Close call for Nepal; wins also for Afghanistan, Oman and UAE
The final regional qualifying event for the 2012 World Twenty20 began on a cold day in Nepal today. The hosts gave a 15,000 strong crowd a scare in their match against Hong Kong, winning the game from the very last ball, whilst favourites Afghanistan easily beat Malaysia, the UAE beat Kuwait and Oman thrashed Bhutan.
In the morning match at the Tribhuvan University ground, Hong Kong captain Jamie Atkinson won the toss and chose to bat first. Irfan Ahmed gave the innings some early impetus, hitting 25 from 11 balls before he was first out with the score on 37 in the third over.
None of the other Hong Kong batsmen could manage to score at that rate though, and Hong Kong limped to just 114-9 from their 20 overs, thanks to some tight bowling from the Nepal attack.
That should have been an easy chase for Nepal, but both openers were dismissed cheaply, and they soon found themselves on 14-3. But a measured innings of 44 from captain Para Khadka steadied their reply, and a quick-fire 17 by Basanta Regmi saw them reach the target from the very last ball of the match to win by 2 wickets.
The other match in the morning saw tournament favourites Afghanistan come up against Malaysia, who find themselves in a quite easy group thanks to their surprise performance at last year's ACC Trophy.
The match against Afghanistan was anything but easy for the Malaysians though, and Afghanistan, batting first, didn't lose a wicket until the halfway point of the innings, when they were 83-1, Shabir Noori the man out for 53 from 30 balls.
Afghanistan didn't capitalise on that start as well as they could have done, but their eventual total of 166-4 was always going to be a tough ask for Malaysia.
The Afghans bowled well throughout the Malaysian reply, with Hamid Hassan opening the bowling by going for just six runs in three overs, taking the wicket of Suresh Navaratnam in the process. Spin eventually took over, with Samiullah Shenwari (2-15) and Mohammad Nabi (3-21) helping to ensure that Malaysia were restricted to 107-9 from their 20 overs, Afghanistan winning by 59 runs.
Malaysia's only real rivals for qualification for the semi-finals - and therefore the global qualifier - are Oman, and they showed why in the afternoon with a thumping win over Bhutan.
An innings of 45 from Vaibhav Wateganokar helped the 2007 joint winners to a total of 186-7 from their 20 overs, before Bhutan capitulated for 62, Oman captain Hemal Mehta taking 3-11 as his team secured a 124 run win.
The other game in the afternoon was between Kuwait and the UAE. Kuwait won the toss and chose to bat first, but only two of their batsmen reached double figures, both of whom were outscored by 36 extras in the Kuwait total of 135.
In reply, Faizan Asif got the UAE innings off to a good start with 44 from 30 balls, before Vikrant Shetty scored an unbeaten 45 to secure a four wicket win with 8 balls to spare.
Tomorrow will see the Maldives and Saudi Arabia play their first matches of the tournament, against Bhutan and Kuwait respectively. The other matches will see Afghanistan take on Oman in a repeat of the tied 2007 final and hosts Nepal play the UAE.