chipping lamely to extra cover for a 14-ball two before Hayat charged out to try and smash Shadab’s first ball into the Persian Gulf, only to miss by a mile and be stumped easily.
When Ehsan Khan was pinned LBW in the same over for a duck to leave Hong Kong 44/5 and statisticians scrambling for the record books to see if the lowest Asia Cup score was in danger. But Aizaz Khan and Kinchit Shah joined forces to put on 53, the highest partnership of the game, and ensure Bangladesh’s 87 against Pakistan in 2000 remained at the bottom of the pile.
It was a brave effort under the circumstances, though the runs didn’t come quickly enough to truly threaten Pakistan; it felt only a matter of time until a breakthrough came which Pakistan could burst through.
It was Usman who struck the killer blow with a devastating triple-strike, somehow extracting some sideways seam movement from a hitherto-arrow-straight UAE pitch and bowling Aizaz, before striking Scott McKechnie in front with a perfect yorker and pegging back Tanwir Afzal’s off stump in consecutive deliveries.
The hat-trick didn’t come, but the end was nigh. Shah sliced tamely to point to leave Pakistan 99/9, and though the last wicket ensured the total crossed three figures, 116 would never be enough.
To their credit, Hong Kong battled hard in the chase. Seven overs were possible before the extended break was taken, and they managed to restrict Pakistan to just 35 runs in that time. Fakhar Zaman fell shortly after the break for a sprightly 24, bottom edging a cut off Ehsan which McKechnie clung onto behind the stumps after a juggle.
Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq batted sensibly through their 52-run stand before the former fell to the same shot/bowler/fielder combination as Fakhar.
Still, there was no stopping Pakistan, and a ball after Imam nudged a single to level the scores and bring up his first ODI half-century – to go with four tons – Shoaib Malik smashed four to midwicket to seal a comprehensive win with more than half the allotted overs to spare.