A major tournament usually enjoys a blockbuster start and while neither Zimbabwe nor Hong Kong claim to provide that, they promise an intriguing opener. The qualifying round of the World TwentyT20 kicks off with the 13th and 14th ranked sides taking each other on, which means the opener will a lot closer than it may appear.
Zimbabwe will fancy their chances of taking an early advantage in the race for the tournament proper, but will do well not to get ahead of themselves. Hong Kong had upset Bangladesh at the same stage in the 2014 World T20, and will eye another Full Member takedown, having played enough T20 cricket. Hong Kong have already identified Zimbabwe as the favourites in their group, but both sides must be confident, following a thorough warm-up program.
Zimbabwe had played a handful of games in the UAE and then rebounded from the loss against Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association XI to beat Ireland. Hong Kong went down in each of their three matches in the Asia Cup, and also suffered a thrashing against Ireland, but picked themselves up with a tense win against HPCA XI.
Hong Kong will hope that Zimbabwe will not be as tough as UAE and Afghanistan were on them, but Zimbabwe will be keen to put their foot on Hong Kong’s throat and get their campaign off to a winning start.
(last five completed matches) Zimbabwe WWLLL
Hong Kong LLLLW
Watch out for
Since his international debut in 2003, Vusi Sibanda has promised much, but has failed to deliver consistently. Sibanda’s T20I average is only 19.38, and he has not scored a half-century but has the potential to rectify that anomaly. The reality check of being left out of the 2015 World Cup squad and his experience mean that he has a good chance of breaking through this tournament.
At 44 years and 29 days, Ryan Campbell is the oldest player at the tournament and is all set to become the oldest debutant in T20Is. Campbell has more than two decades of experience as a professional cricketer, having played two ODIs for Australia. He was once left chasing Adam Gilchrist for a spot in the Australia XI, but is now on the hunt for a happy second-coming for his adopted home. Campbell starred in Hong Kong’s warm-up win over HPCA XI when he scored 46 off 42 balls and took 2 for 10. He then admitted it felt good to “show you can do it.”
Zimbabwe have settled on Richmond Mutumbami at No.3 to follow Hamilton Masakadza and Sibanda. Their middle-order looks solid with Malcolm Waller, Sean Williams, Peter Moor and Elton Chigumbura all providing big-hitting options. Their puzzle comes in the bowling department where they will need to decide which of Tendai Chatara, Tendai Chisoro, Donald Tiripano, Tawanda Mupariwa or Tinashe Panyangara to play. Wellington Masakadza is likely take the specialist spinner’s spot.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 4 Malcolm Waller, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Peter Moor, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Tendai Chatara, 9 Donald Tiripano, 10 Tawanda Mupariwa, 11 Wellington Masakadza
Hong Kong (probable): 1 Jamie Atkinson (wk), 2 Ryan Campbell, 3 Babar Hayat, 4 Mark Chapman, 5 Nizakat Khan, 6 Anshuman Rath, 7 Kinchit Shah, 8 Tanwir Afzal (capt), 9 Aizaz Khan, 10 Waqas Barkat, 11 Nadeem Ahmed
Pitch and conditions
Usually dry and cracked, the surface at the Jamtha Stadium is likely to be slow and low and could take turn. It’s set to be a scorcher in Nagpur, with temperatures reaching 36 degrees.
Stats and trivia
Hong Kong and Zimbabwe have only met once before, in a last-ball thriller won by Hong Kong in a warm-up match ahead of the 2014 World T20
“Zimbabwe have some dangerous players in their team and are probably the favourites to go through. But we are confident in our own abilities and for the first time for a while we will have our strongest team. The guys just want to do Hong Kong proud.”
Captain Tanwir Afzal is aware of the challenge facing Hong Kong in their first match
“It’s very different from the Test match wicket. That was a Test match, and this pitch has been prepared for T20, so definitely two different pitches and I think this one will play much better.”
Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza does not expect the Nagpur pitch to be a rank turner
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent