With apologies to Misbah fans
The 2nd Hong Kong T20 Blitz was a roaring success, both on and off the field, as the eyes of the associate world were fixated on the modest Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground. A capacity of 3000 and the absence of a TV broadcaster did not stop the venue from bursting at the seams, especially on the weekend. The live streams on YouTube and Facebook and subsequent match replays, views for which exceeded 3 million by the end of the tournament, contained plenty of scenes where blokes tried to sneak in, only to be escorted away by Hong Kong Police, who are still trying to decipher the phrase, “Just one more over.”
You cannot blame them, when the quality of cricket was of such a high standard. Aside from the 20 experienced overseas professionals, some of Hong Kong’s finest players ended the tournament with cult followings and social media stalkers. The following list – as per squad regulations - contains 6 Hong Kong players, 4 overseas professionals (*denotes an overseas player), and 1 overseas associate professional (**denotes an overseas associate professional).
1. Dwayne Smith* (Kowloon Cantons) – 259 runs, 64.75 average, SR 196.21; 4 wickets, 39.0 average, 9.17 economy
The powerful West Indian is our first name on the team sheet in more ways than one. Smith lit up the tournament with 121* (40) on the first day, which included 13 hits over the boundary, and many onto Tin Kwong Road, as the Cantons chased down 200 in a stupendous 14.3 overs. Dwayne Smith ended the Blitz with 22 sixes off the 132 balls he faced, blazed a 38 (14) against GGL, set the tone with 68 (43) in the final, and chipped in with 17 crucial overs across the five games.
2. Kyle Coetzer** (City Kai Tak) – 254 runs, 50.80 average, SR 156.79
The decision of who to partner Smith at the top is perhaps the toughest call to make in selecting this XI. However, the 32-year old Scotsman was the only player to register three fifty-plus scores in the tournament and played a key role in City Kai Tak’s run to the final. A tournament tally of 18 sixes, second only to his opening partner, could leave an opposition exposed to leaking triple-figures in the first six.
3. Babar Hayat (C) (Kowloon Cantons) – 188 runs, 37.60 average, SR 156.66
Hong Kong’s Mr. Dependable may have begun the tournament slowly but he signed off with back-to-back fifties in his last two games, including a Man of the match 76 (40). He’s perfect at number three as he tends to begin slowly in the power play, whereas, Kyle Coetzer slows down after the first six.
Babar earns the right to captain this XI based on shrewd decisions he made as a fielding skipper. He trusted the teenage Tanveer Ahmed with his full quota in every game and brought on Ashar Zaidi to break a strong opening stand in the final.
4. Anshy Rath (Galaxy Gladiators Lantau) – 171 runs, 57.0 average, SR 148.69
Stop everything you are doing. This lad is something special. Yours truly would not be the first to predict great things for this 19 year-old, who came in to the Blitz with scores of 98*, 88, 134, and 85 against the visiting Dutch in February.
It was a pleasure to personally witness those last two innings, albeit in losing causes, as Anshy displayed class, situational awareness and a new addition to his game: power. He’s got some huge, ever-expanding shoulders, which he used to great effect in pummeling 7 sixes in his four outings.
He outperformed Sangakkara and would be opening in this XI were it not for Kyle Coetzer’s destructiveness in the Powerplay. Along with Babar and Nizakat, he forms one of the most powerful top-orders in associate cricket. Look out for this latest Middlesex recruit.
5. Nizakat Khan (Hung Hom JD Jaguars) – 158 runs, 52.66 average, SR 173.62
Nizakat Khan forces his way into this XI after his 120* (62), the best innings by any Hong Kong player. It included 10 maximums, including two signature Nizakat swipes over backward point. He would have been chosen to open in this XI were it not for a below-par 38 in his first three outings. At 5, however, he could flourish with the license to go after everything in his arc.
6. Kumar Sangakkara*(WK) (Galaxy Gladiators Lantau) – 120 runs, 40.0 average, SR 148.14
This was an important tournament for the aging Sri-Lankan after a disappointing Big Bash. He gets the nod over Misbah because of his wicket-keeping skills, which were crucial in a tournament where batsmen were forced to do a makeshift job and let go 5-wides with concerning frequency. The worst offender was Nicolas Pooran, who let 5-wides go on two occasions in the final.
Sanga may have scored at a lower SR than the local names above him, but he is more likely to get going from ball one than Misbah. It is worth noting that three of Misbah’s six consecutive sixes came off a below-par Ashley Caddy. Despite missing out on this XI, however, the man with the coolest beard in cricket proved yet again that age is just a number.
7. Chris Jordan* (City Kai Tak) - 150 runs, 75.0 average, SR 182.92; 9 wickets, 17.55 average, 8.31 economy
We should start with the elephant in the room. He dropped Dwayne Smith off the second ball of the final, where his figures were not amazing. However, he gets the nod over yorker specialist Yasir Arafat for guiding Kai Tak to the final with pace and big hitting. Jordan smoked a stunning 14 sixes in just 82 balls, ending with a ball to six ratio of 5.86, which was better than Dwayne Smith’s.
8. Ashar Zaidi* (Kowloon Cantons) - 102 runs, 51 average, SR 167.21; 8 wickets, 16.12 average, 6.78 economy
An economy of 6.78 was second only to Ajmal’s 6.70. Although Ajmal finished as the Blitz’s highest wicket-taker, many of his scalps were lesser-known Hong Kong players and he enjoyed a lot of support from the other end. Zaidi, in contrast, accepted the responsibility of bowling in the Power Play, even dismissing Dilshan in the 6th over of the final to slow down City Kai Tak’s chase. His quick and crucial runs down the order certainly give him an edge in a format, where it helps to bat deep.
9. Tanwir Afzal (HK Island United) - 5 wickets, 18.6 average, 7.15 economy
He set the tone for the HK Island spinners, ending the tournament with the best economy rate of any fast bowler. I would even argue that he was the spearhead of HK Island United, as he and Badree choked the opposition game-after-game, before Ajmal came on to claim the glory. Unfortunately, neither Tanwir’s accuracy nor his runs down the order were enough to save an Island batting line-up that was over-reliant on Misbah.
10. Ehsan Khan (HK Island United) – 1 wicket, 119 average, 9.15 economy
This under-stated off-spinner bowled well in tandem with Badree, and especially Ajmal. He was unlucky not to pick up more wickets for the pressure he helped build and was clearly the best Hong Kong spinner on show. His economy rate was more than acceptable given the tiny boundaries and given the fact that every team looked to target him. Ehsan could perform a similar role in this team with Zaidi and is preferred to Nadeem Ahmed, who was mauled for 57 in 2 overs during Dwayne Smith’s powerful assault.
11. Tanveer Ahmed (Kowloon Cantons) – 7 wickets, 28.85, 10.10 economy
This promising 19 year-old quick stepped up at key moments, including the final. Dismissing the dangerous Kyle Coetzer and Aizaz Khan in the space of three balls, broke the back of the City Kai Tak chase.
Unfortunately, his match figures and overall economy were spoilt by a poor last over, which went for 25 as Nadeem Ahmed exacted some revenge for the flogging he received from Smith. Tanveer is otherwise known as a composed death bowler and the experience of bowling to, troubling, and even dismissing international players will do him a world of good.
There will be those who disagree with some of these choices and that is natural. However, this only goes to show the variety of talent that Hong Kong Cricket was able to attract to the Blitz. With a third season being planned, cricket in Hong Kong could reach greater heights and more people.
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