Kuwait shock Hong Kong to join Premier Cup semi-finals

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Kuwait beat Hong Kong by 30 runs
Kuwait beat Hong Kong by 30 runs © Cricbuzz

An upset 30-run win for Kuwait over four-time Asia Cup qualifiers Hong Kong in their final group match saw the underdog Gulf state go through to the semi-finals of the ACC Premier Cup at Kathmandu alongside ODI nations Nepal, UAE and Oman, two steps away from a maiden appearance at the ACC's flagship event.

The final match of Group B was a de-facto quarter final after a wash-out against Bahrain had left Hong Kong vulnerable to a late ambush, despite emphatic wins over Singapore and the UAE. Kuwait had looked in trouble at 108-5 before half centuries from Shiraz Khan and Usman Patel steadied the innings and an impressive counter-attack by the tail lifted the Kuwaitis to 272-8. Hong Kong captain Nizakat Khan struck a half-century in reply from the top of the order, but the early loss of Anshuman Rath, Babar Hayat and Kinchit Shah put his side on the defensive, and despite enterprising knocks fro Aizaz Khan and Yasim Murtaza in the middle Hong Kong were never able to get back on top, sliding to a 30-run defeat to end their hopes of a third consecutive Asia Cup appearance.

Kuwait had not looked likely semi-finalists through the early group phase, sinking to a colossal 143-run defeat to the UAE in their opening match before scraping to a hard-fought 2-wicket win against Bahrain. Despite skittling the hapless Singapore for just 113 as Mohhamad Aslam claimed 5-20, the Kuwaitis lost six wickets in the chase. Conversely Hong Kong had looked well set for another qualifying run after brushing aside Singapore in their opener thanks to an unbeaten 108* off 94 from Babar Hayat. A win over the more fancied UAE in their next game had looked to all-but seal a place in the semis. The prodigal Anshuman Rath struck an assured century to take Hong Kong to 263-5 despite Aayan Khan's five-wicket haul, and regular wickets kept the Emiratis pegged back until the rain came to find them 67 short of par.

The rain would persist long enough to preclude any play for Hong Kong's fixture against Bahrain however, meaning Kuwait's surprise victory takes them level with the UAE on 6 points at the top of the table. Bar their defeat to Hong Kong the Emirates had looked a class apart during the group phase, as reflected in their net run rate of +2.5 per over. The UAE owe their place at the top of Group B in large part to the remarkable return to form of Vritya Aravind, who has amassed an extraordinary 428 runs at an average of 143 across the tournament thus far. 185 of them came in the tournament opener against Kuwait, and another 174 against Singapore as the UAE racked up a mountainous total of 471 on their way to a 201-run win. Only Bahrain's collapse in the face of Aayan Khan (the teenage left-arm spinner leading the wicket-taking tally on 12 from four matches) prevented Aravind from notching another ton, running out of road on 62* as the UAE chased the 117 run target inside 28 overs.

Bahrain finished in fourth place thanks to a thumping 132-run victory over Singapore, whose enduring malaise in the 50-over format since the departure of Tim David was ruthlessly exposed by the other sides as they slumped to three consecutive three-figure defeats.

In Group A Nepal survived a scare in their final match against Qatar to top the table with three wins from three completed matches, along with a wash-out against Saudi Arabia. After a convincing win over Malaysia in their opening match, Nepal saw off eventual runners-up Oman in their second game, passing 300 for the first time in ODIs courtesy Kushal Malla's blistering 108 off 64 balls before Sandeep Lamichhane became the fastest bowler to reach the 100-wicket milestone in his 42nd ODI, taking 3-45 as Nepal sealed an 84-run win. The wash-out against Saudi meant Nepal had already done enough to seal a semi-final spot, but a loss against Qatar would see them drawn against a dominant UAE side. It was Lamichhane that averted that outcome, striking a rearguard 42* to drag the home side to 157 before claiming 5-14 in the Qatari reply to preserve the hosts' unbeaten home run.

Oman claimed a comfortable second place with wins in their other three matches, though the Red Brigade were made to work for their wins. It took a clinical show of top-tail bowling from Bilal Khan to hold off Gulf rivals Qatar in their tournament opener, the left arm seamer claiming 4-42 to ensure the Qataris fell 41 short of the 250 target. Skipper Zeeshan Maqsood's return of 4-35 in their third match against Malaysia kept the target to a manageable 228 despite the efforts of Virandeep Singh, who struck 94 off 144 before falling to Maqsood, and Jatinder Singh's unbeaten 101* ensured Oman had little trouble in the chase. Jatinder topped the scoring for Oman again in their final match, striking 88 off 79 from the top to start them on their way to an imposing 366-6 against Saudi Arabia, which despite a spirited effort from the Saudis would prove more than enough to secure a semi-final berth.

The Saudis nonetheless impressed on their major tournament debut, especially with the bat. While the dauntless Abdul Waheed was at the crease it seemed as though the Saudis had every chance of chasing down Oman's imposing total, instilling a degree of panic in the Oman side as he took Saudi to 185-2 before falling for 94 in the 30th over. Waheed was also at the forefront for Saudi's sole win of the tournament, smashing 124 off 108 balls as Saudi Arabia cantered to a 7-wicket win.

They were beaten to third place by Malaysia however, their one real failure with the bat coming in the two sides' opening match. Khizar Hayat stood out with the ball for Malaysia, taking 3-13 in 10 as Saudi were rolled for just 156, before Muhammad Amir struck a brisk half-century to guide Malaysia to an 8-wicket win. Malaysia also won their final match against Qatar thanks in part to a quickfire 80 off 66 from former skipper Syed Aziz, to finish with a respectable 2-2 record.

The tournament continues in two day's time as both semi-finals are played simultaneously on the 29th, Group A winners Nepal taking on Kuwait, while Group B winners UAE meet Oman. The winners of the two semi-finals will then face off in the final on May 1st to contest for the single qualification berth for this year's Asia Cup. The day before the final the two losing semi-finalists will meet in the third place play-off, which is no mere consolation game. The winner of the bronze medal game will join two winning finalists in qualifying for the ACC Emerging Teams Cup, with three berths at the tournament reserved for the best three finishers at the Premier Cup.



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