Kumar Sangakkara creates a death-over hero out of young Arshad Mohammad Credits Ike Li  Ike Images
Kumar Sangakkara creates a death-over hero out of young Arshad Mohammad Credits Ike Li Ike Images

It’s getting better in the Hong Kong T20 Blitz 2018. Day Four witnessed two contrasting matches; the first was a run-fest, followed by a low-scoring one-sided affair. It remained a chilly day with the sun playing hide-and-seek in the morning. All the external elements took a backseat as Kumar Sangakkara  walked out to bat as early as 10 in the morning for a T20 match and then began the carnage. Will come to it later.

The thriller

Match Six was the best game of the tournament thus far and by some serious margin. It rained sixes Friday morning at Mong Kok. As many as 30 sixes were hit and 450 runs were scored in the match.

Chasing 229, against Galaxy Gladiators Nantau, the table toppers Hung Hom Jaguars were trying to play the catch-up game. Their hopes dashed when the in-form Englishman Rikki Wessels fell for 37 after striking four sixes.

(Trivia: Rikki is son of former South African and Australian cricketer Kepler Wessels. Born in Australia, raised in South Africa, he played domestic cricket in England and in 2016, got his British citizenship. Hence, an Englishman)

Darren Sammy and Roelof van der Merwe blazed to a 37-ball 80-run stand for the fifth wicket. Sammy fell but Van der Merwe stroked at will.

Sanga’s captaincy

Fourteen was required off the final over. Who would you have bowled?

Prelude:

“In T20 tournaments like these, what a lot of people forget is the local players,” said Sangakkara. “There’s six in each team and, you can talk about the overseas players but the local guys are also important.I saw the way the two [Hong Kong] boys [Babar Hayat and Ahsan Abbasi] batted and they could make the difference,” Sanga had said on Day Three of the tournament after notching up a win against Hong Kong Island United.

The heavily experienced James Franklin had an over left, so did the impressive Dan Pascoe, who had given away nine from his two overs and got the back of the dangerous Nizakat Khan.

Sanga threw the ball to the 18-year-old Hong Kong local Arshad Mohammad, who had gone for 40 off his three overs but claimed the wickets of Kinchit Shah and Johan Botha.

Van der Merwe was on strike. It was just a matter of three blows. Or that’s what me, Nazvi Careem of South China Morning Post and ex-Hong Kong cricket CEO Tim Cutler thought at the media zone.

The over went: 1 wide, wicket, wicket, four, 1, 1 and 1.

Gladiators had won by six runs to remain at No. 2 spot in the points table. Young Arshad won the Man of the Match for figures of 4-0-48-4.

“I was a bit nervous but I was told before I would bowl the last over so I was mentally prepared, basically the guys told me to bowl straight and full and it swung on a couple of balls that helped me get wickets.

“It was a relief to get van der Merwe out, I was just going according to the plan I had in mind,” said Arshad, who is hoping to earn his international cap for Hong Kong.

Sanga dismissed the fact that he was making any statement for local players.

“It was a cricketing decision. I told him (during the 14th or 15th over) that he was going to bowl the last over hoping he would be under less pressure. It was about judging who you think would be the best in that situation. Few of the senior bowlers went for runs and absorbing that and still coming and bowling that over was outstanding especially with van der Merwe playing like that. The way you react to pressure brings out your true character. Very impressive,” lauded Sangakkara

Van der Merwe got a 34-ball 75. He too praised young Arshad for getting the better of him in the final over.

“I thought he would come fuller at me but he came with a good ball that was shorter than I thought it was and straight up,” the Dutch cricketer said.

Van der Merwe hit seven sixes in his innings. On his incredible hitting, he said “It was just one of those days when you saw the ball well and it came off good. Chasing 15 an over (when he came out to bat), we had to get at least two sixes an over.”

Sanga’s Day Out

Sangakkara started the tournament with 14. He then got a quick 35, those sixes were a treat in the cameo, isn’t it?

