Opener Vusi Sibanda struck a fluent half-century to help Zimbabwe defeat a scandal-hit Hong Kong by 14 runs in the opening group encounter of the World T20 in Nagpur.
Stung by a corruption charge prior to the start of the sixth edition of the tournament, Hong Kong had their moments in the game but failed to capitalise.
Electing to field, Hong Kong’s bowlers made early inroads but Sibanda held fort with a 46-ball 59 to guide his side to 158 for eight.
Sibanda’s 61-run fifth wicket partnership with Malcolm Waller and a late blitz by Elton Chigumbura ensured the total remained beyond the grasp of Hong Kong who in turn could only manage 144 for six in their 20 overs.
The Tanwir Afzal-led side lost a couple of early wickets, but opener Jamie Atkinson put up some fight with a gutsy 53 off 44 balls, including four boundaries and two sixes.
A late flourish by Afzal (31 not out) gave the team some hope but the ever-increasing run rate proved too much for a side participating in just its second World T20.
Hong Kong’s preparations were badly hit by the suspension of their all-rounder Irfan Ahmed in January as part of an ongoing corruption investigation and the opening day loss has only added salt to their wounds.
Among from the positives that Hong Kong could gather from the outing was their near-perfect fielding that forced three run-outs and yielded some good catches in the Zimbabwe innings.
Other Group B members Afghanistan and Scotland are up next in the second game of the day.
The top sides from Group A and B will move in to the Super 10 stage involving the eight established teams of world cricket.
Bangladesh will be the clear favourites for victory when they take on the Netherlands in the first match of the Group A qualifiers in Dharamshala on Wednesday but will take nothing for granted against the perennial puchers above their weight.
Mashrafe Mortaza’s men go into the game on the back of being runners-up in the Asia Cup on home soil and have enjoyed a remarkable 12 months of one-day cricket.
Instrumental to that success has been emerging fast bowler Mustafizur Rahman but he may well miss out as a precaution, the 20-year-old still feeling the effects of the side strain that brought a premature end to his Asia Cup exploits.
For Peter Borren and his Dutch charges they will be hoping to call upon their previous experiences of beating England and Ireland at the tournament in a bid to reach the Super 10 stage as they did in 2014.
And while they have made improvements on the field in recent months, the loss of their ODI status prior to the tournament in Bangladesh two years ago paints a pretty clear picture of the nation’s demise in recent years having once been one of the dominant forces in associate cricket.
WHAT THEY SAID
Mortaza: “We didn’t have much time to practice and adjust but I guess we will take much confidence from the Asia Cup final. India is similar but here (Dharamsala) there is difference. You need to adjust to the breathing in particular. It was cold last night and we have to play two matches in night. We will have to adjust and play at our best.”
Borren: “I think Bangladesh are clear favourites, which is not affecting us in terms of pressure. It is a good thing for us.”
LAST FOUR RESULTS
Bangladesh (120/5) lost to India (122/2) by 8 wickets
Pakistan (129/7) lost to Bangladesh (131/5) by 5 wickets
Bangladesh (147/7) beat Sri Lanka (124/8) by 23 runs
Bangladesh (133/8) beat UAE (82) by 51 runs
Afghanistan (152-9) beat Netherlands (136/4) by 16 runs
Scotland (140/5) beat Netherlands 103 by 37 runs
Netherlands (157/5) beat UAE 73 by 84 runs
Mustafizur will be a big miss but Bangladesh should have enough about them with or without their strike bowler. The Netherlands do have some big hitters and Roelof van der Merwe should star in these conditions but expect the Tigers to prove too much for their opposition and win comfortably.
Bangladesh: Soumya Sarkar, Tamin Iqbal, Mohammad Mithum, Nasir Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan, Mahmudullah, Al-Amin Hossain, Taskin Ahmed, Mashrafe Mortaza (c)
Netherlands: Stephen Myburgh, Wesley Barresi, Peter Borren (c), Ben Cooper, Tom Cooper, Michael Rippon, Roelof van der Merwe, Ahsan Malik, Pieter Seelar, Timm van der Gugten, Mudassar Bukhari
There was uproar when the ICC announced that the World Cup would be reduced to 10 teams, associate nations being driven out of the competition in a bid to improve the quality of cricket on show at the tournament.
Little care was given to the progress both already made and still needed by the emerging nations like the UAE who have made remarkable strides in recent memory but need to be pitted against the best teams in the world to stand a chance of continuing their development on the world stage.
With no Test playing nations willing to play associates in any cricket of substance, where will they get their opportunity without a bigger, all encompassing world tournament?
And here at the World T20, the opening qualifiers that include Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Oman, Zimbabwe and Asia Cup runners-up Bangladesh are up against exhibition matches of the Test playing nations.
Six warm-up matches featuring India, England, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the West Indies are all scheduled during four qualifying game days, taking away from the fact the tournament has already started in earnest.
And as Ireland take on Oman on Wednesday, over in Cape Town South Africa and Australia play out a deciding T20I in the final edition of their three-match series.
It is a worrying precedent to set and the ICC’s smoke and mirror approach to associate members was brought glaringly to light this week as Fox Sports published an article online that showed new levels of patronising, misguided views on cricket’s “minnows”.
Robert Craddock wrote how the ICC had done so much to enhance the game and that associate countries should be grateful for the “new” format, which is the same as the 2014 edition.
The likes of Andrew Nixon and Peter Miller – experts in cricket’s emerging regions, the latter co-author of Second XI – Cricket in its Outposts – rightly set about correcting Craddock but if his poorly researched and naïve views are reflective of wider opinion then it is of grave concern.
Ignoring the fact Craddock set a scene of idyllic Nepalese cricket and wrongly suggested that they were playing in the World T20, this sort of attitude towards the nations lower down the pecking order will only be exacerbated if things continue down the same path.
The ICC must finally commit to these qualifiers, put them front and centre and show the world the quality of the players and the strides they are making.
Love how ICC pretend that WT20 structure down to wanting competitive matches throughout. Entirely down to associates kicking off about 2015.— Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) December 11, 2015
Most of these countries have remarkable stories, from their early infrastructure to the individuals that representing their nations despite being only 16 years old, to those who are playing on the world stage having only picked up a cricket bat in the last decade after falling in love with the sport as an expat.
It is these stories that need to be told far more than another profile of how Sri Lanka won the last edition of the tournament or a feature describing that, funnily enough, Virat Kohli is in fact a very good cricketer.
That information is there for all to see, even if the likes of Craddock are too lazy to search Kohli on Google and go to his ESPN Cricinfo page.
Instead, these qualifying events must be given precedence and a time in the sun just as the viewing public is getting geared up for the tournament.
Whether they have an interest in associate cricket before the matches or not doesn’t matter. On the contrary, in fact.
It is an education, a learning experience and one that the majority of cricket fans will find fascinating should they be given more of a chance to take it all in.