'Two of the best days of our lives': Hong Kong ready for challenge of India and Pakistan

After facing likes of Jersey and Uganda in recent weeks, Asia Cup qualifiers are now set to face two of cricket's giants

Hong Kong celebrate a wicket in the final match of the Asia Cup Qualifier against UAE in Muscat. Courtesy ACC
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Earlier this month, Hong Kong lost a match against Jersey, an island whose entire population would fit inside the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad with room to spare.

On Wednesday, they will face the might of cricket’s most populated nation when they play India in Dubai.

It would be understandable if they were feeling a sense of trepidation, given all the gilded names they will be confronted with, as well as India’s “Blue Billion” supporters.

And yet Hong Kong are approaching it without fear. After all, they did give their celebrated combatants a real scare the last time they met on the same patch of turf, back at the 2018 Asia Cup.

The Associate side looked well placed to produce the ultimate shock when they were 174 for no loss, chasing 286 in what was a 50-over game at Dubai International Stadium.

The Indians brought their experience to bear as they closed out a 26-run win, but Hong Kong had proved they were worthy opponents.

Now, having qualified to be here from a four-team event involving UAE in Muscat last week, they will get another shot at glory.

“The way we are approaching these games, there is no intent on our side to be making up the numbers,” Scott McKechnie, Hong Kong’s wicketkeeper, said.

“We pushed India pretty hard in 2018 and we plan to do the same again. They are two incredible oppositions, first and third in this format, so we are realistic.

“They are two very tough games of cricket, but you never know. Everyone loves an underdog, right?”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 30, 2019: Hong Kong's keeper Scott McKechnie during the game between Oman and Hong Kong in the World Cup Qualifier at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Wednesday the 30th of October 2019. Sports City, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Hong Kong do have recent form for upsetting odds. They had to beat UAE to reach this Asia Cup. Set in context, the UAE were closer to India and Pakistan in the ICC’s T20I rankings than Hong Kong were to the national team.

“The bottom line was we found ways to win games of cricket, and we plan to bring that blueprint with us,” McKechnie said.

“If two guys turn up, we could be right in the game. We don’t have to be consistent over 100 overs like we did four years ago. Now we have to do it over 35 to 40 and that could be enough.

“We are realistic. These are two tough games but they will be two of the best days of our life, even more so if we can create an upset.”

McKechnie personifies the difference between the Hong Kong side and the IPL millionaires who lie in wait.

Hong Kong wicketkeeper Scott McKenchnie appeals for a stumping against UAE captain CP Rizwan. Courtesy ACC

The 31-year-old keeper retired from international cricket in March 2020 in order to focus on work, his new business, and family life instead.

In the two years that followed he did not play any sport at all, such were the Covid-enforced limitations in Singapore, where he was living.

Having returned to live in the UK, where he is originally from, he started playing again for his local club side, Dartford in Kent, at the start of this summer.

It led to a recall for Hong Kong, a three-month tour that has taken in Uganda, South Africa, Namibia, Jersey, and Oman, and will now culminate in matches against India and Pakistan in the UAE.

“I wasn’t going to let my business, my full-time job, or my marriage slide, so international cricket had to go to one side,” he said.

“Since then, I have been able to build the business so I now work solely for myself. Paired with a super supportive partner, it has all become a lot more feasible again. Thus, in June of this year, I came out retirement in Zimbabwe.”

Judged by his remarkable stumping of UAE captain CP Rizwan at a crucial stage of the final qualifying match, he has fully shaken off the rust of retirement. And now he, like his team, is ready to compete with the best.

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence we were here in 2018 and we are here again in 2022," he said of Hong Kong's consecutive Asia Cup appearances in UAE.

“I think we are starting to be more consistent across formats and across many years. We have started to deliver more consistent results.

“What comes of that is greater expectation for us to turn up and compete with the big boys.

“We know within our camp we have enough match-winners. The beauty about T20 is that if one or two of your match-winners come off, on your day you can turn over just about anybody.”

Updated: August 31, 2022, 2:25 AM