As expected, India beat Hong Kong in their Asia Cup match in Dubai. It means that not only does India guarantee themselves a place in the Super Four stage of the tournament, but they do so as group winners, having narrowly beat Pakistan earlier in the week.
Pakistan and Hong Kong will meet on Friday to determine who joins them.
Hong Kong won the toss and decided to field first on a pitch that traditionally favours the chasing side.
However, their bowlers struggled to contain the Indian batters and after the opening pair of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul had made a brisk start. Rahul and Virat Kohli then pushed the score along until the dismissal of Rahul was 36.
That brought Suryakumar Yadav to the crease, and he cut loose, blasting an unbeaten 68 off just 26 balls which included 6 sixes. Kohli was comparatively more sedate, but his 59 not out was still most welcome in the light of his recent form.
Together, they helped India close their innings on 192/2 from their 20 overs.
That was always going to be too much for Hong Kong, but, unlike the previous time the two sides met in the Asia Cup when they were thrashed by 256 runs in an ODI match, they made a decent fight of it.
Despite the loss of an early wicket, Babar Hayat made 41 and there were decent contributions from all of their middle order.
India’s young seam pair of Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan both proved expensive and it was left to the old warhorse, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, to show them how to bowl in T20 cricket with economy.
In the end, Hong Kong managed 152/5, losing by 40 runs, but they can hold their heads up high after their performance.
The adjudicators had one of the easiest decisions they will ever have to make in naming Yadav Player of the Match.
Pant back in the fold
One of the headlines from the match against Pakistan was the decision to leave wicketkeeper/batter Rishabh Pant out of the starting XI – a decision that sharply divided opinion back in India.
He was recalled for this match, but given that the man he replaced Hardik Pandya – who was Player of the Match against Pakistan – his omission this time was for rotational purposes.
It remains to be seen over the balance of the tournament what India’s best lineup looks like and Pant will, perhaps, be frustrated that he did not get the opportunity to bat in this match.
Rahul finds some form
Rahul would have been relieved to get some runs. After a period on the sidelines with injury and illness, he had been a late addition to the white ball tour of Zimbabwe. But hehad mixed fortunes there and a first ball duck against Pakistan had begun to raise doubts about his place in the team.
Whilst they have not been fully answered, his 36 in this match was most welcome from his viewpoint.
Kohli continues his revival
Another man under pressure coming into this tournament was former captain Virat Kohli, whose struggles with form had been more long-standing.
He survived an early drop against Pakistan to make 35, and this time round there were signs that his old fluency might be returning with his innings featuring 3 sixes.
He will face tougher tests than the Hong Kong bowlers, but these are all encouraging signs that he may be returning to something like his best ahead of the T20I World Cup in Australia which starts in seven weeks.
Hong Kong not disgraced
The fact that Hong Kong did not crumble this time suggests that the standard of international cricket has risen since the only previous time these two teams had met, and that there are no easy games any more.
It would still be a minor miracle if they beat Pakistan, but playing more often top quality side like India can only help raise their standards further.
India’s next match
India’s next match will be in Dubai on Sunday in the same stadium and it will feature the runners-up in the other group. Afghanistan have already won that group, so it will be either Bangladesh or Sri Lanka they will be facing.
VISIT OUR BLG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT CRICKET NEWS STORIES & FEATURES