He blazed to a 42-ball 92, an innings consisting 11 fours and four sixes. He added 87 off 47 balls with opener Balal Muhammad and then 84 off 36 balls with Anton Devcich for the fourth wicket.

Bowl him short and he will thwack it away. Be wary to toss it up on grounds like these with short straight boundaries, the backlift and the bat flow will see the leather out of the recreation park. Elegant, effortless and useful, Sanga was being Sanga at a relatively unfamiliar territory — Hong Kong.

Sanga wasn’t partial to anyone. From Sammy to van der Merwe to the in-form Ben Laughlin, all became victims. He cherished in-coming angle and so did fellow left-hander Anton Devcich. To prevent further carnage, Jaguars skipper Kinchit Shah ensured only three overs were shared between his ace left-arm spinners ven der Merwe and Nadeem Ahmed.

Sanga calls himself a “has-been” but the booming cuts and the free flowing drives were a further assurance on why he is still amongst the best batters in the world.

Sanga continued to be the run-machine Credits Ike Li  Ike Images
Sanga continued to be the run-machine Credits Ike Li Ike Images

“When you bat, you try to score runs and dimensions like these help you. Glad that we got a good start. Balal at first and then Devcich. Cameron Delport had an off game. He is an outstanding cricketer and hopefully he will have some runs in the locker for him in the next day,” said the modest Sanga.

How does a captain plan?

Gladiators will play their fourth game on consecutive days on Saturday morning. How does a captain plan with unknown players around and with no time before the tournament start or in middle of it? And then a masterstroke to bowl a relatively unknown local, the decisive over that could have sealed their fate in the tournament.

“It is what it is. I don’t think too much about it. The important thing is to not complain. We have played enough cricket to understand what to do and sometimes playing games on trot helps as well,” the Sri Lankan told CricketCountry.

Brief scores

Galaxy Gladiators Lantau 228 for 7 in 20 overs [Balal Muhammad 44 (30), Kumar Sangakkara 92 (42), Anton Devcich 56 (27)*; Ben Laughlin 4-0-32-3] beat Hung Hom Jaguars 222 for 7 in 20 overs [RikiWessels 37 (27), Johan Botha 29 (18), Darren Sammy 33 (20), Roelof van der Merwe 75 (34); Arshad Mohammad 4-0-48-4] by 6 runs.

Man of the Match: Arshad Mohammad

Cantons disappoint

The most successful team of the Blitz, Kowloon Cantons, who were joint-winners in 2016 and champions of 2017 edition, suffered back-to-back defeats and are on the verge of crashing out of the tournament. In a re-match of the 2017 edition final, the Cantons took on City Kaitak on the same surface, minutes after the run-fest.

The sun hid, the clouds took over and so did the pacers. Cantons, after being sent to bat first, lost Dwayne Smith in the first over. His miserable tournament continued as he managed back-to-back ducks. Skipper Babar Hayat held the other end before perishing run out for 48. Sohail Tanvir was the pick of the bowlers as Kaitak restricted Cantons to 127 for 7.

Kaitaks survived early scares. They were reduced to 46 for 4 in the eighth over. Ravi Bopara and Tanvir added 84 off 51 balls for the fifth wicket to guide them to a comfortable victory.

Kaitaks have now moved to the second spot with four points with a superior net run-rate to Gladiators.

“Toss was crucial and we lost it. Wicket wasn’t easy to bat on. We were 30 to 40 runs short at least. In the morning wicket played so well, I don’t know what happened in afternoon. I guess it has got to do with overcast conditions and it all changed. We still have a chance even if percentage is low. We also have to rely on other results. Let’s see,” said Canton’s skipper Babar.

Brief scores

Kowloon Cantons 127 for 7 in 20 overs [Babar Hayat 48 (39); SohailTanvir 4-1-17-2] lost to City Kaitak130 for 4 in 16.1 overs [Ravi Bopara 33 (24)*, SohailTanvir 46 (29)*] by 6 wickets.

Man of the Match: Sohail Tanvir